Cable car route over Palestinian homes in Wadi Hilweh, Silwan, in East Jerusalem



Feature Story

Controversial Cable Car Project Sparks Outcry as City Orders Land Expropriation from Silwan Residents


Under cover of wartime, Elad Association’s planned cable car project over Jerusalem’s so-called Holy Basin is being accelerated forward with government backing and at a staggering cost. The city recently notified Palestinian residents of extensive land expropriation in the area to start the development process. The planned cable car’s route threatens to devastate Palestinian neighborhoods in Silwan, directly south of the Haram al-Sharif.

Jerusalem Story sat down with civil society organizations working to stop the initiative to understand what is at stake.

The Jerusalem Municipality recently notified residents of Wadi Hilweh and Wadi Rababa in East Jerusalem’s Silwan of extensive land expropriations along the planned route of a controversial cable car that would ferry tourists from Jewish West Jerusalem over Palestinian neighborhoods and deposit them right at the Judeo-centric archaeological heritage tourist sites run by the Elad Association.

The notices were posted throughout the neighborhood on December 9, 2023.

Property owners were given 60 days to object. 

Notices of the city’s intention to expropriate land for a massive cable car were posted around Palestinian neighborhoods of Silwan, East Jerusalem, on December 9, 2023.

Notices of the city’s intention to expropriate land for a massive cable car were posted around Palestinian neighborhoods of Silwan, East Jerusalem, on December 9, 2023.


Peace Now website

A Massive and Costly Planned Project

A gigantic cable car project (National Infrastructure Plan [NIP] #86), spanning approximately 1.5 kilometers and boasting a capacity of up to 3,000 people during rush hour, would incur a staggering cost of over NIS 200 million ($59 million).1

The Israeli government authority that controls the area of the City of David is the Nature and Parks Authority, which has given Elad the rights to operate the City of David archaeological park. Elad, together with the Nature and Parks Authority, has been initiating excavations and developing tourism infrastructure and programs at the site for over 20 years.

Efforts by Israeli left-wing and environmental organizations, as well as Silwan’s Palestinian residents, to stop the project have been rejected.

An Exclusive Jewish Project

The cable car project comprises 15 towers ranging from 9 to 26 meters (8 stories) in height, aiming to enhance tourism in the area designated as the “Holy Basin” by Israel. The planned route of the cable car encompasses regions from Silwan in the south to the Mount of Olives in the east, reaching Wadi al-Joz and Sheikh Jarrah in the north.

Map of the routes of the cable car and train in the Holy Basin area of Jerusalem

A map, courtesy of Emek Shaveh, showing the routes of Israel’s planned cable car and underground train projects in the Holy Basin. The cable car route, shown in yellow, is seen crossing through the Palestinian neighborhoods of Silwan and Mount of Olives. In the center is the Kedem Compound stop, which will be located in Wadi Hilweh directly south of the Haram al-Sharif. Also seen in green is the historic Green Line, which the cable car route is set to breach, as shown.


Emek Shaveh

In an exclusive interview with Jerusalem Story, urban planner Dr. Rami Nasrallah scrutinizes the cable car project, highlighting its association with settler-colonial tourism initiatives by consecutive hardline Likud ministers. He argues that on the surface, the plan aims to improve connectivity between West Jerusalem and the Holy Basin area around the Old City. “However, the primary station is intended to be situated within a planned settler project managed by the Elad Association, known as the Kedem Compound. This project includes the construction of a visitors’ center merely 20 meters away from the southeastern corner of the Old City walls, al-Haram al-Sharif.”2

Spanning over 16,000 square meters and standing up to 7 stories high,3 this center is intended as a gateway to an envisioned “Jerusalem Walls National Park” comprising various attractions and sites in Silwan, such as the controversial Judeo-centric biblical City of David. It is proposed to be intricately linked, both technically and symbolically, to the Western Wall and the archaeological festival park, which is under the control of Elad south of al-Haram al-Sharif, Nasrallah argues.

According to Israeli planners’ organization Bimkom,

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Israel’s tourist projects ringing Jerusalem’s Old City threaten to diminish the area and transform it into a Disneyfied tourist space serving Jews and their narrative.

The main objective underlying the plan to construct the cable car to the Old City of Jerusalem is to transform the “City of David” into the dominant gateway into the Old City, inviting a steady stream of millions of tourists from around Israel and the world to enter through it.4

However, as Bimkom notes, the City of David is located in the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood of Silwan, which has around 5,000 residents.5

Talya Ezrahi, director of international advocacy at Emek Shaveh, told Jerusalem Story that it is important to emphasize that the state authorities are acting in the interest of an ideological organization. “They are acting in the interest of organizations that use archaeology and tourism as a means to expand and entrench the settlements in Jerusalem’s Holy Basin,” Ezrahi said.6

Emek Shaveh is an Israeli organization of archaeologists and political activists who oppose the weaponization of tourism and archaeology in the context of political conflict. They perceive the ancient sites and monuments of the country as being the shared heritage of all the peoples who have inhabited the land, past and present.

Simulation of the cable car over Wadi Rababa (Hinnom Valley) in Silwan, East Jerusalem

A simulation of the planned cable car, courtesy of Emek Shaveh and retrieved from the planning documents. The simulation shows the route passing over Wadi Rababa, or the Hinnom Valley, in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem.


Emek Shaveh

Ezrahi explained that the cable car project is being advanced by the Ministry of Tourism and the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA). “While the Elad Association is not officially one of the promoters of the project, it is clear to all that Elad will be the main beneficiary.” She elaborated that “the final stop of the cable car station will be built on top of the Kedem Compound, the massive visitors’ center which Elad is planning to build at the entrance to Silwan and across from the Old City walls. Basically, the cable car will ferry people directly to the Elad-controlled tourism empire.”

The primary station’s proximity to the Elad-managed Kedem Compound, a settler project near the Old City walls, raises concerns about the potential erasure of Palestinian residential areas and heritage in the city and replacement with an exclusively Judeo-centric biblical heritage area.

“While the Elad Association is not officially one of the promoters of the project, it is clear to all that Elad will be the main beneficiary.”

Talya Ezrahi, director of international advocacy at Emek Shaveh

Judaizing Palestinian Jerusalem

Nasrallah contends that the cable car project is part of a broader strategy to Judaize Palestinian East Jerusalem, consolidating settler organizations’ control over Silwan and the Holy Basin of the Old City. “This project serves the agenda of Judaizing East Jerusalem through settler-colonial tourism initiatives, effectively displacing Palestinian heritage and narratives in favor of an exclusively Jewish identity and dominance over the landscape.” 

Inauguration of suspension bridge as part of plan to Judaize Holy Basin

The inauguration of the suspension bridge on July 30, 2023, as part of the Elad-driven initiative to Judaize the Holy Basin. Seen in the photo, left to right, are the Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Meir Porush, Executive Director of Elad, David Be’eri, and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon, cutting the ribbon to open the bridge to the public.


Emek Shaveh

Notably, the project is situated within the broader context of settler organizations’ aim to control Silwan and the Holy Basin, encompassing densely populated historic Palestinian neighborhoods such as al-Tur, Ras al-Amud, Wadi al-Joz, Sheikh Jarrah, al-Thuri, and Jabal Mukabbir.

While framed as a transportation and tourism initiative, Nasrallah argues that the project will reinforce settler dominance and create a new gateway to the Old City, challenging the neutrality of public spaces. “Despite being presented as a neutral endeavor focused on transportation and tourism, the cable car project will further consolidate settler movement control and establish a new gateway to the Old City through the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter.” This would route tourism through Jewish areas, bypassing Muslim and Christian areas of the Old City and holy sites.

“It represents a significant departure by connecting a supposedly neutral, secular space,” Nasrallah explained, “a linear public park established alongside the Ottoman railway and main station with the religiously charged ideological fortresses of national Zionist settler groups—all with the backing of the state and its local agencies.”

Nasrallah argues that the project will reinforce settler dominance and create a new gateway to the Old City, challenging the neutrality of public spaces.

Emek Shaveh and other left-wing Israeli organizations have consistently challenged the Israeli government’s assertion that the cable car addresses legitimate transportation needs in Jerusalem. They emphasize the political undertones of the plan and its potentially detrimental impact on Silwan’s Palestinian residents.

According to Peace Now, the cable car’s “construction will enable the Elad settler organization to receive thousands of visitors to sites under its management, such as the City of David, and present East Jerusalem as an inseparable part of Israeli Jerusalem.”7 According to reports in the Israeli media, the cable car will originate from West Jerusalem’s historic train station, known as the “First Station,” and conclude at the Kedem Compound managed by Elad. In the future, two additional stations are planned to be added.

Map of the route of the cable car through the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem

A map showing the proposed route of the cable car in blue directly above the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. It starts in West Jerusalem at the bottom left and ends at the entrance to Silwan, directly south of the Haram al-Sharif, at the top right. The green lines depict lands slated for expropriation.


Emek Shaveh

Alarmed Residents Prepare for Objections Phase

The city’s posted notices throughout Wadi Hilweh inform the community that 12 plots of land totaling 8.7 dunums will be expropriated in order to perform surveying to find the best locations for the cable car’s support columns. Some lands will be taken temporarily for 8 years; the rest permanently, but a decision on which lands will be in the latter group can only be taken once the surveying work is done.

“There is nothing that Israel or municipality takes that they ever return, not after two days and not after eight years,”8 Iyad Abu Sneineh, resident of Wadi Hilweh, told Jerusalem Story.

“There is nothing that Israel or municipality takes that they ever return, not after two days and not after eight years.”

Iyad Abu Sneineh, resident of Wadi Hilweh

“According to our lawyer, Sammy Rsheid, the government has asserted that they can kick us off these lands for ‘public purposes’ even if we have land ownership documents and even if we owned the land before 1967,” Abu Sneineh told Jerusalem Story. 

For Silwan resident Hajj Atallah Abu Hadwan, the project symbolizes a dire threat to his family. 

The Israeli government’s decision to expropriate land has raised fears that some Palestinian homes might be confiscated as well. According to Emek Shaveh:

Based on examination of the material, the land slated for expropriation appears to be privately-owned open plots composed of gardens, tree groves, and roads. Contrary to what had originally been assumed and subsequently published in some media outlets, the planned expropriation does not appear to include plots with residential buildings. However, there is still significant fear and suspicion among many residents that the expropriations will ultimately include some homes. This is likely due to the fact that some of the survey areas marked in the approved plan are slightly larger and indeed include residential units. Also, according to the approved plan, air rights above all existing homes along the route will be expropriated before the project’s completion. Furthermore, it should be noted that many existing homes are in the immediate vicinity of the plots currently being expropriated and as such, liable to be impacted by the planned construction of the columns in particular and the cable car in general.9

Fawzi Shaaban, head of the Silwan Association of Institutions, said in an interview with Jerusalem Story that “if homes will be confiscated and families displaced, we are talking about a real catastrophe that goes beyond the Nakba. Those homes are all that these families own. They will not give up their right to their land, and I know that they are ready to make all sacrifices needed to protect their homes.”10 He continued that even if they are forced to leave their houses, and even if they demolish them, they will build tents in their place.11

Many residents, fearing potential legal repercussions from Israeli authorities, have chosen not to voice their grievances publicly. They view the decision as a catastrophe, as the targeted homes hold generations of memories and serve as the only Palestinian refuge in Jerusalem, already grappling with a severe housing crisis due to Israeli policies, which essentially only address the housing needs of the city’s Jewish population.12

The cable car project is poised to reshape the landscape of the ancient city, further erasing the armistice line—the 1948 Green Line. If completed, the project will radically transform the core of Jerusalem, intensifying Palestinian displacement from Silwan and beyond.

Jerusalem Story contacted the Israeli spokesperson of the Jerusalem Municipality for a statement, but had not received a reply by the time of publication.



For more about the cable car project, see Bimkom, Emek Shaveh, Ir Amim, and Peace Now, “Wartime Developments in Old City Basin Carry Grave Implications for Palestinian Rights and the Political Future of Jerusalem,” Emek Shaveh, December 20, 2023.


Based on an interview with the authors, January 2024. 


Bimkom et al., “Wartime Developments.”


Cable Car to the Old City, Jerusalem,” Bimkom, accessed February 15, 2024.


“Cable Car.”


Based on an interview with the authors, January 2024.


The Construction Plan for a Cable Car Is Being Promoted,” Peace Now, December 13, 2023.


Interview with the Jerusalem Story Team, February 2, 2024. All subsequent quotations from Iyad Abu Sneineh are from this interview. 


Bimkom et al., “Wartime Developments.”


Interview with the authors, February 2, 2024.


Interview with the authors, February 13, 2024.


Israel’s Housing Policies in Occupied Palestinian Territory Amount to Racial Segregation—UN Experts,” United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner, April 27, 2022.

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