Monday, October 21, 2019

Who Controls The Narrative?

Hello Everyone:

Yours Truly is back after what turned out to be a very difficult week to even put together a quarter of a coherent thought.  For those of wondering if The Blogger Candidate Forum will have more to say on the impeachment inquiry, the answer is yes.  The Candidate Forum was hoping to say something about voter demographics but finds itself trying to make sense of what has become a scandal-palooza, of sorts.  In the meantime, Yours Truly wants to talk about cable cars.

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Cable cars over Jerusalem
Jerusalem, Israel
Cable Cars floating over Jerusalem, Israel is the subject for today's post.
Jerusalem is a city that is firmly rooted in both its ancient past and modern present.  The Old City remains exactly as it was during ancient times, set against the desert landscape.  The skyline is dominated by the glittering golden Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where Jesus is supposedly buried.  However, if Israeli authorities have their way, a planned cable car to the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, will be built. by 2021.  The New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman reports, "It's the first phase of what proponents envision as a fleet of cable cars crisscrossing the locus of sacred sites known as the Holy Basin" (; Sept. 13, 2019; date accessed Oct. 14, 2019).  Sounds like a great idea for transporting tourists and worshipers, right?  Maybe.

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Map of the Old City of Jerusalem

A total outrage against a fragile city,... An aesthetic and architectural affront.

Conservative Israeli leaders as the environmentally sound solution to the ongoing challenges growing tourism and the traffic encircling the Old City.  The plan had been condemned by Israeli preservationists, environmentalists, planners, architects, preservation-minded individuals who fear this World Heritage Site would turn into a religious theme park attraction.  Eminent Israeli architect Moshe Safadie told The Times,

During his second re-election campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged that "...if he returned to office he would annex [Ibid; Sept. 10, 2019] nearly a third of the occupied West Bank, reducing any future Palestinian state to encircled enclave" (Ibid; Sept. 13, 2019),  Critics and pundits regarded this announcement as a last-ditch election ploy, however Mr. Kimmelman is quick to note that " was in keeping with land-use policies by which Israel, for half a century, has devised an elaborate architecture of occupation" (Ibid).

The cable car scheme is an example of how Israel uses architecture and urban planning to wield its authority over Palestinian territory.  Before you all start howling, historically, nations have used architecture and urban planning to exert their authority over occupied territories.  Think about the place where you live and how it is laid out.  Los Angeles, for example, was once upon a time indigenous territory.  When the Spanish occupied the very place where Yours Truly is sitting right now, they used architecture and urban planning to exert their religious and secular authority.  They established a chain of missions which proselytized the Catholic gospel, military forts (presidios), and laid out cities--like Los Angeles--on a 45-degree angle in accordance in the Spanish royal dictates.  While this does not excuse Israel's land-use policies, it gives you some sort of context.

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The Old City of Jerusalem

 Michael Kimmelman points to the able car scheme as part of this historic trajectory.  He writes, "Whatever its transit merits, which critics say are negligible, the cable car curates a specifically Jewish narrative of Jerusalem, furthering Israeli claims over Arab parts of the city"(; Sept. 13, 2019).  He goes on to note that the cable car scheme is also an example of how the current Israeli government uses preservation in service of a specific political process, eroding heritage and landscape protections that make it the global icon of faith, culture, and history.  The politics of historic preservation aside, let us take a look at how the cable cars over Jerusalem are supposed to work.

The cable car scheme basically works like this: "Suspended from giant pylons, entered via elevated, glass-enclosed stations, the cable cars will swoop down from a Jewish neighborhood in the western part of Jerusalem to Mount Zion.  They will skirt, where possible, Jewish grave sites in acknowledgment of biblical prohibitions about passing over cemeteries" (Ibid).

The cable cars will touch down near the Western Wall, on the roof of the new multi-story center for the City of David Foundation, a conservative Jewish organization, in the middle of the East Jerusalem Palestinian district of Silwan.  The City of David Foundation oversees archaeological excavations on contested sites.  The digs have been co-opted for political purposes, as well, this time in service to further Jewish claims on the land.

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Silwan, East Jerusalem
The cable cars will pass through the Jewish version of Jerusalem's history.  After disembarking at the City of David building, visitors can tour the archaeological site, "...then proceed underground to the Western Wall via Herodian passageways walked by Jewish pilgrims during the era of the Second Temple and now partly excavate beneath the homes of Palestinian families in Silwan" (Ibid).

Never mind that several Arab homes maybe slated for demolition to make room for the cable cars, it effectively pretends that Silwan and and the other West Bank villages do not exist.  Thus depriving visitors to the Holy City some sense of historic and cultural context for understanding the complexity of Jerusalem.  The image of visitors winging their way over the West Bank and tunneling under the residents resembles Israel's by-pass roads: "...built to safely speed Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank to Jerusalem without passing through Palestinian town" (Ibid).  Silwan resident Jawad Siyam spoke to The Times about the impact on the residents,

Arabs will supposedly benefit from use the cable car,... But the cable car is not about solving problems for us.  It's about creating them (Ibid)

Mr. Siyam's family members were recently evicted from part of their home to accommodate City of David settlers.

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Map showing the surrounding Arab villages
Silwan is in the lower center

Mr. Siyam continued, "...Israeli authorities really was to benefit Arab residents, they should repair the busy, rutted, narrow, dangerous, often impassable road that is the only way in or out of Silwan for thousands of Palestinian residents" (Ibid).  A prudent suggestion.  He said,

Silwan is huge and hilly,... Most of us don't even have an easy way to get to the cable car (Ibid)

Cable Car advocates do not seem to be interested in criticism.  Jerusalem's former Mayor Nir Barkat, now a Likud member of the Knesset, said the plan requires thinking out of the box (Ibid).  He envisions "a Jetsons-like future in which cable cars will eventually glide up to the Mount of Olives, down to the Garden of Gethsemane, and make a second stop in Silwan,..." (Ibid).  You guessed it, the plan does promote the City of David.  Mr. Barkat told The New York Times,

This is the Zionist element of the project,...The City of David is the ultimate proof of our ownership of this land,... "To go from there to the Western Wall is to follow the path where Jewish pilgrims came to worship God in the ancient city,...there were no Christian or Muslims (Ibid)

A couple of problematic issues with this statement.  First is the most obvious one, the denial of a Christian and Muslim existence in Jerusalem.  This was true during the days of the First and Second Temple.  Christianity began in the 0 century CE, following the crucifixion of Jesus and Islam began in the 7th century CE.  Regardless, each one has a stake in the city's historic and cultural past and present.  Second, why is the City of David organization proof of ownership of the land?  In fact, why is the City of David organization the only one that gets a say in the narrative visitors to the Old City will experience?

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Jerusalem skyline
Mr. Barkat believes that the cable cars will not be much of intrusion on Jerusalem's famous skyline.  He dismisses critics's concerns as a matter of taste and perception (Ibid).  Cable car station architect Mendy Rosenfeld concurs with this appraisal.  Mr. Rosenfeld designed the glass stations to appear as immaterial as possible, telling The Times,

There is no way you can hide a cable car system (Ibid)

He goes on to cite I.M. Pei's famous pyramids at the Louvre, a modernist intrusion in the historic courtyard of France's former royal palace.  Skeptics and purists called it an architectural blasphemy before for it opened.  Mr. Rosenfeld blithely said Now everyone loves it (Ibid).  Mr. Kimmelman rightly points out that "Jerusalem is not Paris" (Ibid)

Jerusalem-based architect and planner Gavriel Kertez recall a time when Israeli officials were sensitive to even the most minute intrusion into the sacred sites.  In recent times, the city, long defined by low-rise, stone-clad buildings, is witnessing the construction of high-rise glass towers more common in Singapore than in the ancient city.  The politics of settlement expansion is a factor in who gets to control the narrative both aesthetically and historically.

Modern Jerusalem, thus far, has been spared Disneyification, first to the British colonial period, then between 1948 and 1967 during the Jordanian period when it seemed like it was encased in amber.  After 1967, the late Mayor Teddy Kollek promoted the city as global melting pot, a reflection of Israeli confidence.  The cable car scheme appears to be a loud intrusion on the city that is home to the three Abrahamic faiths.  More important, it denies any full historic and cultural understanding of Jerusalem and its global significance.  


Never mind that several Arab homes could be demolished to accommodate the cable cars, effectively pretending that Silwan does not exist.  Visitors will be whisked over and tunnel under the Palestinian residents with ever encountering them.  Depending on your outlook, this can be seither a good or bad thing.  It makes Blogger wonder what would happen if, instead of speeding past the Palestinian village on a by-pass road, what would happen if the average Israeli or tourist actually saw the villages?  It is wishful thinking on Blogger's part because of real safety concerns but it is good to indulge in this kind of thinking once in a while.

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