This week, the Netanyahu government decided to start designing a plan for to develop the Mount of Olives as a major tourist site, “under the framework of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the unification of the city of Jerusalem.” Notably, this initiative is being advanced not only by the Jerusalem Municipality, but by ministers in the Netanyahu government.
This is yet another stage in the strategic thrust sponsored by the government of Israel – and under the direct auspices of the Prime Minister – that aspires to transform the Old City and its visual basin into a pseudo-Biblical realm informed by the ideology of the East Jerusalem settlers, and dovetailing with the recent surge in the settlement activity is Silwan.
One of these schemes, on which we have reported in the past, is Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s cable car initiative. Ringing the southern flank of the Old City and the Mount of Olives with a cable car would be a troubling contribution to the “Disney-fication” of Jerusalem.
In the last year, the world has been gripped by a number of horrific and senseless acts of terror – Paris, Brussels, Nice and beyond – all motivated by pathological religious radicalization. How to stem this tide of violence and restore sober and dignified relations between different religious groups is among the highest priorities of the international community. The creation of an exclusionary hegemony in and around Jerusalem’s sacred sites, informed by Biblically-driven settler narratives, will not go unnoticed and will only fan the flames of conflict. One would expect that under these circumstances official Israel would exhibit not only self-restraint, but actively promote respectful inter-religious relations in Jerusalem. Instead, these plans indicate that the government is taking advantage of the fact that world attention is focused elsewhere to pursue and implement its exclusionary vision for one of the most sensitive sites on earth.