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Dispute over Operation of Cable Car System in Haifa

Interior Minister Yitzhak Peretz, of the religious Shas Party, has ordered Haifa Labor Party’s Mayor Arye Gurel to halt the planned operation of the new Mount Carmel cable car from Stella Maris to the seashore on Saturdays and holidays.

But Gurel insisted today that eliminating the operation on the Sabbath and holiday would render the enterprise uneconomical and would make it difficult to find investors for the project. Peretz contended however, during a visit to Haifa today, that economic considerations pale into insignificance in the face of Sabbath observance.

He said that “the effect of a week-day only operation should have been taken into consideration when the plans were first drawn up” for the Swiss-made, ball-like gondolas to take tourists and local residents on a breath-taking ride up and down the mountainside.

Peretz added that if the cable cars operated on Saturdays, “thousands of local youngsters and from the whole northern district will flock to Haifa to take a ride, thus causing wholesale Sabbath desecration.”

The municipality says that income on the Sabbath, from tourists and local residents, was planned to provide a major part of the operational budget.

THE RABBINICAL RATIONALE

Haifa is the only major town in Israel in which public buses operate on the Sabbath — a carry-over from the Labor-led City Council from Mandatory days and in the early years of the State.

The rabbinical rationale for continuing this practice is that Haifa is a mixed city and the buses serve both the Jewish and Arab populations. Buses on the Sabbath thus form part of the “status quo,” but the cable car is a new phenomenon. Haifa’s underground funicular railway, built after 1948, is not allowed to operate on the Sabbath.

But even before the gondolas start swinging up and down on their cables, technical problems have cropped up, quite apart from the Sabbath problem.

The Swiss-made gondola cars were designed for use in the Alps, carrying skiers in the winter. They are equipped with quick-heating devices for the sub-zero cold. But reporters point out that in the Haifa summer heat, the big glass balls, designed to give a 360-degree view, become travelling saunas.

The municipality is pondering how to overcome the Sabbath ban and equip the gondolas with airconditioners.

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