May 21, 2024
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Jerusalem–Hailed as a model of modernization and praised for the increased efficiency of the city’s transportation system, the Citipass Light Rail began operations in 2011 after 10 years of major traffic jams and other inconveniences to the residents of Jerusalem. Though problematic in its infancy, the light rail soon developed into an effective method of transportation for all parts of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, since “Operation Protective Edge” began in July 2014, there have been increased attacks on the Jerusalem light rail, especially in the outlying Arab neighborhoods of Shuafat and Beit Hanina. Stonings, bags of paint, and even a Molotov cocktail have caused damage to many of the system’s cars, with Citipass recently reporting that 16 of its 23 trains are out of service because of broken windows.

Seth Frantzman, a correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, wrote a series of articles in 2011 on the light rail. “When I spoke to them in 2011, I felt that Citipass was being na?ve,” he told me. “They didn’t plan on this eventuality.” Most people in all parts of Jerusalem think the train is a good thing. Seth felt that the recent stonings and vandalism of the train is a direct result of passivity on the part of the police and security. “When they ruined the first train station in Shuafat, it was near the home of the Arab boy who was found murdered. The police came briefly and then left; the vandals took it as an encouraging sign. Within the following days, thugs destroyed the other two stations in the Shuafat and Beit Haninah neighborhoods.” Though many people thought it would take weeks for the service to be resumed, to everyone’s surprise, the train tracks were fixed within a few days and service resumed to normal. Since the dispensing machines are still broken, riders cannot buy tickets at these stations. The train though makes stops and supposedly tickets are being sold by ticket agents on the platform.

In Seth’s opinion, the light rail is a symbol of the “occupying forces” and thus a legitimate target, though ruining the light rail hurts Arab residents as well. He doesn’t believe in global punishment but thinks that Jerusalem is surrendering neighborhoods to hooligans by their inaction. Seth thinks that neighborhood public service announcements and undercover police could stop this activity. “But there is no easy solution” he concluded.

Cheryl, originally from Chicago but living in Israel for over 30 years, has been living in Pisgat Zeev for 11 years. A dietician, she uses the train every day to get to work at her various clinics. Her husband, though, refuses to take the train, and prefers to travel only by bus. During the Muslim month of Ramadan she never takes the train. “It’s too scary; the Muslims are crazy during Ramadan.” Cheryl remembers in the beginning of the train service, the trains were slow and took an hour and a half to get from one end to the other, but it improved over the years. In addition, since 2011, Egged, the bus service, has canceled or changed the routes of the buses that traveled through Pisgat Zeev, making the residents even more dependent on the train. With over 50,000 residents, the light rail also offers a quick route to get from Pisgat Zeev North to Pisgat Zeev Center and West.

Unfortunately, though aware of the train being stoned, Egged did not increase the frequency of the buses and the only bus that went downtown came once an hour and then took 40 minutes. Passengers complained to both Egged and to Jerusalem Mayor Barkat, who did not respond to their complaints. Egged at least sent a form letter “Thank you for your comments; we are looking into the issue,” but nothing was done.

Itai, 23, agreed with them. He thinks the train is great, but would have preferred the route not go through the Arab areas. Itai understands that since they live side by side with us in this city, they should also have service.

Sonya, 80, is not scared to ride the train. Since she lives right near the station it is very convenient for her to get on the first stop, get a seat, and then head into town to do her shopping. Offering practical advice “I sit in the front seat and duck when going through the Arab neighborhoods.” Many passengers, especially female ones, have been harassed.

There is currently an armed security detail on the trains. They board the trains in the “problem areas” and don’t really do much. The train on a typical Tuesday afternoon was stoned as it went through Shuafat. A young man ran from between the houses, his face covered in a light green shirt, and hurled a baseball-sized rock towards the train. We heard the impact of the rock, but since it was on the door and not the window, there was no damage. The windows are not bulletproof but are triple layers and are supposed to stop a standard rock. The train car we were riding in had six to eight windows with cracks from rocks. The security guard checked if there was damage or anyone hurt and reported it to his supervisors, but he has no mandate to do anything else. His sage advice, “I tell people not to lean on the windows.”

Councilwoman Yael Antebbe, is the representative of Pisgat Zeev in the Jerusalem Municipality. She feels that the issue of the stonings is just a minor issue in the larger issue of overall safety in Jerusalem. “Since when is rioting and stone throwing an acceptable method of protest!?” she said emphatically. “The Arabs in the neighborhoods are pushing the rules, they are trying to see how far they can go.” Yael is afraid that the government is releasing jurisdiction over parts of Jerusalem. She knows that the police CAN do the job if they want to. They have arrested over 400 people in the rioting all over Jerusalem over the last few weeks. Now Yael is planning on suing these people in civil court for damages to the light rail. She thinks this might be a deterrent for future acts of violence.

Yael is proud of her six years in the municipality. She fought to keep the buses running in Pisgat Zeev. “As you can see, if there is trouble with train service, our residents are still able to get around by bus, unlike the southern neighborhoods like Beit HaKerem where most of the buses stopped. Buses are much more flexible than trains since you don’t need the extensive infrastructure for buses.”

Yael has friends in Shuafat who are very disturbed by these events. Mufita, 43, and a resident of Shuafat, agrees. She thinks that the train is very important to the residents of Shuafat and uses the light rail to get work on a daily basis. According to her, the Arabs of Shuafat are very much bothered by all this lawlessness, but feel that some of the stone throwers are coming from outside the neighborhood. “When they know who throws the stones, they tell the parents and the parents deal with the kids and keep them under control.”

Yael and Michal summed it up, “The situation calmed down because the Army operations in Gaza have stopped. But there is nothing to prevent it from starting again or getting worse. The important thing is that there be a strong government to keep things under control.”

By Judy Yazersky

(special to JLBC)

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