Asking questions, bringing balance, confronting predjudice

The Jerusalem Light Railway – so bad for Arabs!

Shortly after the Oslo Accords were signed, in the mid-1990s, the Israeli Government announced plans to build a light rail system (trams to you and me) that would unite East and West Jerusalem communities, ease the city’s notorious traffic problems, improve economic development and improve transport services to both Jewish and Arab communities in the East of the city. This would be particularly helpful to East Jerusalem Arabs, since a high proportion of them work in West Jerusalem but live in the Eastern areas of the city. It would also improve the infrastructure for Jewish suburbs such as Pisgat Ze’ev in the far North (and East) of the Jerusalem Municipality.

There are many groups internationally who are opposed to Israel’s reoccupation of her own ancient capital and determined that East Jerusalem should instead be the capital of a future Palestinian state. Throughout the planning and construction stages, these groups campaigned aggressively against the light railway (LRT), maintaining that it was designed to…

* Service Jewish “illegal settlements”, such as Pisgat Ze’ev
* Solidify Israel’s “illegal occupation” of East Jerusalem and make it irreversible
* Provide improved transport for Jews in East Jerusalem but not for Arabs
* Support Israeli “colonisation” of Palestinian land

Furthermore, the opposition groups claimed that the LRT would be bad for East Jerusalem’s Arabs, that the tram stops were inaccessible to Arab areas and that these Arab communities were themselves against the project and would not use the trams once they were running.

Jews and Arabs queuing together for a tram

The LRT finally opened years behind schedule in November 2011. It has been an unreserved success for all the inhabitants of East Jerusalem – especially for the Arab communities, which are well serviced with of tram stops adjacent to the areas they live in. The line that runs North to Pisgat Ze’ev actually takes a slight detour in order to service the Arab Shuafat district.

On hearing of this resounding acclaim for the new LRT in the face of such vigorous opposition, we decided to speak firsthand to Arabs using the system to get their personal reactions to the shiny new trams. Here are a few quotes…

Aya Abdo, a female student from East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina…
(She doesn’t drive) “I like it [the tram]. It makes it easier to come and go. I come to Jerusalem to study and shop and it saves time.”

Afaf Sharaf, an Arab woman from the Old City who works at a bank in East Jerusalem…
“I come to Jaffa [Road] to buy things and to meet people, and the journey is easier. I used to come before in taxis but that was expensive. I am happy.”

Nashashibi Koussai, from Beit Hanina, works at a post office in West Jerusalem…
“It [the train] improves the connection from the Old City to the Central Bus Station and it’s good for my work. It used to take an hour and a half [to get to work], but now it’s half. It minimizes traffic and is the ‘main vein’ of transportation [in the city]. I am so satisfied.”

Arabs waiting for a tram outside Damascus Gate

Raed an East Jerusalem resident who works in the Old City…
“It’s one direct route and it helps me get to work. And it gets to the main points in town.”

Sally, a teenage girl from Beit Hanina…
“I go to church in the Old City and my school is there, so it [the train] saves time and it goes easily [smoothly] through town. It’s much more comfortable than a bus.”

Osama, from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz near the Old City…
“It helps people who don’t have cars. It’s really fast at night. But it’s created big traffic problems for people who do have cars.”

So then, the only losers are taxi drivers and car drivers! We were surprised at how enthusiastic East Jerusalem’s Arabs are about the LRT. We were equally surprised at how well Jews and Arabs travel on the same trams with no trouble. See the photos here of Jews and Arabs travelling together!

Once again, the BDS movement has run an aggressive campaign that has been full of rhetoric, emotion and passion but extremely light on facts and the reality of life in Israel. It’s time for the BDS movement to wake up, smell the coffee and turn their efforts to situations of real injustice and oppression elsewhere in the world. Arabs in East Jerusalem love the LRT and are using it enthusiastically. Most of them would prefer to belong to Israel instead of a future Palestinian state anyway, which kind of makes you wonder if even the PA leadership know what’s going on among their own people!

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Categorised in: Current Events, The BDS Campaign, The Good of Israel

5 Responses »

  1. The only ones who are not happy are the Jewish residents of Jerusalem who are not very happy to see all these Arabs in their part of the city – i.e. the city center. It’s too much to see all these Arabs, who we Jews don’t feel are even part of Israel, roaming all daty and night in our streets, coffee shops, parks etc. It’s kind of weird to see east Jersusalem Arabs in the city center walking so condidently when most Jews don’t want to see them there.

  2. I don’t say there are no problems relating to Israel’s Arab minority, and I would accept that both the Israeli government and Israeli Arabs (and their MKs) should work harder to resolve them. All I’m saying is what I said in my comment, Peter! (The position of Arabs in east Jerusalem is slightly different, as they have the choice whether or not to take Israeli citizenship, but the principles are the same.)

  3. Not quite every thinking person, David. The International Crisis Group’s report, BACK TO BASICS: ISRAEL’S ARAB MINORITY AND THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT Middle East Report N°119 – 14 March 2012 tells us that, “Due to the complexity of intercommunal relations in Israel – with an Arab minority living in a Jewish state in conflict with its Arab neighbours – mutual relations have been characterised by indifference at best, mutual mistrust and hostility at worst. After a period of rapprochement in the mid-1990s – sometimes referred to as the “golden age” of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel2 – the situation has steadily deteriorated over the past decade. The new Light Railway sounds like good news but there’s a long, long way to go and let’s not kid ourselves about that.

    • That’s a good, concise report and generally I agree with its conclusions. The Israeli government should do more for a minority supposed to be equal citizens and the minority should play the game as Israeli citizens. My own experience is that ordinary people will get on across the divide if we let them. The employment of many Palestinians in Jewish settlements, the LRT experience, Jerusalem’s efforts to improve living conditions for E. Jerusalem Arabs and the wish of many of those Arabs to remain part of Israel are, to me, signs that peace at a grasroots level is possible if it is allowed or encouraged to happen. I do agree, though, that there’s a long, long way to go – may it come quickly and in our time (as they say)!

  4. Great piece of research, and confirms what any thinking person already knows: that all this BDS talk of apartheid and colonisation is pure fiction. Instead you have real people of all races and religions moving freely around Jerusalem and living their lives – thanks partly to the new light railway.

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