New tram not quite a railway to heaven

By Ben Lynfield, October 11, 2011

A series of violent incidents on the new Jerusalem light railway has dented the enthusiasm that many of the city's residents have for their new transport system.

Last Wednesday, security guards used pepper spray against Palestinian youths after a confrontation erupted when they refused to take their feet off seats.

Police said that several weeks ago they arrested four Palestinians for throwing stones at the train, causing light damage, and that they have since been charged.

In addition, Israeli non-governmental organisation Ir Amim, which calls for equality between Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem, says it has
statements from three Palestinians complaining of violence by Jewish passengers.

Some Jewish residents of the Pisgat Zeev neighbourhood, whose rail journey to downtown West Jerusalem takes them through the Arab areas of Shuafat and Beit Hanina, say they will fear for their safety if there is a spike in Palestinian-Israeli tensions.

But on Sunday, the atmosphere on the train in East Jerusalem seemed calm. Out of six Palestinians interviewed at Beit Hanina station, five voiced praise for the train service.

Yasser Rashid, a cleaner at Hadassah Hospital in West Jerusalem, said: "It is quicker and better than the bus. There is no racism. We all ride together and there are no problems. People are satisfied with the train. It is for everyone."

Many Pisgat Zeev residents, including Jerusalem city councillor Yael Antebi, say the route should have bypassed the Arab neighbourhoods.

"A train is not like a bus," she said. "You can't just switch the route. And what will happen if there are peace talks and they decide Beit Hanina and Shuafat are going over to the Palestinian Authority?"

Last updated: 12:34pm, October 11 2011