Jerusalem's Light Rail, Symbolic Unifier of Divided Holy City, Is Victim of Violence

Transit Line Cut as Jews and Palestinians Battle

Mad as Hell: Enraged Palestinian protester uses a pick-axe to damage Jerusalem light-rail station.
daniella cheslow
Mad as Hell: Enraged Palestinian protester uses a pick-axe to damage Jerusalem light-rail station.

By Daniella Cheslow

Published July 09, 2014, issue of July 11, 2014.
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Jerusalem’s light rail overcame budget problems, archaeology, ancient graves and modern geopolitical conflict to open in 2011. The train’s ridership quickly exceeded expectations, and the light rail became a symbol of the casual coexistence that, albeit fragile, exists among Jerusalem’s secular Jewish, Orthodox and Palestinian populations.

Not anymore.

When the charred body of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, was found on July 2 in a Jerusalem forest, residents of his neighborhood, Shuafat, poured their rage onto their local train station.

In the days following the murder, dozens of young Palestinian men with heads wrapped in scarves systematically inflicted every possible kind of damage on it. First they disabled the security cameras. Then they shattered the glass walls of the waiting stations. Pickaxes destroyed the arrival time screens. Electric saws chipped off chunks of the rail line. Burning tires melted the rubber that lines the train tracks. And a firebomb thrown under a sewer cover blew up electric wiring that controls the light rail’s traffic lights throughout the city.

Watching one such attack, a Palestinian onlooker from Shuafat told me the train was “a symbol of the Zionist enemy… one of the activities done by the Israeli occupation.”

Financially speaking, the damage is in “the tens of millions of shekels,” said Ozel Vatik, a spokesman for CityPass, the company that runs the train. Vatik said CityPass is heavily insured and has also filed paperwork for state compensation for nationally motivated damage.

It’s the worst damage to the train since it opened, he said — but it’s also not completely unpredictable.

“Everyone rides the light rail, and each car has something like 500 people,” Vatik said. “Whatever is on the street is in the train. And if there is violence in the street, in the supermarkets, I would imagine it would get to the train. “

On Tuesday, July 8, train repairmen fixed damage under the gaze of the murdered boy, his picture printed on an enormous banner hanging on a nearby mosque. The mechanics melted torn rubber back into place, righted downed electric polls and dismantled the scorched skeletons of two Shuafat train stops. Vatik said repairs are far enough along that CityPass can run test trains at night

Beyond the physical repairs, the symbolic damage is deeper.


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