Tracks of Unity Now Di­vided

Forward Magazine - - Front Page - By Daniella Ch­es­low

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 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 poles 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.

The Jerusalem train is unique be­cause it serves both Jews and Pales­tini­ans in a highly seg­re­gated city. The line runs from the set­tle­ment of Pis­gat Zeev through the Beit Han­ina and Shuafat neigh­bor­hoods of East Jerusalem, and con­tin­ues down­town via Da­m­as­cus Gate. Vatik could not pro­vide num­bers on Pales­tinian rid­er­ship, but he said about a quar­ter of the train’s av­er­age of 140,000 daily pas­sen­gers come from Shuafat and Pis­gat Zeev. Since the day the body was found trains have stopped just be­fore Shuafat, cut­ting off parts of East Jerusalem and Pis­gat Zeev from down­town. When the track is re­paired, Vatik said, trains will first run through Shuafat to Pis­gat Zeev without stop­ping; ser­vice to Shuafat will re­sume once the sta­tions are fixed.

The im­age of the train as a mod­ern, punc­tual an­ti­dote to Jerusalem’s com­plex po­lit­i­cal quag­mire gave the city a tan­gi­ble boost. Vatik said pol­lu­tion and noise along the train’s route plum­meted while real es­tate prices rose.

Is­rael Po­lice spokesman Micky Rosen­feld said it’s safe to ride the train. Each train car has a pri­vate se­cu­rity guard, part of the stan­dard se­cu­rity de­tail year round.

There have been only a cou­ple of in­ci­dents re­cently, he said. When Pales­tini­ans at­tacked an Is­raeli se­cu­rity guard and when a Jewish Is­raeli cit­i­zen pep­per-sprayed a Pales­tinian. But Is­raelis have mixed feel­ings about us­ing the train, and Pales­tini­ans say they fear to step aboard.

The train through down­town Jerusalem was full on July 8, less than a week af­ter Khdeir’s mur­der. Saar Eini, 28 said he glances at other pas­sen­gers when he steps on the train, but feels safe as the train’s iconic bell rings at each stop.

Tzvia, a 25-year-old Jewish woman who gave only her first name, said she be­lieved God would keep her safe. Ita­mar Reu­veni, 18, from East Jerusalem’s Gilo neigh­bor­hood, said he didn’t feel threat­ened on the train. As for Shuafat — “we don’t go there any­way, so it’s not my prob­lem,” he said. Other Is­raelis felt less com­fort­able. In the Ma­hane Ye­huda mar­ket that same day, Osher Avi­tan, 18, said he took the train to get to his job sell­ing sesame sweet halva. His mother has been ask­ing him not to take the train from his home in Kiryat Me­nachem in south­west Jerusalem, but he does it any­way.

“Ev­ery time I get on the train I check around. And if there’s any­thing sus­pi­cious, I get off,” Avi­tan said. So far, he said, there’s been noth­ing sus­pi­cious.

Rami Malah said traf­fic in the mar­ket, where he is a cashier at a liquor store, is down by a third in the past week, as many of his usual cus­tomers are afraid to ride the train or buses to the cen­ter of town.

Feel­ings in Shuafat were much gloomier. The mourn­ing tents for Khdeir were near where the teen was kid­napped, just steps from the Shuafat train sta­tion. Women com­fort­ing the teen’s mother, Suha Abu Khdeir, said they avoid get­ting on the train be­cause they stick out in head­scarves.

Moira Ji­lani, an Amer­i­can whose Pales­tinian hus­band was killed in 2010 by Is­raeli bor­der po­lice, said she got on the train to get to Jerusalem City Hall on Sun­day July 5 and no­ticed she was the only vis­i­bly Mus­lim woman on it.

For many of the res­i­dents of Shuafat, avoid­ing the train is part of a gen­eral feel­ing of lock­down. Suha Abu Khdeir said she was keep­ing her six sur­viv­ing chil­dren — Mo­hammed’s sib­lings — at home. “One’s enough,” she said.

Mo­hammed’s un­cle Walid Abu Khdeir said his wife has urged him not to give pocket money to their two twins; she doesn’t want them walk­ing 30 feet to the neigh­bor­hood store.

Vatik said he has re­ceived many re­quests from Shuafat and Beit Han­ina to re­turn train ser­vice. But other Pales­tini­ans in Shuafat said they feel threat­ened by res­i­dents from Pis­gat Zeev pass­ing through their neigh­bor­hood.

“They are try­ing to fix the train, and we don’t want it,” said Fatme Abu Khdeir, Mo­hammed’s cousin. “The set­tlers in­side [the train] are teas­ing us.”

City spokes­woman Brachie Sprung said on July 8 that “the train is still a sign of coex­is­tence. In our eyes, the train still brings to­gether all parts of the city.”

DANIELLA CH­ES­LOW

De­struc­tion and Re­newal: Re­pair­men (be­low) ad­dress dam­age in­flicted on Jerusalem’s rail sys­tem by Pales­tini­ans (above) en­raged by the mur­der of Mo­hammed Abu Khdeir.

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