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April 25, 2012 11:32 am

Apartheid on the Train in Jerusalem?

avatar by David Ha'ivri

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Light rail system in Jerusalem. Photo: wiki commons.

During my visit to the British Parliament last week, I heard concerns from a number of MP’S that Jerusalem’s new light rail system was built as a “tool of Israel’s apartheid.” Where do you start explaining, when an intelligent elected official hits you with a claim that is so totally off base? Aside from the issue of priorities, since people are being killed by Bashar al-Assad daily in Syria, it is so hypocritical for world leaders to ignore that massacre and waste their time and effort in seeking out something to pin on Israel.

The city of Jerusalem was first declared the capital of the Kingdom of Israel by our mighty King David some 3000 years ago. In its center, on Mount Moriah, David’s son Solomon built the Temple, which became a place of gathering for the entire nation of Israel three times a year. Ever since, this city has been the focus point of the prayers of Jews wherever they have lived in the world. In Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, part of the city was captured by the British trained Arab Legion of Trans-Jordan, who held the city for 19 years until it was again united in the miraculous Six Day War of June, 1967. During the 19 years of Jordan’s illegal occupation of Jerusalem, Jews were barred from access to holy places in the city and Jewish doctors and nurses were massacred while trying to reach the Hadassah Hospital, located on Mount Scopus.

Only after Israel’s Defense Forces reunited the holy city were members of all religions again allowed access to places holy to them (aside from the Temple Mount, which maintains limited access for non-Muslims).

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Jerusalem today is a city with a total population of about 760,000 people – about 65% Jewish and 35% Muslim, Christian and “other”. Anyone who visits the city will see a mix of people from all ethnic backgrounds and all religions taking part in all aspects of the city’s culture and commerce. Like it or not, apartheid is not a fitting description for the reality of Jerusalem today.

The city of Jerusalem, capital of the State of Israel, incorporated its light rail public transportation system this year. The light rail is intended to relieve traffic congestion, and to save the city from some of the air pollution of exhaust fumes from the cars and buses that it will replace.

Three years of its construction was very bothersome to the residents and visitors in Jerusalem because it made transit within the city even more difficult, with many roads closed and traffic redirected. When the work was finally completed, I think that most of Jerusalem was happy with the results.

The light rail is now 14 KM long with 23 stops. It starts in the Pisgat Zev neighborhood in the north and runs though Beit Hannia and Shuafat, passing by the Old City through the center of town, and running along Jaffa Street past the central bus station, ends at Mount Herzl.

The track passes through and stops in both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. I have taken the train and noticed that both Jews and Arabs are regular commuters. All of the train’s signs, tickets, ticket machines, and public announcements are made very clearly in both Hebrew and Arabic and signs of station names are posted in both Hebrew and Arabic.

Knowing the facts firsthand, it is strange for me to hear discussions in British Parliament about the light rail being segregated and a “tool of apartheid.” Why, I ask, do people buy into such baseless libel and propaganda?

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