I guess I should write about last week’s terror attacks near Eilat and the ongoing violence in the South, with about one hundred rockets falling on the cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheva since Friday. But I think the worse in terrorism, as its name shows, is it capacity of putting the threatened population to such a level of stress and trauma that they stop living a “normal” life. Indeed, and even though it first seems terrible to think this as we mourn every single loss, suicide bombing and other blind attacks on civilians do not cost so many casualties (to understand my thought just compare with the results of air bombings by the Allies during the liberation of Europe in 1944-1945). So this is why this post won’t deal with the conflict: there’s simply no way I suddenly forget everything more or less “normal” that happens in this country “just” because some people don’t want us to live here. So I still enjoy sitting on terrace of a café, or walking down busy pedestrian streets. Or ridding the bus. Or the streetcar now!
Because the inauguration of the light rail is the great Jerusalemite piece of news of the, say… decade? Yes, I might be slightly exaggerating but it’s true that the works to put in place this means of transportation for the first time in Israel started over ten years ago. I guess in any given place in the world things would have moved on faster. Actually, even Chavez’s project in Caracas moves on faster! This is mainly due to a conjunction of absurd mistakes (such as installing the rails the wrong way. No, sadly it’s not a joke) realized way latter and, as many institutions were involved in the project (CityPass, the company that provides the service ; the municipality ; the ministry of transportations ; the Knesset…) all this created a huge amount of red-tape (and, probably knowing the state of the Israeli political world, some more corruption). For the last episodes (so far one Jerusalemite woud say) of this tragicomedy: over the last six months test have been made as it was realized that bridges might not be able to support the weigh (you have to know each light rail is considerably long and can carry over 500 persons); only a third of the so-called “intelligent traffic lights” that are supposed to give the priority to the light rail at junctions, have been implemented and the system of coordination with bus tickets doesn’t work. Despite these aspects (and despite the lack of required safety audit by an independent organization…) CityPass was denied an umpteenth delay and was forced to start its commercial operations last Friday.
But I don’t want the reader to think everything goes wrong with the light rail. Along with over 40000 inhabitants each wagon was incredibly over packed!) I’ve ridden it for its inauguration and I’ve to say that for someone like who didn’t really suffer from all the related balagan (the drop in the real-estate during the works in the then and now again fancy Jaffa street is quite amazing, many storekeepers went bankrupt as no one could enter the street by car), it’s really a great innovation: “green”, silent, fast (at least it will be when it stop stopping five minute at each station as it currently does so that everyone understands that we should let people get out of the wagon first and then go into it). It should make transportation in downtown Jerusalem way easier and more comfortable than now by bus (actually I’ve still not decided whether bus driver here are superheroes or crazy psychopaths [I know, most of the time psychopaths are crazy…]), especially who go from the Takhana Hamerkazit (the central bus station) to Ben-Yehuda at the end of the afternoon (making bus cross Makhana Yehuda’s shouk [mostly known in the Arabic form souk] is definitely not a good idea…).
Alas, despite my attempt, one cannot escape for long the security issues here, and many are concern that the light rail is a “fashionable” target for any virgins-seeking jihadist, and a more vulnerable one than buses, where the driver can more easily check for suspect luggage as every passenger as to pass by him at the front door when he enters. Moreover, the debated heated up on the journey of the rail, as it crosses and stops at the Damscus gate and at the Arab neighborhoods of Shuafat and Bei Hanina (actually just North of my haGiv’a HaTsarfatit neighborhood which I hope will soon be the topic of a post on this blog. Oh, and I’ll try to add a map of the city too). Both sides criticized it: Palestinian activists because it accentuates the de facto unification of Jerusalem, right-wing ones because it’s “one more flaw in the security system” of the light rain. But actually I tend to see the bride side, which was quite perceptible when I was inside: the passengers come from all social and cultural backgrounds and represent quite well the diversity of the WHOLE city. For instance, it eases the circulation of Muslim pilgrims toward the Old City for the Friday prayer. It’s a fact that the Israeli government won’t give up on Jerusalem so from this observation one would find it segregative if the city hall had decided to exclude the Arab population from this project that comes at last true and that should be an occasion of uniting us rather than dividing us again.
P.S: note that I speak of Arab neighborhoods and not of “East-Jerusalem” as one could find just by staying one day that the latter concept, heir of the 1949 armistice lines (also called the Green Line ; but absolutely not “1967 borders” as is too often said), is totally irrelevant to the actual situation here nowadays.