Jerusalem's tram rides a fine line as city violence worsens

Fri Nov 14, 2014 10:48am EST
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By Luke Baker

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - If there has been a constant target during weeks of unrest in Jerusalem, it is the divided city's Light Rail, a sleek tram that snakes through downtown, past the ancient walls of the Old City, symbolically uniting Jewish West and Arab East.

Launched in 2011 after years of delays and budget overruns, the French-Israeli project was hailed as a piece of world-class infrastructure that would transform the city, bringing Israelis and Palestinians closer through shared public transport.

While in some ways that has happened, with up to 140,000 people - from ultra-Orthodox Jews to Palestinian workers, Muslim schoolgirls and Israeli bureaucrats - using the train each day, the past few months have torn that cosmopolitan picture apart.

Since the July murder of a 16-year-old Palestinian, burned to death by Jewish assailants in revenge for the murder of three Jewish teenagers, the light rail has become a target of almost daily attacks by Palestinian youths throwing rocks, stones and petrol bombs. []

Three of the train's 23 stops, in the Palestinian neighborhoods of Shuafat and Beit Hanina, look more like low-grade war zones, the glass-and-steel waiting areas smashed and boarded up, the ticket machines destroyed or removed, heavily armed and edgy Israeli police watching from every corner.

"Every day there is trouble," said Ibrahim Salah, 58, who runs Halawani, a sweet store facing the ruined Shuafat stop.

"There's a lot of anger about the train," he said, dismissing it with a sweep of his hand. "It only goes through here to get to the Jewish settlements. It's for them, not us."

Twice in the past three weeks, Palestinian drivers have rammed their cars into people waiting at light rail stops along the Green Line that has invisibly separated West Jerusalem from East since 1967, killing four people and wounding 20. Both drivers were shot dead by Israeli security forces.   Continued...

Passengers, one wearing a mask, ride a light rail tram in Jerusalem November 11, 2014. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun