Sunday, June 23, 2013

Trains, No Trains, and Trains Again - in Jerusalem

I'm staying in a neighborhood in Jerusalem called "Katamon" (the name is Arabic, but it comes from Greek, and means "below the monastery" - the monastery in question is on the hill at the top of a close neighborhood called San Simon). During the Ottoman period, in the late 19th century, the rail track was laid between Jaffa, on the coast, and Jerusalem, with the final station being on Emek Refaim St., and the line was officially inaugurated in September 1982. In 1920 the entire line was rebuilt by the British army. The last train on the line ran in 1998. When I was living in Israel from 1987-89, and then again in 1992-93, I used to hear the train pass by every day, and it was a comforting sound - I like hearing the train whistle. The train was re-opened in 2005, but the final stop in Jerusalem was no longer on Hebron Road, but in Malcha, in the southern part of the city.

So what to do with the old rail line? One proposal was to pave it over and create yet another big highway crossing through Jerusalem - something which would have divided a number of neighborhoods in half (the Katamonim, Baka, and the German Colony). The mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupolianski, was determined to build this highway, but he was turned out of office in 2008 by Nir Barakat, who agreed with neighborhood activists in the Katamonim that the rail line should be turned into a rail park. The rail park was finished earlier this year and it's a very nice place to take a walk, ride a bicycle, hang out with the kids, jog, and meet your neighbors from the surrounding neighborhoods.

A view from the Rail Trail looking south. I'm not sure what the hills in the distance are.
On the rail trail parallel to Emek Refaim.
Flowers along the path.
Jerusalem now has another train - the light rail, which was inaugurated in the fall of 2011. The route goes from Mt. Herzl in the western part of the city, to the center of the city on Jaffa Road, and all the way north to Shuafat, Beit Hanina, and Pisgat Zeev. Shuafat and Beit Hanina are Arab neighborhoods in the northeast and Pisgat Zeev is a Jewish neighborhood built since 1967 (actually, I've read that it's not entirely Jewish now, because east Jerusalem Palestinians have been moving in to some apartments there). The light rail crosses over the Green Line - the ceasefire lines from the 1948 war that determined the border between Israeli-controlled west Jerusalem and Jordanian-controlled east Jerusalem for 19 years. I haven't been all the way on the light rail but a few days ago I took it from Givat ha-Mivtar, not far from the Hebrew University at Mt. Scopus, to the big intersection of Jaffa St. and King George St. The next two photos are of people on the light rail.

The next photo is of Jaffa Road with the light rail in the distance coming from the Old City.

The photo below is of the intersection of Jaffa Road and King George. Notice the graphical sign for the light rail on the pole above the traffic light.

King George Street is named for King George V, who was the British monarch in 1924 when the street was dedicated. Below is the dedicatory plaque.

Herbert Samuel was the first British High Commissioner for Palestine - he was Jewish; under him was Ronald Storrs, a Christian and British official, who among other things decreed that all buildings in Jerusalem should be faced with Jerusalem stone; and under him was the mayor, a Muslim, Ragheb El Nashashibi, from one of the old Jerusalem Palestinian families who had been officials under the Ottomans for a couple of a centuries (other families were the Dajanis, the Husseinis, and the Khalidis). This seeming portrait of interfaith and communal harmony was not true then and is certainly not true now, even though everyone takes the light rail through the city.

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