The Light Rail

I was having fewer check-ups at the hospital so I could invest more time in Tzur Baher and the story that is never told about the different layers of life in Jerusalem.  After a quick checkup, I took the light rail that crosses the city from West to East to meet with Riham Jaber, who works part time in a college in East Jerusalem.

I sat on the train, watching the people and thought about how under the surface, where no one notices it, there is an active incubator on wheels that nurtures meetings between the different parts of the city.  We can’t asses the significance of these meetings yet: In the north, new immigrants and veteran Israelis living in the outlying neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev get on the train; soon, at the next stops, as the light rail makes its way towards the city, Arabs from the neighborhoods of Beit Hanina and Shoafat get on.  Then, in the area around the Damascus Gate, residents of the Old City and residents of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods around Meir Shearim get on together they ride the train on their way to the city center, the market place and the hospitals, while the Jewish residents continue to visit their relatives in the religious neighborhoods to the west.

On the way, they chat or steal a glance at the other passengers or doze off. Some of them look for contact, their eyes curiously checking out every passenger that gets on. They smile at a baby in a stroller or help an elderly man lift his shopping bags filled with vegetables he bought at the market.  It’s hard to promote hatred when you bump into each other every day.  The train has been plying this route for two years and people have come to know each other, who gets on at which station and who gets off, and they nod their heads in greeting.

I thouht about the stories of love and the stories of hate that are being written in our own time, and I wondered: Who was the one who thought up the idea of mixing up everybody together? What’s going on here? This isn’t New York.

Well, maybe it is a little bit like New York.  A small, tolerant New York. Just like hospitals position themselves outside of the conflict and become an incubator for life together, maybe the train is driving through space like a great experiment that is working, even though everything is so terribly fragile.  It would only take one mean person, and everything could come to an end.

It’s been a year since I wrote this. In the summer of 2014 the light rail became the primary target of Palestinian resistance in Jerusalem. Between June and October, 2014, the train was attacked daily, its schedule was cut back, and the dream of a train that would pull the city together with its steel zipper tracks has been destroyed.