passengers aboard the Jerusalem light railway -  Tomer Appelbaum - 07102011
Jewish and Arab passengers aboard the Jerusalem light railway. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Security guards on Jerusalem's light rail used pepper spray on Arab passengers during a clash that occurred on Wednesday after the train supervisor asked the passengers to remove their feet from the seats.

The incident, the first in which pepper spray was used, comes following numerous reports of confrontations between Jewish and Arab passengers.

Most of the clashes, which police say are not reported, take place in the area of the Arab neighborhood of Beit Hanina and the Jewish neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev.

After the passengers, young Arab men, refused to take their feet off the seat the supervisor called in train security guards. A melee ensued, in which the guards sprayed the young men and took them off the train.

Police who were called to the scene made no arrests, since no complaint was lodged.

A Pisgat Ze'ev resident, who gave his name as Tzion, said his children were accosted on one occasion by Arab teens who cursed them and showed them a bag that they said contained drugs.

In another case, police arrested four Palestinians for throwing stones at the train.

But Ahmed Mustafa Sub Labaa, a field researcher for the Jerusalem non-profit organization Ir Amim, said Palestinian passengers have also complained of attacks by Jews. In one case, three Palestinian children said they were attacked three weeks ago by a number of Orthodox passengers during an argument over seats.

One Pisgat Ze'ev resident said he thought the problem was that the train is still free, which makes it an attraction for bored young men, both Jews and Arabs, looking for trouble.

"I would describe the situation as 'birth pangs', said Jerusalem city councilwoman Yael Antebi, adding that she has received numerous reports of fistfights and violence. "These are groups that don't fit together harmoniously and all of a sudden are put together," she added.

Ir Amim's policy advocacy director, Oshrat Maimon, wrote Yehuda Shoshani, the CEO of the light rail franchisee City Pass, that the company should regard the encounter between the two groups, "happening for the first time intensively on a transportation system" as a challenge to "make clear that everyone has a right to the services of the light rail" and to decry violence.

The Jerusalem municipality, which is responsible for security on the train, responded that since the train started running, "there had been only a few violent incidents, mainly involving young people, not necessarily connected to ethnic affiliation."