Israeli Court Dismisses Petition Challenging Shabbat Railway Work Halt

Meretz leader Galon's petition was dismissed after an admission by the government that Netanyahu’s order was issued without authority.

FILE PHOTO: Israeli soldiers wait at Tel Aviv train station.
Tomer Appelbaum

The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a petition filed by the head of the Meretz party, Zehava Galon, challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s order issued over a weekend in September barring Israel Railways from carrying out infrastructure work over Shabbat and including the following Sunday. Netanyahu’s order caused huge disruptions because it resulted in train travel begin halted in on a Sunday, the first day of the business week, when a large number of civilians and soldiers make use of the trains.

The petition was dismissed after an admission by the government that Netanyahu’s order was issued without authority. The court expressed regret that the issue was being dealt with by the court after the fact, but said there was no further action to be taken.

The entire issue arose due to pressure on the prime minister from ultra-Orthodox members of Netanyahu’s coalition government not to allow Sabbath maintenance work to be performed that could be performed during the week. The prime minister is said to have ultimately issued the stop-work order after receiving conflicting information on the subject from the Transportation Ministry.

“The state made it clear,” Justice Uri Shoham stated, “that the prime minister was not the authorized party to take such decisions and the matter has been addressed.”The state, Shoham reiterated, acknowledged that it is not the prime minister but rather the labor minister (an apparent reference to what is now known as the social affairs minister), who should have issued the order. The justice also noted that the petition was filed in advance, but “ultimately the matter became theoretical” after the stop work order was carried out, “and there is no need to issue a directive as to the future.” Prior to Tuesday’s hearing, however, the court did issue an interim order barring Netanyahu from ordering any further railway work to be halted on Shabbat.

Netanyahu’s order was issued just a few minutes before the beginning of the Sabbath on a Friday after efforts to resolve the matter failed. Netanyahu took the action after failing to convince Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz that he should revoke 20 Sabbath work permits that the ministry had issued. The state’s admission that matters were not properly handled also raised the issue of the state’s possible liability for damage suffered by the railway or others as a result, but the state prosecutors appearing before the court argued that that was not for the high court to decide.