Protests Across Israel Over Decision to Shut Trains Due to Shabbat

Opposition Knesset factions secure signatures necessary to convene a special session to debate the issue.

A crowd demonstrates against the halt of rail works in Haifa on Saturday, September 3, 2016.
Rami Shllush

Protests are taking place around train stations across Israel on Saturday night following a decision to halt rail repair work on Shabbat.

Work conducted on the railways during the Jewish day of rest has provoked a political crisis over the past few days, with the ultra-Orthodox parties demanding that all work be halted. On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the cancellation of all infrastructure work planned by Israel Railways for the weekend and undertook to resolve the issue within 72 hours.

Over 300 came to Tel Aviv's Savidor Station to protest the shutdown, among them Knesset members from Zionist Union, Meretz and supporters of the grassroots Darkenu movement.

"I can't remember such an embarrassing surrender, that harmed so many to such an extent," MK Tamar Zandberg said. "Tens of thousands of people are paralyzed, like peons on Bibi, Katz and Litzman's board game.  

About 100 gathered for a protest near Haifa's Lev Hamifratz train station, organized by the Darkenu movement and featuring the slogan “Getting the train on track,” took off a little earlier.

Gad Halevy, a Haifa resident who works at Tel Aviv University attended the protest, and said that he won't be commuting on Sunday to work. "I'll spend about seven hours on the road. It's not worth it," he said. According to him, Netanyahu was to blame. "The prime minister is running the business," he said.

A protest is slated for the northern town of Nahariya at 8:30 P.M. Ron Feiner, a resident of Moshav Ben-Ami, just east of Nahariya, said that without a train service, residents of the area are stuck.

“My brother is a university student in Be’er Sheva and can’t get there. We are all stuck in the north. Anyone who doesn’t have a car can’t leave the area.”

Buses pose a problem, he claimed, saying that the bus lines are poorly planned. “It takes us an hour-and-a-half to get to Tel Aviv by train, and by bus it’s at least three hours.”

Three opposition Knesset factions, the Zionist Union, Meretz and Yesh Atid, said they have secured the 25 signatures from MKs required to convene a special Knesset session to debate the issue of halting rail repair work over Shabbat.