J'lem Train Company Asks Passengers: 'Do You Mind Traveling With Arabs?'

With capital light rail raring to go, operator surveys residents' attitudes.

Jerusalem's light rail project is now in its final phase, with its train cars set to operate within less than a year. Ahead of the scheduled activation, CityPass, the rail system's concessionaire, is conducting a poll to better gauge its public-relations standing among Jerusalemites.

The survey asks residents various questions related to whether they intend to use the new train system. Respondents are asked how they feel about a number of practical issues, such as the planned routes and the measures to make commuting easier.

Emil Salman

The two last questions, however, deal with the fact that the train is also slated to serve several stations in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, including Shoafat, Sheikh Jarrah and others near the Old City.

"The light rail includes three stations in Shoafat. Does that present a problem for you?" the questionnaire asks. In another question: "All passengers, Jewish and Arab, enter the train freely and without the driver's inspection. Is that a problem for you?"

Respondents are asked to indicate their level of concern from 1 (not a concern ) to 5 (very concerning ).

Among those surveyed yesterday was Ofra Ben-Artzi, a left-wing activist and the sister-in-law of Sara Netanyahu, wife of the prime minister. "I told the pollster, 'Imagine this kind of question being asked in London or New York.' It testifies to the level of racism we've reached," she said.

Preparing for the worst

Over the past few years, Ben-Artzi has called to task several French companies involved in the project for building east of the Green Line.

"I tried to confront the company during the project's early stages," she said. "I don't plan on using this train because it passes through the occupied territories, but this questionnaire shows just how deeply they've dug themselves in."

"This survey smacks of racism," said Jerusalem city council member Yosef Alalu. "If you thought all the problems would end once the train started running, now we see the sort of problems that can crop up in the future."

One of the most pressing remaining problems related to the light rail is providing security against potential terror attacks. As it can hold up to 10 more passengers than a bus, the light rail is considered a higher-value target for terrorists.

Sources close to the project, however, have said that because the rail network would serve all residents of the city - both Jewish and Arab - the chance of a terrorist attack is low.

A deal struck between the state and CityPass holds that the Public Security Ministry will be tasked with providing the light rail with security. Government officials close to the project issued a statement saying, "We're pleased to serve public-transportation users in Jerusalem without distinction."

"There is no country in the world dealing with the security problems Jerusalem faces on a daily basis," a response from CityPass said.

"There are questions that arise when dealing with public transportation in Jerusalem - whether it's a bus or light rail - that don't arise elsewhere in the world, and they need to be addressed," it said.