What's in a Train? Tel Aviv Light-rail as a Demographic Tool

The station being built under our noses in central Tel Aviv will be somebody else’s - for is there any means of human transport more suitable than a train?

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Haredi man looks on as bulldozers clear debris for light-rail construction in central Tel Aviv. August 2015.
Haredi man looks on as bulldozers clear debris for light-rail construction in central Tel Aviv. August 2015. Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher

Now, as we look at the ruins of Tel Aviv’s Maariv Bridge at our feet, it seems that the time is ripe to reveal the beauty of the plan for the light rail system in all its daring. Don’t underestimate it. When we say “daring” we mean at the very least. It’s genius and deadly.

We, the inhabitants of central Tel Aviv, asked ourselves more than once in recent weeks why we are to be punished in this way, for six years, by ongoing inconvenience, including vehicles clogging residential side streets that were not meant to be carrying such heavy traffic, lengthening even the shortest journey in a way that will make us sorry we set out for destinations that now seem almost as if they are in another country.

We are not ashamed admit that at first we did not see the logic. Some of us, in our darkest moments, raised the possibility that this was state-sponsored torment by the Jewish Identity Administration, and that they might be building an enclosure for us under the guise of excavating train tunnels. Tunneling has gotten a bad name around these parts since last summer. If the enemy’s fighters can pop out of tunnels along the Gaza border, who knows what might emerge from the depths of the earth under the Mifgash Hasteak restaurant.

And it’s all for the sake of traveling from Petah Tikva to Bat Yam via Bnei Brak? We pored over a map, our fingers tracing the Red Line. There must be a catch, we said, wrinkling our brow with suspicion. But we very soon realized that the problem with our thinking was that it was tainted with Tel Aviv-centrism. No one expects that we, who live in central Tel Aviv, will suddenly, just like that, seek the option of getting on a train near our house and taking it to the depths of Petah Tikva or the outskirts of Bat Yam.

Rather, the inhabitants of Petah Tikva and Bat Yam are being invited to stream into the big city on the train, either to work there by day or to party at night. And because they’ll be using the train, they’ll immediately begin leaving their cars at home and our streets will be empty of them. And if someone wants to live in Bat Yam or to work in Petah Tikva, the train will also help him reach that goal!

Still, we were dogged by doubt. We were skeptical. Will some guy from Petah Tikva really get off the train at Yehudit Street and catch a bus or taxi to his job from there? Will he waste more time and money? No, we didn’t think so either. And as pleasant as it is for us to toy with the possibility that somebody might live in Bat Yam and work in Petah Tikva, we must admit how remote a possibility that is.

Light-rail construction in Maariv Junction in central Tel Aviv. August 2015. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

So who is all this commotion for? Who will be the lucky recipients of this prize? We looked around, and then came our eureka moment: It’s all for us. We are being pushed into packing our belongings, leaving our apartments and moving to Petah Tikva, to Ramat Gan and to Bat Yam. That is what a train like this does. It encourages families to leave the center of the big city for distant neighborhoods that are cheaper and quieter. The chaos of the train’s construction will expel us to the end of the line. And from the place of our exile its existence will make it easier for us to visit our old neighborhood, which will sigh on without us. A person needs to know what station to get off at. And the station being built under our noses will be somebody else’s. It’s called demographic transfer. And is there any means of transport more suitable than a train?

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