For two decades, the state has been promising the towns of Wadi Ara, an area with some 180,000 residents and a transportation crisis, that it will build a train line connecting them to the national rail system. A plan even received statutory approval, and along the way a joint commercial and industrial zone for six communities, both Jewish and Arab, was planned. In late January, the region’s towns discovered that the committee for land transport (which is under the Planning Authority, and whose protocols are not published) decided that the Iron train line, which would have connected the towns to Israel’s main north-south coastal train line and the newer Eastern train line, had been shelved. Instead the Transportation Ministry was advancing plans for the Menashe line, which would directly link the two endpoints without passing through the towns.
The state neglects Wadi Ara because most of its residents are Arabs. The area ranks in the second-lowest socioeconomic decile, and for years has faced heavy traffic and a lack of public transport. Some 60 percent of residents work outside the area, while the vehicle ownership rate there is low compared to that of Israel’s general population. Connecting the region to proper public transport is crucial.
The train line that was meant to address these problems was supposed to be a continuation of the line that was planned to run between Lod and Hadera, which is expected to be operational in eight years. It was supposed to connect the coastal train line to the Eastern train line, passing through Iron junction and the Wadi Ara towns Umm al-Fahm, Arara and Megiddo, and passing west of Afula, where it could connect to the Emek train line. During the most recent committee meeting, that plan was shelved in favor of the Menashe line, which may be easier to build, but will help only residents traveling between the center and the north.
The vague proposal presented by the Transportation Ministry to the committee describes a theoretical, initial plan for a future transport line, and it’s not clear how it will look on the ground and whether it will include a public transport lane, a light rail or an express bus route. But such a possibility is merely optional. The heads of the Wadi Ara towns are right to be concerned they’ll be left with nothing; they’ve learned from the experience of the state’s methodological neglect. They’re also correct in their argument that a train would contribute to industry and general development in the area.
Strengthening the Arab towns by linking them to central Israel via a train line needs to be a national project of utmost importance. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who was elected to a high spot on the Likud Knesset slate in that party’s primary election, needs to assume the “bulldozer” role even when it comes to citizens who don’t vote for his party. He would do well to remove the alternative train line plan from the agenda and return to the original plan for the Iron line.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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