Sleep-deprived soldiers fight fallout of rail closure

Delays ‘very hard to deal with,’ says one • ‘I’m not against the haredim, but it’s not okay to affect soldiers’ lives,’ says another.

September 5, 2016 02:43
3 minute read.
Soldiers at Arlozorov.

FRUSTRATED SOLDIERS wait outside the Arlozorov Bus Terminal in northeastern Tel Aviv.. (photo credit: ELIYAHU KAMISHER)

Frustrated and bleary-eyed soldiers lined up at Tel Aviv’s Arlozorov Terminal early on Sunday morning, waiting to catch a bus as their morning commute was delayed – caught up in a weekend political spat between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Transportation Minister Israel Katz, and adamant ultra-Orthodox parties. That spat forced the closure of approximately 150 trains, including on the Haifa-Tel Aviv route, affecting some 150,000 passengers.

Most soldiers leave their bases to spend the weekend with family and return on Sunday morning. For many soldiers who must return to bases in northern Israel, the Haifa-Tel Aviv railway is the essential mode of transportation. However, the railway was closed until seven o’clock Sunday evening, after railway construction planned for the weekend was halted by Netanyahu following protests from Shas and United Torah Judaism. The two ultra-Orthodox parties threatened to topple the coalition over violating the Sabbath.

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In between espressos, ice coffee drinks, and cigarettes, soldiers waited in exasperated complacency to board buses heading to bases in Binyamina, Herzliya and Haifa, among others.

“Is there room for two more?” one soldier pleaded, but every seat was already filled with a young solider.

Cargo compartments were packed to the brim with large backpacks, as another soldier struggled with all her might to squeeze in her bag.

Netanyahu blamed the crisis on fellow Likud politician Katz, calling it a “cynical” attempt to undermine the prime minister’s relationship with the ultra-Orthodox parties. The PMO contends that the train construction on Shabbat never had to occur in the first place, and could have been done at a different time without hurting train passengers or the religious community.

“There is an attempt to incite the haredim against the government,” Netanyahu said in a cabinet meeting on Sunday. “I will not let anyone carry out a putsch.”

Katz associates contend that Netanyahu initiated the crisis as an excuse to fire the transportation minister, a premonition that may come to fruition as Likud sources told The Jerusalem Post that there is good chance Katz will lose his job.

Opposition MKs blamed Netanyahu over the closure, and protests took place at multiple train stations on Saturday night. Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On petitioned the High Court of Justice for an injunction requiring the reinstatement of train service and railway work on Shabbat. The court denied Gal-On’s request, but said a formal response would be delivered on Monday.

As the drama played out among the political echelon, Tel Aviv soldiers were forced to wake up one to two hours early on Sunday morning. Most soldiers who spoke with the Post expressed annoyance at the ultra-Orthodox parties for causing the delays.

Uri Yedidiya, who was waiting for a bus to Binyamina near Haifa, woke up at 5:30 to catch the bus. “What they did was not smart and not right,” said Yedidiya, a religious soldier. “I can understand the idea, but they can’t shut down a train that we depend on because something is not preferable to them.”

Despite increased buses to Haifa and alternative transportation organized by the prime minister, Tel Aviv’s Arlozorov Terminal was full of soldiers, with many being told to wait 30 minutes for the next bus.

Maayan Cohen is stationed in Herzliya less than 15 km. from Tel Aviv, but woke up at five o’clock to navigate the crowded bus station. “I’m not against the haredim,” she told the Post, “but it’s not okay to affect soldiers’ lives.”

Soldier David Goshen did not express any political views, but acknowledged that the delays were “very hard to deal with.”

Another soldier who declined to state her name said, “I don’t care if you are haredi or anything, soldiers just need get to their bases.”

Tal Semo, who was sitting patiently for a bus, stated that she was lucky. “I always take the bus so this doesn’t really affect me,” she remarked. “But I feel bad for the soldiers in places with less public transportation than Tel Aviv. This will be very hard on them.”

While Semo’s mode of transportation was unaffected, she and other soldiers still had to brave the other consequence of Sunday’s train closure: massive traffic jams on highways throughout central and northern Israel.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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