As the threat of perpetual tunneling threatens the serenity of a Jerusalem
suburb, Mevaseret Zion residents are turning to religion for
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Or perhaps more accurately, to religious lawmakers and
ministers, who might be able to use their sway to prevent the planned works on
the fast Jerusalem-Tel Aviv rail from taking place during nights and over
The A1 train track between the country’s two central cities
will include a pair of tunnels beginning in the Arazim Valley.
to these tunnels, as well as the access to it and organization zones for the
machinery to be involved are located a few hundred meters from the homes of the
Reches Halilim neighborhood in Mevaseret Zion.
In a bid to complete this
high-priority project in the shortest amount of time, the “approving body” –
composed of members of the Ministries of Interior, Transportation and
Environmental Protection – has obtained permission from the Ministry of
Industry, Labor and Trade to have the tunneling works carry on not only through
the nights, but also on weekends.
After numerous fruitless attempts to
get the Interior Ministry, which is headed by the Orthodox Shas party, to put
its foot down against the notion of the state endorsing work on Shabbat, an
action committee of Mevaseret Zion residents recently appealed to 13 national
religious and haredi MKs and ministers, asking them to help in their campaign to
retain the sanctity and serenity of the Jewish day of rest.
which were originally planned for June, have been put off to September, and are
expected to last three years.
In their letter to the lawmakers, the
residents noted that the works would include explosions, crushing boulders and
loading and unloading heavy equipment.
“According to the train’s
documents, the noise expected to ensue from the trucks alone would exceed 40
decibels an hour, which during the night would be a breach of the 1992
The noise rising from the work on Shabbat would not only damage the
weekend rest of the residents, but also be a disturbing soundtrack “to the
thousands of visitors who come to enjoy the area’s beauty on Shabbat,” they
“We Mevaseret Zion residents call upon you as an elected official
who understands the importance of Shabbat rest,” to help prevent the looming
As of Thursday, four MKs – Zevulun Orlev and Uri Orbach from
Habayit Hayehudi, and Moshe Gafni and Uri Maklev from United Torah Judaism –
responded to the letter. No member of Shas has reacted to the appeal, despite
the fact that five members of the party, not including Interior Minister Eli
Yishai, were made aware of the imminent Shabbat desecration.
heads the Knesset’s Finance Committee, said he addressed the issue to
Transportation Minister Israel Katz, and Orlev sent a letter to Industry, Trade
and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon.
That ministry is the only body in
Israel that can approve labor on days of rest.
“Digging the tunnel for
the train is not a matter of life or death [pikuach nefesh], and does not take
precedence over Shabbat,” wrote Orlev. “The priority here should go to the
well-being of the residents, who need quiet, serenity and rest on Shabbat. The
dust and noise that afflicts them during the week is enough. I expect the
minister Simhon to use his authority to prevent the permit for tunneling work on
The residents’ committee said they were “glad and appreciative
to Orlev over his reaction, and join it in the appeal to Simhon... We hope that
additional Knesset members, religious and secular alike, will join our struggle,
since Shabbat belongs to us all.”
A spokesman for Israel Railways, the
body in charge of the works, noted on Thursday in a statement following a query
that “the point of digging the tunnel from the east (adjacent to Mevaseret Zion)
is to significantly shorten the Jerusalem- Tel Aviv fast train project’s complex
timetables. There is currently no tunneling over weekends. Around-the-clock
tunneling will take place only in an advanced stage, when the digging will
happen in the tunnel itself, and without disturbing the Mevaseret Zion
residents,” said the statement.
“Due to the need to work over weekends,
the works will be undertaken by foreign workers only.” The spokesman reiterated
that the essence of the works “is to expedite the tunneling, thus shortening the
amount of time during which Mevaseret Zion residents will have to be exposed to
“Regarding Orlev’s claim,” the spokesman added, “let us note that
the law [permitting work during Shabbat] isn’t limited to matters of ‘life and
death,’ but also to other issues.”
The Ministry of Industry, Trade and
Labor, however, did acknowledge that there would be Jews working on Shabbat, but
stressed that it was a necessary measure, while ignoring the question of the
Mevaseret residents’ quality of life.
“The minister has the legal
authority to permit work on an employee’s weekly day of rest, if he is convinced
that pausing the work for all or part of the rest could damage the economy, the
work process or the supply of essential needs, to all or parts of the public,”
an answer to a query from Thursday read.
“After examining the reasons to
provide such a permit, the company received permission to employ up to eight
Jewish workers on Shabbat. These employees are charged with supervision,
inspection and management tasks, and it has been established that their presence
at the site is essential.”
“It should be noted,” continued the statement,
“that so long as the company employs non-Jews on Shabbat, whose weekly day of
rest is not Shabbat, the company does not need a special permit for them.”