Mevaseret Zion residents protest tunneling on Shabbat

Locals turn to religious lawmakers, ministers to help stop construction on high-speed rail line from taking place at night, weekends.

By JONAH MANDEL
August 14, 2011 02:34
israel railways train

train 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

As the threat of perpetual tunneling threatens the serenity of a Jerusalem suburb, Mevaseret Zion residents are turning to religion for salvation.

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 weekends.

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The A1 train track between the country’s two central cities will include a pair of tunnels beginning in the Arazim Valley.

The portal 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.

The works, 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 law.”

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 wrote.

“We Mevaseret Zion residents call upon you as an elected official who understands the importance of Shabbat rest,” to help prevent the looming decree.

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.

Gafni, who 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 Shabbat.”

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 noise.

“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.”


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