Has the struggle of Emek Refaim residents against the light rail project been put to rest?
It may be too early to close the door on the issue, which has been going on, with ups and downs, for over five years. It would be more correct to say that the struggle is changing direction and focus.
As we recall, a large group of residents from the area of the German Colony’s central thoroughfare, Emek Refaim – some say over 5,000 households – opposed having the light rail’s Blue Line run along this beautiful street. The arguments were varied, the main ones being that the street is too narrow, its special character would be destroyed, and that there are several better alternatives in the immediate vicinity.
But the feeling is that the opportunity to avert the decree has passed, although there remains a hard nucleus of opponents who are not ready to give up.
Let there be no misunderstanding: For most residents of the neighborhood, having the light rail on Emek Refaim remains very undesirable. But the understanding has set in that it’s hard to beat the establishment.
Will resistance against the light rail revive again?
In recent days, there has been a revival of interest in the struggle, and perhaps this is related to two significant events in the life of the city.
The first is that Ofer Berkowitz, the founder and leader of Hitorerut, retired from local politics – at least for the time being – and relinquished his seat to city council member Adir Schwartz. Schwartz is an energetic man in his 20s, and it is clear that there’s nothing like a public struggle to position him as a local leader of the city’s secular sector.
The second is that we are in an election year for the city council and mayor. The elections are planned for October – that is, in nine months, which in terms of local politics is very soon.
In the fight against the light rail on Emek Refaim, what is now emerging is the sense that instead of completely opposing having the light rail on Emek Refaim, it is better at this stage to present a list of demands that would ease, even if only slightly, the lives of the residents, especially the merchants, who fear that two years of roadwork (or even three) would ruin their businesses.
Likud activists in the city and Adir Schwartz asked the merchants to organize themselves in order to put pressure on the mayor regarding the road work on the street. Discounts in property tax, in various fees, various concessions, joint planning of the works (work in sections and not on the whole street at one time) and a list of other demands are on the agenda in the opening of negotiations between the residents and merchants and the municipality, heralding a complete change of direction in the situation.
Mayor Moshe Lion is preparing his campaign for a second term with an impressive basket of achievements, such as a clean city, an unprecedented construction boom, and an equally unprecedented willingness to listen to the residents of the eastern part of the city. He would do well to take advantage of the opportunity and represent the interests of the residents and merchants of the German Colony and enter October with yet another achievement – someone who stands up for the city’s residents. ❖