Peace Train

The Jerusalem Light Rail, scheduled to begin operation Friday, has the potential of becoming a vehicle for city unity.

Jerusalem light rail 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem light rail 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
I am certain that when Cat Stevens wrote his 1971 hit “Peace Train,” he never imagined that it would be used to describe the coexistence of Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem. I am even more certain that since converting to Islam and abandoning the messages of many of his previous hits, he’d be shocked to find this comparison 40 years later.
For nearly a decade, a not-quite- 14-km. stretch of track has been under construction and testing in what is slated to be the long overdue Jerusalem Light Rail. Planning and other bureaucratic procedures took place for many years prior to that. By comparison, the construction of the original Temple only took seven years, a much more significant project built without the benefits of modern equipment.
On all levels, the Jerusalem Light Rail should have been done more quickly. Many cite the despair of merchants along the route, as well as the inconvenience caused this past decade to regular traffic. But inconvenience is only one item on the endless list of criticisms the train has encountered.
Politically, criticism has been leveled against the train’s route, transversing the capital on the periphery of largely Arab neighborhoods and into areas once controlled by Jordan until 1967.
Of course, since Arabs will benefit from the train and are projected to ride it no less than Jews, it seems a bit insincere to find fault in putting the route along the periphery of their neighborhoods.
Imagine the uproar in any other Western country where a new mass transit system was put into place deliberately to limit the ability of minorities to use it. In Jerusalem, not only is the route built to facilitate Arabs’ use of the train, but signage is in Arabic as well.
Another criticism of the train is that it is relatively porous to terrorists and is a natural target.
Unlike buses, which were blown up at the hands of terrorists by the dozens, maiming and murdering thousands, the train has multiple doors and may very well be a terrorist’s fantasy – riding aboard a nice new train to “paradise” and the supposed 72 virgins that await him.
Some people don’t like to talk about this, as if it might give someone ideas. I am sure there is no shortage of terrorist wannabes who have already given this plenty of thought; my mentioning it here is not likely to inspire any new evil.
Some say it’s nonsense to imagine that a terrorist would target the Jerusalem train, specifically because Arabs will be riding the train and no good Arab would want to end up killing other Arabs.
Really? Maybe people have forgotten that Arabs also ride Jerusalem’s buses and have been killed by other “martyrs’” murderous acts. More recently, one need only look at Syria, Libya, Egypt and Lebanon to find a few places where Arabs kill one another without as much as a second thought.
The jury is out on the train and its potential good, and whether or not, if it is widely used and free of terrorist plots, it will make up for the delays and inconvenience.
Some remain optimistic that the train will be a great public asset, that it will speed up and simplify transit across Jerusalem, maybe even uniting the population, and will be a cause for celebration and not fear.
I AM a big fan of the former musician Stevens, and equally no fan of what he’s become. Nevertheless, had he been sitting at a Jerusalem café today, watching the intermingling of the city’s diverse population and the light rail gliding by, he could have written this song all over again. Just think, a real Peace Train in the City of Peace.
Now I’ve been happy lately
Thinking about the good things
to come
And I believe it could be
Something good has begun
 I’ve been smiling lately
Dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be
Something good’s bound to come
For out on the edge of darkness
There runs the peace train
Peace train take this country
Come take me home again.
The writer immigrated to Israel in 2004. He blogs on