On Friday, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the stations of the new light rail system in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area to voice their opposition to the government’s decision to shut down the public transit system on the Sabbath.
After decades of planning and years of construction, the 24-kilometer transit system, which travels through 34 stations from Bat Yam to Petah Tikva, officially opened to the public on Friday.
According to Hebrew media outlets, on the system’s first day of operation, which was cost-free, 100,000 people used it. Despite earlier claims by former transport minister Merav Michaeli that the train would run on Shabbat, the government decided that the transportation system would remain closed on Shabbat, starting an hour after Shabbat and closing three hours beforehand.
At the doors of numerous stations, protesters camped out in opposition to Shabbat operations being suspended, and dozens boarded some of the day’s final trains. In an effort to ride the train until the Sabbath, some demonstrators tied themselves to the handrails.
The operator responded by stopping the train at Tel Aviv’s Elifelet station and turning off the air conditioning, skipping the last stops in Bat Yam. Before withdrawing in peace, activists held their ground for more than two hours. An activist who had been throwing popsicles to protesters at a Tel Aviv station was seen on camera being violently detained by police. The officers shoved him to the ground before placing a chokehold on him and taking him away.
The new train system has stoked simmering resentment over the lack of public transportation on Shabbat, which is currently the status quo in most towns with the exception of Haifa, which has a significant Arab population.
While the new train system is a welcome development for residents of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, The area’s majority of secular residents contend that such services ought to be accessible to them without offending religious Israelis who refrain from using them on Shabbat.
However, there are a number of stations close to Bnei Brak on the transport system, and local Chareidi Jews were furious that Michaeli intended to launch the system on Shabbat.
Michaeli’s decision was overturned by the current minister of transportation, Miri Regev, who declared on Wednesday that “we will respect the status quo, per which the train will not operate on Shabbat. Shabbat is also a day of rest for those who are not religious. Additionally, this is a Jewish state,” Regev told the media on Wednesday.
The demonstrators attempted to obstruct Regev’s visit when he arrived at one of the stations earlier in the day by yelling, “Freedom of movement—eeven on the Sabbath.” On Friday, Regev reaffirmed her position, telling Channel 12 that “Israel is a Jewish state.
We keep things as they are. I fail to comprehend their point of contention. Pinkfront liberal rights supporters who participated in the demonstrations also carried signs that read, “Freedom in our country” and “Freedom to sit where we want.”
“A liberal nation provides for all of its people. Nobody will order us to sit down, restrict our freedom of movement on Shabbat, or put us in our place. Israel’s liberal population aspires to live a free life, even on the weekends. Pinkfront promised to stage such demonstrations every Friday and stated that they wanted equality without coercion.