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Tel Aviv’s long-awaited light rail system is finally opening. But not on Shabbat.

TEL AVIV (JTA) — The sounds of protest echoed and the ticket scanner malfunctioned as Israel’s transportation minister, Miri Regev, led a dry run for journalists of Tel Aviv’s long-awaited light rail on Wednesday.

The landmark project, which cost nearly $5 billion, promises to reshape the experience of commuting to Tel Aviv, or moving within it, for countless Israelis. The Red Line, whose route runs through Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv, through Tel Aviv to Petah Tikva, will officially open to the public on Friday — eight years after construction began and two years after it was first set to open.

The country has changed in that time. Now, government ministers cannot make public appearances without drawing protests from Israelis who are upset about the eight-month-old coalition’s efforts to limit the power of the judiciary. Indeed, protesters gathered at Ehrlich Station on Jaffa’s main artery, Jerusalem Boulevard, ahead of Regev’s arrival, chanting, “The minister poses for photo ops while the country is collapsing.” Others followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to his appearance at the official opening ceremony in Petah Tikva on Thursday.

Anti-overhaul activists protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the opening ceremony of the light rail, in Petah Tikva, Aug. 17, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

For many residents, one of the key issues clouding the light rail’s inauguration is that it will not run on Shabbat. Regev’s predecessor, Merav Michaeli, had promised that the line would run on Friday evenings and all day Saturday — a rarity in a country where public transportation does not operate on Shabbat. (An exception is in Haifa, which has a large Arab population.)

Michaeli’s promise had prompted outrage in the haredi Orthodox suburb of Bnei Brak, which has several stops on its route. Earlier this month, Regev announced that she was reversing Michaeli’s decision.

“We will uphold the status quo, according to which the train will not operate on Shabbat. For non-religious people, Shabbat is also a day of rest. And this is a Jewish state,” Regev told journalists on Wednesday.

As it stands, the line will operate for only 45 minutes on Saturday evenings, a shorter period than Jerusalem operates its light-rail system.

Miri Regev, Israel’s transportation minister, hosts a test drive of the new Metropolitan Light Rail in Jaffa-Tel Aviv, Aug. 16, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai skipped the opening ceremony over the Shabbat decision. Now, some critics of the government decision say they plan to boycott the train line altogether until it operates on Shabbat.

Ziv Forshtat, one of the people protesting Michaeli during the dry run, said he thought the limited service had to do with the massive anti-government demonstrations that take place after Shabbat ends each week at Kaplan Square, which is adjacent to one of the light-rail stations.

“They don’t want to make it easier for people to come to Kaplan for the protests,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Forshtat said he thought it was important that Israelis who have protested the right-wing government’s judiciary legislation should add the issue of transportation on Shabbat to their agenda.

“It’s a situation that has been tolerated until now,” Forshtat said. “But now that we’re seeing the belt tightened in other areas with this government, it’s time to put our foot down on this issue also.”

The other six days of the week, the new train line will ease for many Israelis what can be a complicated, congested journey to and through Tel Aviv. Traveling into the center of the city from either of the terminuses of the train line can take up to an hour by bus; driving by car, which not all Israelis can do, comes with a hefty price tag for parking — if a spot can even be found. Now, it will take just minutes to traverse the same distance. Areas served by the new train line are expected to become more desirable for people seeking to beat the city’s high rents.

“Whatever the problems, whatever the ‘could-have-been’s, this light rail line is a tremendous improvement over the status quo. On my route, this train line — warts and all — saves one to two hours a day,” said Owen Alterman, who works as a senior correspondent at the i24NEWS television channel. Because of poor eyesight, Alterman cannot drive and uses public transportation to get to and from the channel’s studios.

Work is underway on two additional lines that will triple the area served by light rail; those lines are for now scheduled to be completed in 2026 and 2028. The entire project will ultimately include 139 stations in 14 cities.

View of the new Metropolitan Light Rail station in Tel Aviv, Aug. 16, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The 34 stations on the Red Line are gleaming in advance of the first day of operations on Friday. Unlike in Jerusalem, where a new light rail system operated fare-free for four months after the first line opened in 2011, the Tel Aviv system will start collecting fares on Saturday night. Trips within Tel Aviv will cost 5 shekels, or about $1.30, and longer trips will cost just over $3.

Some local residents had hoped that Tel Aviv would follow Jerusalem’s example and offer free rides as compensation for construction upheaval.

“After shutting down the main traffic arteries in Jaffa for four years, putting countless stores out of business and making traffic impossible in the area, the least they could offer is more than one free day,” Bracha Arnold, a Jaffa resident, told JTA.

Regev did not offer details about the transportation ministry’s decision making. “We decided that it would be one day,” she said. “From Saturday we will start validating tickets.”

How smoothly that happens remains to be seen. After Regev swiped a borrowed travel card, known as a Rav Kav, to pay a fare, the ticket barriers malfunctioned and remained closed.

“Let’s hope this gets fixed by Saturday night,” she said.

Other potential challenges loom. The train has the capacity to hold 440 passengers, but Tevel, the company that operates the line, anticipates that demand will be higher. By September, when operations normalize, the company projects demand to stand at 600 to 700 passengers per train.

The gap worries both Amiram Ohion, CEO of Tevel, the company that operates the Red Line, and Haim Glick, CEO of the government-owned mass transit agency.

“We have a passenger forecast for the route, but it is based on buses, which is a whole different world of public transportation,” Ohion said, adding that vehicle owners who traditionally shun buses may in fact choose to ride the light rail.

According to Ohio, the project was fraught with complexities, not least because it is one of only a handful of light rail systems in the world that runs both above and below ground. Ten of the 34 stations on the Red Line are subterranean, and the train runs more quickly between them.

Glick said more than 300 attendants would be deployed to assist in navigating commuters and prevent crushes.

“We also hope that the public will start acting like Europeans,” he said, noting that European capitals like London and Paris that have very busy train systems are “organized” nonetheless.

“We want people on the platform to wait for passengers to get off the train first before they try to get on.”

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Obituary: Stanley Plotnick, 82, an e-commerce pioneer in Montreal—and a major philanthropist for Canadian and Israel-based projects

Stanley Plotnick, who played multiple leading roles for decades in the Montreal and Canadian Jewish community and was a major philanthropist for Israel-based projects, died on Feb. 19 at age 82. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Plotnick was a pioneering entrepreneur in the field of information technology, specifically e-commerce, and founded […]

The post Obituary: Stanley Plotnick, 82, an e-commerce pioneer in Montreal—and a major philanthropist for Canadian and Israel-based projects appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Israel Denies UN Report Claiming Israeli Forces Assaulted Palestinian Women

UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine Francesca Albanese, October 27, 2022 (Photo: Screenshot)

Israel has denied allegations made by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) charging Israeli forces with rape, abduction and extrajudicial killings of Palestinian women in Gaza, labeling them “despicable and unfounded.” 

The UN experts’ statement released on Monday said there were “credible allegations of egregious human rights violations” by the Israel Defense Forces against Palestinian women and girls. 

“Many [Palestinian women and girls] have reportedly been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, denied menstruation pads, food and medicine, and severely beaten,” the statement from the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner said. “On at least one occasion, Palestinian women detained in Gaza were allegedly kept in a cage in the rain and cold, without food.”

“At least two female Palestinian detainees were reportedly raped while others were reportedly threatened with rape and sexual violence,” the statement added.

The report did not mention how it carried out its investigation and neither did it provide any evidence of its allegations. 

The Israeli government’s response was swift and stern.

“Israel forcefully rejects the despicable and unfounded claims published today by a group of so-called UN experts, including one who just days ago legitimised the massacre of October 7 in which more than 1,200 people were murdered, executed and raped, and another who publicly doubted the testimonies of Israeli victims of gender-based and sexual violence,” Israel’s mission to the UN in Geneva said in a statement. 

The experts cited in the UN report include Francesca Albanese, the UN monitor who came under fire for justifying the Hamas-led attack on October 7 because it was “in response to Israel’s oppression.” Albanese also denied that rapes and beheadings against Israelis ever took place. Another of the experts listed,  UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls Reem Alsalem, likewise denied sexual violence against Israeli women, calling it “disinformation.”

“These [UN] mandate holders have remained silent on the horrific sexual violence and gender-based violence perpetrated by Hamas on and since October 7. It is clear that the co-signatories are motivated not by the truth but by their hatred for Israel and its people,” the Israeli statement said. 

Israeli MK Danny Danon (Likud), who served as Israel’s ambassador to the UN, said that the statement was “nothing more than an endorsement of terror and genocide.”

“Where were these purported ‘experts’ when instances of violence occurred, such as when Hamas committed heinous acts against women, children, and families, raping, torturing and burning people alive?” Danon told The Algemeiner.

“Where are these ‘experts’ today to speak out for the innocent women and children and the remaining hostages, brutally kidnapped by Hamas and still held by the terror group with zero access to any form of humanitarian aid?”

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, lawyer and chairwoman of legal aid group Shurat HaDin who has in the past represented the families of Israeli terror victims in cases against Hamas, said Monday’s report came as “no surprise” given the UN’s anti-Israel bias. 

“Hamas is losing the war, so its supporters rush to help it in its last dying moments. The sole weapon of Israel’s enemies is illusory slander plots against Israel,” Darshan-Leitner told The Algemeiner

Darshan-Leitner went on to note that the accusations against the IDF were the same atrocities perpetrated against Israeli women on October 7. 

“Since they want to keep symmetry between Israel and Hamas, they pretend everything that Hamas has done against Israel on a monstrous scale Israel has done also on a lower scale. But lies have to be proven,” she said. “Israel does not rape, Israel does not kidnap babies, Israel does not separate children from parents. Only the Hamas monsters do that as their go-pro cameras have proven.”

The UN statement also claimed that an “unknown number” of Palestinian women and girls had  “reportedly gone missing after contact with the Israeli army in Gaza” and went on to say that there were reports of at least one female infant was “forcibly transferred by the Israeli army into Israel.”

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Saudi Report Says Hamas Chief Sinwar Escaped to Egypt with Hostages, Israel Denies

Hamas leader and Oct. 7 pogrom mastermind Yahya Sinwar addressing a rally in Gaza. Photo: Reuters/braheem Abu Mustafa

Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, may have escaped with hostages to Egypt via tunnels in Rafah, the Saudi-based Elaph news site reported on Tuesday citing an Israeli security source.

Israeli officials later denied the claim saying there was no intelligence to support it. 

According to the Arabic-language report, Sinwar fled to Egypt through the vast network of tunnels in Rafah along with his brother Mohammad Sinwar and other key Hamas operatives. 

The IDF said later on Tuesday that it had no reason to believe that Sinwar was not still in Gaza. 

Elaph, based in London, has in the past broken stories involving Israel and citing Israeli sources, including a December report about secret negotiations taking place in Europe between Qatar and Israeli officials for the release of the hostages still being held in Gaza.

Last week, the IDF shared footage showing Sinwar in a tunnel in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, accompanied by his wife, children and his brother Ibrahim Sinwar. The footage was captured days after the October 7 attack by his terror group and corroborated IDF claims that Sinwar had fled Hamas’s headquarters in northern Gaza and moved to the tunnels beneath Khan Younis, exploiting a humanitarian corridor that the IDF had opened to ensure the safe passage of civilians from Gaza City.

“The hunt for Sinwar will not stop until we catch him, dead or alive,” IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said at the time.

Israeli media has reported that Sinwar has been incommunicado with Hamas for several weeks as he attempts to elude Israeli forces.

The army has refrained from entering Rafah, the remaining Hamas stronghold, amid strong pressure from the US and UN. But fighting continued in Khan Younis on Tuesday, with IDF operations at the Nasser Hospital. Over 200 individuals at the hospital were detained under suspicion of terrorist activities, with many reportedly linked to the hostages held by Hamas, the IDF said. 


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