Hurry Up, Palestine!
Israel Dissects the West Bank with Railways
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In Reviving Burma Road, I gave a short review of the railways in the Holy Land. Here, I’ll just comment that Zionism likes to portray itself as a modernizing force bringing technical advance to Middle Eastern natives living in unjustifiable poverty. Rakevet Israel (Israel Railways) is portrayed as the iron-rooster upon which modernity is gracefully delivered to the natives. History, of course, proved the opposite. In 1948, Zionists finally halted the Ottoman Hejaz Railway, of which Palestine Railways was part. Roughly seventy years later, little is left of this past achievement of a non-Western empire. Now, Israel is trying to redraw maps by reviving the Ottoman achievement.
The planned lines include one line running through Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Ma’aleh Adumim, Bethlehem, and Hebron. Another would provide service along the Jordanian border from Eilat to the Dead Sea, Jericho and Beit She’an and from there toward Haifa in the west. The proposed scheme includes shorter routes, such as between Nablus and Tul Karm in the West Bank, and from Ramallah to the Allenby Bridge crossing into Jordan. The plan includes infrastructure that would connect Israel’s railway at a later stage to Gaza and Egypt. The new fast line Tel Aviv-Jerusalem reported earlier, includes a strategic tunnel between Latrun and Shaar HaGay allowing it to bypass the narrowest point along Highway #1. This highway links Jerusalem with Tel Aviv, and is definitely Israel’s jugular vein; this railway would not only revive the Ottoman glory but also ease the defense of the route between the two cities. This is a traumatic spot for Israel; in 1948, Ariel Sharon failed twice to attack Latrun and break the Arab Legion siege on Jerusalem. Drawing all the lines together on a map, one can’t help but conclude that Israel is trying to mimic the Ottoman railways plan, adapting it to the actual reality by moving the Ottoman main line on the eastern bank of the Jordan to its western bank.
The Transportation Minister says he is pursuing the plan for the new rail lines “so as to permit it to be carried out in the future,” and in accordance with “a legal commitment the ministry made to the High Court of Justice.” Yet, this plan is huge; it includes 475km of railways, while Israel Railways actual length is just over 1000km. Implementing it would be costly and involve legal and diplomatic issues with the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. Can Israel construct the new lines?
It is obvious from the map that the plan has been constructed modularly. It features eleven different railways; Israel would attempt to implement it in parts, beginning with the short line between Rosh Ha’ayin to the West Bank settlement of Ariel. “Divide and Conquer” is probably the best description of the Israeli policy towards the Arab world. In Hebrew, this is known as the “Salami System:” slice and eat, slice and eat; accordingly “eating it/him/her without salt” is a Hebrew euphemism for an easy target, which in English would be usually referred as “a piece of cake,” or “a breeze.” This would be Israel’s strategy: one short railway line at a time, until the West Bank is dissected. The railways come in addition to the ongoing building of strategic roads which bear the same intention (see New Road Annexes East Jerusalem to Israel).
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