On a windy winter day back in 2013 Palestinians from the West Bank town of Beit Iksa broke the law. They laid cement bricks in a rectangular foundation, assembled some tents, and hoisted a few flags. All of this was illegal and the villagers knew that, but they erected the encampment and gave it the prideful name, “Bab al-Karamah,” Gate of Dignity in English. The villagers made the ramshackle town as a form of protest against the convoluted military laws governing how Palestinians can use land in the West Bank,
I went to report from Bab al-Karamah for the few days it thrived prior to the Israeli military dismantling it and a group of teenagers from the village pulled my attention to the valley below. There, a team of construction workers were laboring on a tunnel for a high-speed rail line from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Unlike the “village” we were standing in, the train line had permits from the Israeli government, but lacked permission from the Palestinian owners of the land who reside in Beit Iksa.
Palestinians will tell you that Israeli restrictions on construction is causing cramped conditions, even in small towns like Beit Iksa that have acres upon acres of open space. Israelis will tell you that traffic is really bad between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem during rush hour, and so the idea of a fast train that runs through the West Bank was popularly supported. Given this equation Palestinians were powerless to prevent the train from being built. The villagers petitioned Israel’s high court to stop the construction on the grounds that the land was illegally taken from them, and lost.
The train line was first announced in 2008 and its opening has been delayed because of this six kilometers of track that runs through the occupied Palestinian territory in Beit Iksa and two nearby villages (Yalu and Beit Surik). Pressure from groups that boycott Israel caused a German company to cut out of the project early, and an Italian firm that took over has faced harsh questions about violating international law by participating in a project in occupied territory–both are explained in detail in a 2010 report by the Israeli human rights group Who Profits.
“This line was planned for the exclusive use of Israeli citizens; it is imposed on the local Palestinian residents by the dictates of a military regime, in which they have no representation; and it would be completely inaccessible to the local residents,” wrote Who Profits.
Now, this train line is back in the news, but this time for an all-together different reason: a stop on the route will be named after Donald Trump, according to a statement made by Israel’s traffic minister yesterday, reported the Jerusalem Post. The station will be near the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, notably in occupied East Jerusalem.
Trump, no stranger to having his name embossed on the facade of feats of construction, received the honor following his December announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“The Western Wall is the holiest place for the Jewish people, and I decided to name the train station that leads to it after president Trump – following his historic and brave decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel,” said transportation minister Israel Katz.
In both the U.S. and Israel, the Trump station is breaking news. The Guardian reported Israel’s transportation minister pulled strings to get the project expedited, yet the depot will not open for at least another four years. When it does, commuters will be able to shuttle between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in just 28-minutes on train departing every 20 or 30 minutes. Right now the drive can take up to two hours during peak congestion and there is no rail line between these cities.
As for Beit Iksa’s residents, the train is but one of many worries.
The town is sealed by an Israeli checkpoint that only allows in registered residents of Beit Iksa and internationals. Other Palestinians are prohibited from accessing the village. The hassle this brings to Palestinian families who have lived outside of the area, or have jobs in other towns was recorded by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem in 2016. One woman, Shahinaz ‘Abdallah, 46, said she gets held up at the checkpoint regularly:
“I’m afraid to leave the village alone, because on my way back in I’m detained and questioned – why did I come, to whom am I related in the village, and so on. They check on the phone that I really live there. I’m usually kept at the checkpoint about fifteen to thirty minutes, supposedly for inspection. I have to argue with them until they let me in.”
Additionally the town has lost 60 percent of its land to surrounding Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. The settlement of Ramot built houses, a playground and a 9/11 memorial on lands that belong to Beit Iksa. At this year’s memorial ceremony commemorating Americans killed in the terrorist attack, the U.S Ambassador David Friedman was present. Outlets covering the ceremony failed to mention the monument, which includes a piece of debris from Ground Zero, is located in East Jerusalem. Similarly, reporting on the Trump train in this news cycle did not note the rail line darts across a swath of the West Bank.