Jerusalem has awakened in that last five or six years, recovering from the slump in tourism and during the first intifada. Visitors have returned to Jerusalem, enjoying the numerous fairs, concerts, and festivals.
For the permanent residents, the highlight has been the park restoration and the addition of countless flowerbeds and walkways throughout the city. On the small streets of Harakevet and Mekor Chaim the locals can watch a new and exciting development. This project involves some long-forgotten train tracks, originally part of a grand Muslim vision that would encircle the entire Middle East.
In September of 1892 the Governor of Palestine, Ibrahim Hakki Pasha, proudly oversaw the inauguration of the new railways system and the first track of the great Middle Eastern Railway. The tracks themselves speak of the pace with which the Ottomans strove to expand their Empire in the name of Islam. The railway station, not allowed into the heart of the city, was built on its outskirts.
The Turks progressed rapidly to promote their vision of “The Sublime Ottoman State,” which was to unify the Middle East and ultimately, form one great Islamic Empire. In the sinister days of the Ottoman Empire, Jerusalem Jews were bound by countless regulations and restrictions preventing their movement. A mere ten years prior to the rail inauguration an edict was issued banning Jews from the four holy cities of Safed, Jerusalem, Tiberias and Hebron. The ban was lifted only in 1888.
The Refaim Valley train tracks, which have sat desolate since 1998, are now involved in a modern project invoking the spirit of freedom and joy that has overtaken the city since Israel became a Jewish state. Builders work tirelessly to restore the rusty tracks entangled with weeds and overgrowth. Their task is to transform the area into a flower-lined walking path between Derech Beit Lechem and Rechov Pat. The old train station is no longer in the outskirts of the city.
Since the triumphant return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem droves clamor to reclaim all parts of the city. Buildings have surged past the outskirts of the former Ottoman city and continue onward.
The divergence between the state Jerusalem was in during the “Sublime Ottoman State” and today is apparent as the rail tracks undergo their transformation. Today’s Jerusalemites want nothing more than to relish in their homeland. Now on the same rails, we can walk the trail and marvel at our breathtaking city.
As I watch the tracks slowly alter as they make their way through our neighborhood I can’t help but feel overcome with pride for our people and love for our city that is so intertwined into the spirit of the project. Recently my toddler and I went for a stroll on the completed segment of the trail in Baka. We saw butterflies and sat watching people and animals coming to frolic in the treasured stretch of green grass, a rare sight in Jerusalem. I feel each rail tie put down is a triumph in Jewish freedom as the city we have yearned for so long finally can be called our home.