In extraordinary move, trains to keep running on Shabbat amid war

Select stations throughout the country will be serviced throughout the weekend as public need grows due to military conflict with Hamas

Israel Railways' HaShalom Station in Tel Aviv, August 15, 2023 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Israel Railways' HaShalom Station in Tel Aviv, August 15, 2023 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Trains in Israel will run this week during the Jewish Sabbath due to the ongoing emergency situation in the country, the Transportation Ministry announced Friday in an exceedingly rare move.

Trains will run between Ben Gurion airport and Tel Aviv as well as the southern city of Beersheba starting at 6 p.m. Friday and through the night. On Saturday, trains will run between Beersheba and Nahariya in the north at a frequency of once an hour from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The trains will only stop in Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion Airport and Haifa.

Israel has never had official public transportation on Shabbat due to opposition from religious lawmakers. Ultra-Orthodox legislators threatened the government in the past over track or road works during Shabbat.

The issue of the lack of public transportation has increasingly been up for debate, and it featured as part of the mass protests Israel saw throughout the year against the government’s judicial overhaul plan, which also brought to the fore arguments over matters of religion and state.

August and September saw protesters disrupt operations of the new Tel Aviv light rail on Fridays to protest the fact that it would not operate on Shabbat, with parts of the public increasingly frustrated by the monopoly that Orthodox groups have on the country’s Jewish identity.

These fights are currently on the back burner as the country faces a potential prolonged war with the Gaza Strip following the deadly Hamas-led assault on Israeli communities on Saturday. The decision to operate trains comes in response to the extraordinary circumstances in which the country finds itself, with hundreds of thousands of reservists drafted to prepare to fight and mass civic mobilization to support troops and affected communities.

The decision comes a day after Israel’s national airline El Al said it would operate flights on Shabbat for the first time in decades to help Israelis abroad who are trying to get home.

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