In a decision handed down today, The Jerusalem District Planning Committee has voted to keep the First Station open, including on Shabbat. The decision followed a protracted battle by segments of Jerusalem’s Haredi population to close the space completely.
Regarding the decision, mayoral candidate and Head of Hitorerut Ofer Berkovitch told re:Jerusalem “I am very happy about the Planning Committee’s decision after our important struggle to protect the First Station. The Station is an anchor for Jerusalem’s quality of life and a symbol of [religious] tolerance and coexistence. The correct decision was made to leave the First Station open, to not allow extremists to take Jerusalem where they may and to ensure that Jerusalem is a city for everyone.”
The most recent round of religious tension in the city began when Haredi council member Yohanan Weizman forced the council to vote on whether the First Station would continue to receive authorization to operate in general.
Due to the nature of the site, the First Station relies on a special municipal exception in order to host the businesses and events that have made the old train station a popular attraction. In 2016, this exception was extended. However, Weizman used his position in the Planning and Building Committee to force another vote on the issue.
The vote passed in the municipality which moved the motion to the District Planning Committee. During the vote, key religious Zionist figures such as mayoral candidate Moshe Lion and Deputy Mayor Hagit Moshe made themselves absent in an attempt to avoid angering either side of the debate. Vice Mayor Meir Turjeman, who would have voted to keep the First Station open was also absent due to his legal troubles.
The Committee was supposed to reach a decision two weeks ago but pushed it off in order to allow for more consideration.
The Haredi parties want to make opening the First Station contingent on the businesses there closing on Shabbat. Much of the debate around the popular attraction has revolved around the understanding of the status quo agreement that governs the relationship between religion and state. Generally, business is not allowed on Shabbat, but restaurants and places of entertainment can operate. Some claim that the status quo agreement means that the state should not allow for new places to open on Shabbat beyond what is already open.
Mayor Nir Barkat had vowed to ensure that the popular Jerusalem attraction remain open.
UPDATE: According to mynet, Weizman intends to bring a vote to tonight’s council meeting that would appeal the decision to the National Planning and Building Council. The motion is likely to pass.
(Header Photo by Amos Ben Gershom, Copyright © 2018 National Photo Collection)