Palestinian Engineer Helps Build Tel Aviv Light Rail Train (And Peace)

Issa Zananiri light rail train tel avivIssa Zananiri (left) and his supervisor from the Technion.

It might be a bit of a head-scratcher for those who see nothing but the violent clashes on TV, but a Palestinian is now part of a Tel Aviv design and planning team, working on the city’s new light rail train project, to be completed by 2012. The train is expected to ease congestion and pollution in the city’s busy streets. And with Issa Zananiri on board, it might also help ease a little of the tension between Palestinians and Israelis.

Zananiri, 26, is a Palestinian Christian from the small village of Beit Hanina just outside East Jerusalem. His name, Issa, means Jesus in Arabic. Like the stereotypical Jewish family, Zananiri’s family – and other Arab families in his community – dream that their sons will grow up to be doctors or engineers one day, he says.

So far, Zananiri’s parents’ dreams have come true. Happy that he is an engineer with a good job, they support the fact that he works in Tel Aviv, among Israelis.

“I have a father who is open to everybody,” says Zananiri.

But life in Israel can be complicated, he notes. He holds an Israeli identity card, but he is not a citizen. Though it’s uncommon for Palestinians to live and work in Tel Aviv, his Israeli co-workers have embraced him completely in the workplace, he says. “I just received a very welcoming environment when I first came to work,” he told ISRAEL21c.

Born in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority and now living in Haifa, Zananiri earned a first degree from Birzeit University in Ramallah. With high grades, he could have chosen to study abroad, but instead decided on the Technion—Israel’s Institute of Technology, where he earned a masters degree in transportation engineering.

At the Technion, his thesis was supervised by Professor Yoram Shiftan, from the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who later helped Zananiri find a job related to his profession.

It didn’t take long after graduation for Zananiri to find work at one of Israel’s leading transportation planning companies, Perlstein Galit, now charged with designing Tel Aviv’s future light rail train.

“Even though I am a Palestinian, I was hired without hesitation,” he said. “My professor’s letter of recommendation was enough.”

By day he works in an office drafting plans, and assessing how human traffic will move through the new and much-anticipated light rail train system.

He gives the answer 2012 as the year when the train is finally expected to be ready, but the answer comes with a measure of conjecture. It is an elusive answer, he recognizes, to a question that many Israelis are asking amongst themselves.

We are, after all, still in the Middle East,” he concludes, in a light-hearted manner. Anything can happen.


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