Menachem's Writings

Who wants to drive in Israel?

I love to drive a good car, on a good road. Who doesn't? Something comfortable for a big guy like me. There's nothing like the exhilaration of the wind blowing into your face as you accelerate through the gears, the sound of the engine as it revs up and drops down as you zip up the gears.

But I drive lousy cars now -- on lousy roads. They are in a bad state of repair and are blocked by traffic, the army, and many idiots who think they belong on the road.

I drive a sixteen year old, battered (by Israeli drivers and Arab terrorist rock throwers) Toyota Previa (Tarago in some places around the world). It's actually one of the most comfortable cars I've owned, even better than the two Volvos I've had in the past. But even though it's been serviced regularly by Toyota here, sixteen years does have an effect. I've had very little problem with it, so I really shouldn't complain. My driving these days is pretty well limited to driving to the pool each day, and back home.

I hate driving from Efrat to Yerushalayim. You've got to drive through the machsom. Machsom is Hebrew for "block", as in roadblock, but I'm not allowed to use that word in this context. I once used it as a caption to a photograph I posted on the PizzaIDF site and received criticism that I was "playing into the hand of Arab propaganda". So I changed the caption to "checkpoint". Very politically correct. But block is really the right word. They are set up to "block" my path, not that of the Arabs. Sometimes there's a huge line to cross it -- you can wait 10 minutes to be "checked" (yes, I strongly resemble that guy carrying a bomb, under my kippa-clad blonde hair which looks like a toupee). They work against us in waves, controlled by the politicians. Their aim is to get us out of our towns and villages, voluntarily (to save having to give us compensation), by making life difficult coming in and out of the area. They turn the pressure off and on according to their own timetable. This fools a lot of my neighbours, who think there is an improvement when they turn it down, and real security threats when they turn it up.

My wife drives a little (British Racing) Green Toyota Corolla. I get to drive it too sometimes. It uses a lot less petrol, gasoline, than the Previa, but man is it very uncomfortable. I've been told that Corollas are hard to find on the second hand car market, "because they are so sought after". My wife is short, so she's happy. But for me . . . there was more room in a Mini when they were popular back in the early seventies when we started to drive. (I wonder if the Mini remake has as much room, or with all the padding they put into these things nowadays, there's probably no room there either.) Now the Mini was a car -- small, roomy, thrashable, uncomfortable seat. 0-60 in -- who remembers, but quickly. But the Corolla: seat is too narrow, nowhere to put my left leg, noisy, no-one can sit behind me when I put the seat all the way back (which I have to), I can put my foot on the brake and accelerator at the same time -- when I only want one of these at a time.

And the roads. The road from here to Jerusalem is potholed, and even worse in parts. They may intend to repave it when they finally finish building the machsom road. They have built an unbelievably ugly wall along one side of it. They want us to think it is a security wall, but we all know it's an international boundary wall. And the machsom is an international border crossing. They really think people are stupid when they can ruin the countryside with a twenty foot high concrete wall in the name of security.

But even the good roads -- they're so crowded. Maybe at 2 a.m. you can get a god run. I'm not talking about breaking the law, exceeding the speed limit. I'm just looking to enjoy the road, enjoy my yellow e-type, let its engine purr, allow it a little run every now and again.

Then there was Highway 6. It is Israel's only toll road. I say "was" because at first it was great -- a fun drive. That was in the distant past when truck drivers and bus companies did not use the road because they did not want to pay the toll. But then some bright spark (they really are slow here in Israel -- really) realized that the savings in fuel were far greater than cost of the toll. So now everyone uses it -- every man and his dog, and the army's drinking water trucks too. The road is only two lanes wide (each way), and (why don't they stop this) often you get stuck behind a truck overtaking another truck! On a "freeway"!

And you can't believe that they built this "super" highway without lighting. This road was built in the 21st century -- they're still building it! The parallel, public roads, all have lighting. When there is no moon, it's pitch black, and even though the dividing island is wide, your high beam sometimes hits the guy coming towards you right, in the eye. And if they steal a bit off each side of the island to build a third lane, then every driver will be zapped.

The 200 kilometre run from the Dead Sea to Eilat -- the Arava Highway -- should give you a nice run. It's flat and straight. But it's only one lane in each direction, and no overtaking lanes. Because they keep dropping plans to build a railway line parallel to this road, everything that comes into Eilat port (all the cars from Japan and Korea for starters) must be transported by road. As you drive south to Eilat, you continuously pass by these huge transporters, each carrying a dozen motor vehicles, coming north in the opposite direction, towards you. They're enormous and move at an incredible speed. Scarey! Frightening! It's very difficult (and extremely dangerous) to overtake. Full trucks travel north, empty trucks "fly" south. What a waste of fuel! They're now talking about a canal between the seas (Red-to-Dead). There's a 420 metre (and dropping weekly) sea-level difference between the two. Could be great for generating hydro-electricity, but doesn't sound too useful for transportation. The Dead Sea is the middle of nowhere and every direction is uphill from there. So bring on the train.

In the major cities, bicycle could be a useful mode of transport. In many European cities they have special bike lanes and encourage bicycling. But middle-eastern drivers have a distinct dislike for our breed. I think they develop extreme road rage when they are passed by one of us, in the almost carpark conditions we experience here, trying to get closer to the center of town. These guys even take it out on you when you reach your destination. It's not good enough to chain up your bike when you go into the office. They steal your seat and your front wheel. Jerusalem is littered with wheeless bikes. If you can't take the bicycle upstairs with you, then please, please remove your front wheel and chain it to the back wheel and frame onto a very sturdy telegraph pole-- and don't forget to take your seat with you!

With cars, it's even worse. People spend hours to drive into Herzliya (that's where all the high-tech is located) and then pay a fortune for the privilege of parking 23 minutes brisk walk away from their final destination.

So me, I drive to the pool with my bicycle in the back of the Previa, have a swim, ride around the vineyards and orchards with my mate, and drive back home for breakfast, with my bike back in the back.

Bentley, do you have a used B.R.G.* tractor for me?

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* B.R.G. British Racing Green

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