On July 19, the Knesset Special Committee for Distributive Justice and Social Equality heard pleas from the northern Israeli Bedouin town of Khawaled calling out for an access road. The Jerusalem Post reported on the dramatic success of the session:

The committee’s backing is seen as a possible turning point in a longstanding, frustrating battle to get 2 kilometers of an Ottoman road that is now treacherous and full of rivulets and potholes paved to shorten the trip to Kiryat Ata and nearby kibbutzim, where Khawaled residents get services and work. Today, they are forced to take a 17-kilometer detour to get to Kiryat Ata.

and quoted the driving force behind the push for the road:

“Paving that road is our gate to Israeli society and essential for making a living, a basic right,” said Ishmael Khaldi, who is leading the struggle to improve conditions in Khawaled, which has about 700 residents and was recognized by the Interior Ministry in 1993. “Not paving it blocks the right to work and medical care and is a barrier to integration.”

Just reading these lines makes one cringe. Later in the article, the claim is openly made that failure to pave the road is discriminatory. MK Micki Zohar (Likud), chairman of the Special Committee:

It is necessary to pave the road. They need access like all citizens of Israel. This village was recognized many years ago and you have to pave a road for Khawaled just as you do for any other town.

and

Khaldi blames the Zvulun Regional Council for not paving the road. “It seems we’re not in their top priority.

It’s clear discrimination that the road has not been paved. The road is there, but they didn’t pave it – I don’t know why.”

Context of the Access Road

As claimed in the JPost article, this is an old Ottoman road that has been used by the residents of Khawaled for decades. It provides access to the three kibbutzim, Usha, Kfar HaMaccabi, and Ramat Yohanan and to the Zvulun Regional Council building. Pushing for the road to be paved are those arguing that this road provides access to Kiryat Ata in a way that the detour road does not.

Verifying Facts About the Access Road

I wonder if MK Zohar, or anyone else, ever looked at a map to see the extent of the problem under consideration. After all, I imagine the budget required for this is a bit more than pocket change.

Since I live in Haifa, only about a 30-minute drive from Khawaled (about 20 km), I decided to make my way to the area and measure the access road and detour route to compare them for myself. I clocked the time it took me to drive the distances involved in using either of the two routes and measured the distances on my odometer.Then I looked at the map and marked out the road that Khaldi wants paved as well as the detour road.

Khawaled - Bedouin village and access roads

Image from Google Maps. Location of Khawaled is shown with a white circle – the traffic light at the entrance to Kiryat Ata is marked with an “X”. The access road is drawn over in yellow, with arrows pointing to the 2-km stretch for which paving is requested. The red line shows the detour route.

The access road goes under HWY 70. The tunnel is currently blocked because of construction work on the highway and I was able to measure the travel distance only from the point at which the road emerges from under the highway on the kibbutz-side. The portion to be paved is about 2 km (between the arrows plus the tunnel under HWY 70), but that merely brings you to a point bordering two of the three kibbutzim. To get to Kiryat Ata, one must continue to drive through the kibbutz region to a traffic light on Road 780. This is a point through which traffic coming from the detour route must also pass and can be considered the entrance to Kiryat Ata. I marked the spot on the map with an “X”.

The access road route, then, involves a total of 4 km and the driving time was 7 minutes. Granted, I drove only about 35-40 kph on the dirt road part,

Two Sections of Khawaled access road

Two sections of the access road for which paving is sought. One section is quite easy to drive along and the other clearly needs repair.

and if these 2 km will be paved, it will cut driving time down. By how much? I don’t know. It is a windy road and that also slows one down. Can I make a rough guess at 5 minutes driving time? That sounds great.

The detour (which is, in fact, an access road itself) involves driving along a new two-lane road that is parallel to Hwy 70

Khawaled, new road built to reach the town

New road built from HWY 70 to Khawaled

and passes Ibtin on its way to the junction at HWY 70, at which point one must double back on 70 to the Zvulun Junction and then turn left onto Road 780 to Kiryat Ata. It seems like a long roundabout way. However, from the point at which the access road enters the tunnel under HWY 70 on the Khawaled-side up to the “X” marking the entrance to Kiryat Ata, it is really only 9.5 km long. Driving time was only 10 minutes.

I wonder if saving about 5 minutes and about 6 km is worth the expense of paving the road.

I do not know where the 17 km noted in the JPost article comes from, and such a distance does not make sense to me at all. But please do not take my word for it that my figures are correct – check it out for yourself. I was never good at arithmetic and I would really appreciate someone else either confirming or disputing my measurements.

If Khawaled Was a Jewish Kibbutz

I wonder if Khawaled was, instead of a Bedouin town, a Jewish kibbutz, if the road would not have been paved decades ago. Likely it would have been. But the difference, then, would have been that the children of Kibbutz Khawaled would have gone to school with the children of Usha, Kfar HaMaccabi and Ramat Yohanan, and they would have had conjoint social and cultural programmes for children and adults alike.

In any case, if a large number of Khawaled residents work in the kibbutzim, perhaps the expense of paving the road makes sense. If they get medical treatment on one of the kibbutzim or in the Zvulun Council complex, it would make sense. If their kids go to school there, it would make sense.

When Does Paving the Access Road Not Make Sense?

Khaldi, however, is talking about using services in Kiryat Ata, not in the kibbutzim or in the council complex. Children from Khawaled do not go to school there. Perhaps some residents, or even many, work in the kibbutzim.

Before embarking on this paving project, I recommend doing a survey to find out exactly where the residents work, where they get their medical services, where they do their shopping and banking, and where they use the post office, among other public services. Because if they work in the Nesher area or Haifa, for example, the expense of paving the road might not make sense. If they use the medical services and more in nearby Ibtin, it may make no sense. I have heard that some residents in the area use medical services in Shfaram, which involves an even longer drive than to Kiryat Ata meaning that some people (how many?) may prefer accessing services in Arabic than in Hebrew. It is important to understand this before paving the road, in my opinion.

What Do the Bulk of Residents of Khawaled Want?

I wonder what would be the outcome of a survey asking residents of Khawaled what they would prefer to see done with the funds needed to pave that road. If they were given the opportunity to decide on a community project using that sum of money, would they choose the road or would they choose something else? Their choice might tell us something about the priorities of the people of Khawaled and how much or little they feel paving the road is their “gate to Israeli society and essential for making a living” and how much or little they feel that not paving the road serves as a “barrier to integration”, two claims made by Khaldi.

An Important Consideration Khaldi Did Not Raise

Where do ambulances set out from if someone is in need in Khawaled? Where do the fire engines servicing this area start out from? I know there are ambulances and fire stations in Kiryat Tivon and Kiryat Ata. If the optimum time of arrival for an ambulance is 10 minutes (less is even better), then Khawaled may be under-served, sometimes perhaps dangerously so. However, the advantage of paving the access road under discussion here would be realized only if there is a private kibbutz ambulance service and perhaps fire fighters stationed at the Zvulun Regional Council complex itself because Khawaled would be thus reached in under 5 minutes. This would also provide advantageous for Ras Ali and Ibtin, two Bedouin towns close to Khawaled.

If there are emergency vehicles at the Zvulun Council Complex, this would be a good enough reason for paving the old Ottoman road. And it is a reason that does not require claims of discrimination or of keeping up barriers to integration into Israeli life.

On the other hand, if this is the only advantage to paving the access road, it may be a better use of the budget to set up new ambulance and fire-fighting facilities in Ibtin, increasing the population (Arab and Jewish) with easy access to life-saving emergency services, as well as adding new employment opportunities for the Bedouin in the region.

In Conclusion

I do not know what the answer is. I hope, before money is spent paving what has come to be called “The Access Road,” that the decisionmaking bodies make sure paving the road is not just because we Jews do not like to be accused of being discriminatory toward the Bedouin in our midst. I hope that it would satisfy a real need and serve a real purpose.