My wife and I made aliyah from Montpellier in France to Netanya a couple of years ago. The joke at the time was that it hardly felt like aliyah at all, on the grounds that there are so many French in Netanya that we sometimes struggled to remember that we were in Israel at all. In fact we are a British couple who had been living in the handsome city of Montpellier in the south of France for over 25 years and one of our oft-repeated gripes about the French (and believe me, there were many) was the driving. Why did they drive so quickly, why did they insist on overtaking on a bend, why this and why that? All of it driving related. But goodness me, or oh la la, since taking to the roads in Israel we have come to view French motorists as kind, considerate, courteous and much more besides. Our take on Israeli driving? It’s easy to sum up in one word: meshuggah. And that with a capital M.
Take the traffic lights. I have never known anything like it in my life. People start hooting at you to within less than one-hundredth of one second once the light has gone green. Pushing in left, right and centre. No consideration. No thank yous for giving way. And cutting in so dangerously at road junctions. It’s unpleasant, stressful and, it kills me to say it, one of the worst things relating to our aliyah.
It’s one thing to moan and groan. But the fact of the matter is that the crazy driving translates into many fatalities each and every year. It’s a bizarre state of affairs when “only” 315 were people killed on the roads on 2018, a statistic hailed by the press as giving grounds for cautious optimism. And the fact remains that more people have been killed on the roads in Israel since 1948 than in all of the wars and terrorist killings put together. Repeat: than in all of the wars and terrorist killings put together. That’s over 30,000 people since the foundation of the state. What an appalling statistic.
We shuttle back and forth between Agamim, to the south of Netanya, and Givatayim, to the east of Tel Aviv, pretty regularly. This takes us, thanks to good Mr Waze, via road number 2 and the Ayalon, or number 20. It’s an appalling drive. Not because of the traffic. For that’s another story. But mostly because of the selfish, inconsiderate, rude and dangerous driving. Why aren’t there more speed cameras? Why isn’t there a more visible police presence? Why are people jutting and cutting in all of the time? Why are there so many accidents? Because people, not all people, of course, but clearly far too many, are simply driving too fast. And speed, as we all know, kills. Especially when Israelis are so married to their smart phones — which are now the biggest single cause of accidents — even when using hands free.
We love Israel. We are proud to call it our home. But we do not, as you might well have noticed, love driving in Israel. Israelis are famous for being generous and warm-hearted. So my message is simple — please keep those wonderful traits with you once you hit the road. A plea which will fall on deaf ears because of the constant cacophony of honking and hooting? I hope not.