The worst epidemic in Israel since the coming of the cats

I gasped at the cat infestation in Israel when I first moved here, and haven’t managed to escape it no matter where I’ve moved. Apparently, the British shipped boatloads of cats into the country during the mandate period to combat a rat epidemic, so I try not to be too hard on felines such as the one that tends to roll up on the doormat outside our apartment.

Cats are really only a minor inconvenience when compared to the country’s other catlike epidemic, which has me throwing up my arms in frustration daily.

Just as the fat cats in the country’s hotel districts walk around with head held high, so too, do they move about with unbounded arrogance.

Just as you have to watch your step to make sure not to step or drive over oblivious cats, so too, do you have to watch out for them, making sure never to move right or left or open your door without making sure they aren’t lurking about.

Just as a cat to whom you once made the mistake of leaving your leftovers will claw at your front door, so too, will they tap on your windows and doors.

Just as cat howls can keep you up at nights, so too, will their hum keep you up at night.

If it isn’t obvious by now, I’m talking about scooters, those maddeningly loud contraptions whose drivers make even hardened Israeli housewives driving seven-seaters full of rowdy children seem like angelic law-abiding navigators.

That scooters must be first in line when a traffic light turns green has apparently become a law in this country, and their drivers will be inconsolable if the formation of stopped cars prevents them from winding to the front of the pack. Why else did they pay for a special motorbike license if it wouldn’t translate in their ownership of the roads?

They weave in and out of the lanes on city streets without signaling; it is enough that the front end of one car isn’t touching the bumper of the car ahead. They whiz by on the highway shoulder when traffic is heavy, and God forbid someone should be changing a flat tire, blocking their way. They drive the wrong way up one way streets, park wherever they like, and never fail to communicate what car drivers are doing wrong.

The other day, I pulled out of a Tel Aviv parking spot only to hear the blare of a horn coming from behind me. I saw through my rearview that a posse of scooters had raced through the green light at the previous intersection. They were about a hundred meters away from me, but no matter: No bulky car can be allowed to pull out when a scooter is approaching.

It didn’t end there: The traffic light ahead was red and I stopped. Suddenly, a delivery boy scooter driver (who are the most insidious) stops by the passenger side of my car, proceeds to kick in my passenger side mirror, and then speedily veers off to the right, disappearing from view.

This is what driving in Israel has come to; there is a segment of the population that believes they are above the laws of the road.

I asked four lawyers who have motorbike licenses (only three of them actually drive motorbikes) whether it’s legal to drive on the highway shoulder in order to avoid traffic, because, as far as I was aware, that isn’t legal where I come from. They each gave me a different answer: 1) ‘Absolutely legal. It’s written in the law’; 2) ‘It isn’t legal per se, but there once was an announcement that it wouldn’t be enforced.’ When I asked the lawyer when and by who this announcement was made, he replied: ‘It was made’; 3) ‘Only legal if your scooter isn’t too heavy’; 4) ‘Obviously not legal’ (you can imagine who gave me this answer – the one who doesn’t actually drive a scooter!).

Another friend of mine was recently fuming when he got pulled over by a traffic cop after going the wrong way up a one-way street with a broken headlight. “Why don’t they pick on the crazy Israeli drivers,” he said to me.

Umm, but aren’t you also an Israeli driver?

The British brought in cats to get rid of the rats. What can we do about the scooters?

About the Author
Daniel Light is an aspiring novelist, an Orthodox rabbi and an attorney who tries to help get the invaluable inventions of one of Israel's premier scientific institutions to market.