Paul Alster
Israel-based print and broadcast journalist

To the man who reversed backwards round a roundabout….

I’ve been reporting from Israel for the last three years, passing on my experiences to those within this nutty but wonderful land, and those far beyond. Regular followers of my blog ( will know that one of my ongoing sources of trauma is the way people drive over here, and after witnessing – not for the first time, I might add – a ‘gentleman’ miss his exit on a roundabout, (a traffic circle for our North American friends), near my home in Zichron Yaakov, then promptly stop and reverse nearly half-way around before heading off in what, (I assume), he believed to be the right direction, I am compelled to ask of you, ‘What on earth is it that makes Israelis drive so very badly?’

The race of people who have provided a disproportionately high number of Nobel prize winners across the board, whose scientific and hi-tech achievements have changed the world we all live in, and whose standards of education are generally up there with the more esteemed nations on this planet, can still comfortably produce a worrying high percentage of people who leave their brains by the front door when they head out on the highways and byways of the Holy Land.

The sheer lunacy of reversing half-way around a circle without realizing that continuing around the very same will bring you to your intended exit, makes you wonder what hope there is for this people of ours. Is it any wonder that Moses took 40 years to navigate us here from Egypt instead of achieving the feat within a couple of months! Maybe he was on a sponsored walk and just forgot to mention the fact to the gathered minyans and millions?

I have a few theories though. First, it must be very difficult trying to find the correct exit at any junction whilst trying to chastise the kids, eat a chopped liver sandwich, and send an SMS at the same time, so I suppose it is somewhat understandable if things go a little astray in the bid to find the right way home. Then, of course, there are the co-ordination difficulties that seem to afflict the archetypal Israeli driver, so many of whom seem cerebrally challenged by the task of MSM – Mirror-Signal-Manoeuvre.

The mirrors might as well not be there, and as for the indicator or ‘vinker’ (as it is referred to by the locals), no-one trusts anyone that does have the presence of mind to indicate the direction in which they intend to head. If you do indicate left to pull across into a faster lane on the highway, instead of being given a little room by the following drivers to pull out and join the faster lane as you would in Europe or the US (New York excepted), you find yourself being passed by drivers speeding up to block your move so as to satisfy their machismo in not having given a yard to anyone. And that’s just the women!

Surely I can’t be the only person in Israel who when I see someone with their indicator on, now invariably assumes it has been left on by accident and they’ve forgotten about it whilst changing channels on the radio or searching for a bottle of water in the passenger-side foot-well, so am not prepared to pull out until they have actually left the scene?

Then there are the drifters. No, not the 1950’s/60’s black soul band, but those drivers who seem aimlessly to meander from lane to lane without changing speed, leaving those behind in a total quandary as to just which way they will wander next!. Even the ‘hard shoulder’ emergency lane is not spared a visit by these drivers who seem hell bent on taking the scenic route between Aleph and Bet even when a straight road is offered to them for ease of use.

In a desperate attempt to try and postpone the day when one of these nuts eventually collides with me, I took an advanced driving course last year; highly recommended. I learned how to get the most out of even the most sedate saloon car and be as safe as you can on the road. In the event of sudden emergencies, (like someone reversing toward you on a roundabout or completely ignoring a red light), you are handed the skills to swerve, slide, and handbrake turn your way (in the wet) out of trouble spots and thoroughly unexpected situations.

A serious point though. Isn’t it high time that Israel’s traffic police, instead of waiting until the end of the month to catch people who are 2 cms over the stop line and issue them with 1000 shekel charge, (in order to meet their quota of fines handed out for the period), went after the boy racers and half-wits who daily zig-zag their way down our fastest roads, ignore traffic lights, and aggressively tailgate drivers in front with horns blazing and lights flashing, and remove these menaces from our public highways?

I believe a hard-hitting new campaign on re-educating Israel’s drivers needs to be brought in sooner rather than later to give us all at least a sporting chance of making it into our ‘Golden Years’.

About the Author
Paul Alster is an Israel-based broadcast journalist with a special interest in the Israel/Palestinian conflict and Middle East politics. He is a regular contributor to a variety of international news websites including The Jerusalem Report, and was formerly's main Middle East correspondent. He can be followed on Twitter @paul_alster or at