Transportation Ministry: When a Road is not just a Road
In a videoclip released recently by Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli (Labor), she proudly shows that she is developing the future of public transportation, which she has made her main mission.
In the video, she describes the new bus stop in Petach Tikva, calling it “The Station of the Future.” It has all the information one could need, a charging port, nighttime lighting and all the services one could wish for. I have no idea what additional services one could want at a bus station, unless it is coffee and croissants or perhaps a change of clothes on a rainy day. In any case, she is proud of this new public transport lane and the adjacent new bicycle lane. She says that she is “moving public transportation forward so that you can get to every place in life.” In “life?” Like to the job of your dreams? Or perhaps the bank account of your dreams?
She probably meant to say to get to every place in the country. But, then, she would have to define what she considers “the country” and that could get her into trouble with either leftists or right-wingers or both.
Exactly one year ago, Michaeli came out clearly against the still-unrecognized Jewish settlements in Judea-Samaria but she has also said that it is a certainty that half a million Jews would not be pulled out of their homes as happened in the Gaza disengagement in 2005. While still believing in the Two-State-Solution, she sees the settlement blocs becoming part of Israel within clearly set boundaries that do not imply simply using the pre-1967 Armistice Line (the Green Line) as any part of this boundary. This should mean that Michaeli would look favorably upon improving infrastructure in Judea-Samaria given the heavy traffic burdens on some roads and lack of security and/or safety on other roads on which residents travel between their homes and other parts of the country on both sides of the Green Line.
This neglect of improved infrastructure (as well as lack of proper attention to law and order, for sure) means that travel in Judea-Samaria is stressful and often dangerous, as shown in the video in a Tweet uploaded by Israel Television’s Carmel Dangor showing what it is like when Palestinians throw rocks at a bus near Hizme. Nobody was injured — this time:
גם הערב: פלסטינים יידו אבנים לעבר אוטובוס באזור הכפר חיזמא בבנימין. אין נפגעים pic.twitter.com/Vv3KR0Lc2k
— Carmel Dangor כרמל דנגור (@carmeldangor) January 2, 2022
Rock throwing and car ramming on the roads in Judea-Samaria are much more frequent occurences than are reported in the media and on March 20 I was made aware of another incident in which a woman and child were injured when rocks were thrown at the bus in which they were traveling, one of three buses between Maale Adumim stoned in one evening.
At about the same time as the Station-of-the-Future clip was released, Judea-Samaria’s Binyamin Regional Council uploaded their own video showing road improvement projects anticipated in the near future. It excitedly showed work on the Hizme-Adam section of Road 437, the Kalandia Bypass Road (443), a new road from Kochav Yaakov to Atarot, widening Highways 60 and 446 to include four lanes plus a bus lane, and more. The video claims work is progressing on all of these projects.
I sought Michaeli’s response to this video. She wrote:
The Hizme-Adam road project is advancing, as part of the coalition agreements. The other roads are the responsibility of the Ministry of Defense and not currently in our ministry’s workplan.
However, Binyamin Regional Council spokesman Yehuda Amrani, Former Transportation Minister, MK Betzalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism), and an anonymous source connected with the Transportation Ministry all denied that the Ministry of Defense is the body responsible for “the other roads.” Is she deflecting? Is she avoiding something?
Perhaps Michaeli has taken to heart the criticism leveled against her by Peace Now:
We would like to remind the Minister of Transportation, Merav Michaeli, that roads are the key to the development of the settlements and their lifeline. Without roads the settlements cannot develop. Michaeli, who declares her support for a two-state solution, must not allow a move that could block the possibility to reach such a solution.
In other words, roads are not just roads. They are political statements.
Decisions that should be based on professional cost-benefit assessments end up determined in some instances by political considerations. The public is well aware that many roads and development projects around the country suddenly gain noticeable traction as municipal and regional council elections are on the horizon. Percentages of voting citizens in various parts of the country likely also affect which projects are promoted on the national level and which are hamstrung.
Apparently half a million residents of Judea-Samaria do not constitute sufficient electoral power to induce the Transportation Minister (other than Smotrich and Regev in their short terms) to stop the discrimination against them.
Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi explained that many roads have not been improved since 1967 and others remain untouched since the Oslo Accords were signed in the mid-1990s. He remarks that it is as if Israel has not yet decided what she is going to do with the land.
Does it matter that road conditions are as important for the Arabs who use them as well as the Jews? In fact, Revivi says that it is only in the past two-three years that Arab victims of traffic accidents figured into the statistics used to determine safety levels of the roads in Judea-Samaria. And Arab commuters get just as stuck in the traffic congestion at the entrance to Jerusalem as Jews.
One could be cynical and wonder if some aspect of infrastructure cost-benefit calculations include the anticipated likelihood that some roads will become part of a future Palestinian state rather than falling under permanent Israeli sovereignty so why bother! In other words, the residents of Judea-Samaria – stuck in interminable traffic jams, subject to terrorist attacks, vulnerable to traffic accidents on roads that should have long ago been brought up to modern standards – are kept hostage to the paralyzed political situation, although even Michaeli acknowledges that the settlement blocs will be under Israeli sovereignty in an eventual peace deal should one become possible.
Historically (since 1967), there has not been a sensible overall strategy for improving the transportation infrastructure in Judea-Samaria and road construction has been haphazard. There are efforts to correct this but barriers to implementation (aside from the large financial investment required) still exist. For example, new roads that bypass populated areas, rather than cutting through villages such as Hawara and others, would allow the construction of major routes with multiple lanes; but these are controversial in Judea-Samaria with Israel being accused of conducting a “creeping functional annexation.” Within the Green Line, however, bypass roads such as Highway 22 between Haifa and Acco, are just good planning.
While most readers are likely familiar with the traffic jams into and out of Tel Aviv during rush hours, you may not be familiar with the congestion into Jerusalem from Binyamin on single-lane highways:
Binyamin Regional Council Head Gantz argues that:
Road construction in Judea-Samaria is not a luxury. It is the obligation of the government toward the citizens . . . The hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens living in Judea-Samaria have equal obligations and should also have equal rights.
The widening of roads directly affects human life — Jews and Arabs — and it is incomprehensible that the government of Israel will discriminate in this fashion and will block infrastructure development plans just because it is in Judea-Samaria.
As my contact in the Transportation Ministry remarked: “Building in the Negev is good politics but building in Judea-Samaria is not.” It appears that no government has yet had the stomach to raise the gauntlet and make sure that Judea-Samaria is well served by a modern road system and public transportation worthy of the 21st Century.
On the other hand, perhaps Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli will surprise us all and release a videoclip proudly displaying another Bus-Station-of-the-Future in Ariel or Modi’in Illit or Maale Adumim.
Feature Image Credit: Screenshot from video released by the Transportation Ministry