The basic premise of the Israeli driver is simple: he needs to get somewhere and you are in his way. Everything else ensues from here.
The miserable lot of the Israeli car
The Homeless Life
For a starter, most Israeli cars are homeless; they live the street life. If lucky, they spend the night near their parents’ homes. More likely, they’ll sleep all by themselves, defenseless against the mischief of other cars, ill-intentioned people and the elements.
To protect your Israeli car against other Israeli cars you are advised to park it reclining on the sidewalk. Otherwise you might see the typical scratches along her street-ward side when you check her up in the morning.
Most Israeli cars are not quite as lucky as my ex-Chevy shown below, comfortably parked by my apartment. More likely, their parents live on the fifth floor, or at the end of the street.
The struggle to find a near-home parking starts every evening when people come back home. If you happen to go out at night, finding such parking when you come back is tough luck.
Even if the Israeli car escapes being hit sideways, it can still get easily bumped from the back or the front. This most likely occurs when trying to park or even while parked, since the distance between adjacent cars is so minimal. It can, of course, also happen on the move, especially in traffic jams when the Israeli driver loses patience, and/or his grip on the brake.
And we are not talking about “real” accidents yet. These occur, of course, and at a very high rate (4 accidents per 1000 cars in 2015), though many countries “beat” us at that. At a rate of 4 reported accidents per 1000 cars, and probably as many unreported bumps and small collisions, the Israeli car lives the dangerous life.
So how did we get to this sad state of affairs?
The Nostalgic View
Traditional images of the country, common in children books abroad, depict an empty landscape dotted with camel caravans and the occasional donkey. The books also feature images of Mexicans in sombreros, Chinese on bicycles and Japanese in kimonos. Well, that might have been true in the 19th century and previous, but is as close to the current reality as a picture of an America roamed by buffalo.
Truth is, Israel today is one of the most car-dense countries in the world.
In my own lifetime the human population quadrupled, but the car population grew 18-fold. Israel was in the 45th place with 383 cars per 1000 people in 2016, compared with the U.S. in the third place with 797 cars per 1000 people. But, when measured per kilometers, we are in fourth place world-wide with 122 cars per km and the U.S. in the 42nd place with 31 cars per km.
That is, of course, kind of obvious, but, still, numbers are fascinating. Another interesting and relevant stat is that the age of Israeli cars keeps rising. If in 1997 the average age was 4.8, now it is a full 7 years, with 28% ten years old or more. That leaves plenty of time for the Israeli car to get plummeted from all directions.
Left: The Ayalon freeway. Last time a camel was spotted here was 150 years ago…
Looked at objectively, the country indeed is more suitable for camel and horse buggies than for freeways. (See: kids are more important than buses). After all, the country’s total width at the narrow neck near Hertzliya is 15 km. The 8-lane Ayalon road with three train tracks in its midst has a large impact.
Israel being the size that it is, there is a fierce competition between “developers”, ecologists, farmers and the army over every centimeter of terrain, not to mention Bedouin tribes and Arab villages. Wide cross-country highways would clearly be an issue of contention. The problem is even more acute in cities and villages, some of which were built in the pre-car era.
Today, with two cars per middle class family, the entire country becomes one huge traffic jam at rush hour. The new trains and roads simply cannot catch up with the increase in the car population. Congestion can spread from the freeways into the cities or the other way around. One way or another, there’s no place to move.
From Here to Ramallah
The problems of the Israeli car do not end with bumping, scratching and accidents. They also include stealing. Bank of America does not give card insurance for several countries, namely Jamaica, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Israel. We are in good company. The reason?
Although we do not anymore have conveyer belts for producing cars, we do have conveyer belts for stealing them. Those are highly smooth and functioning, all the way from Hod Hasharon plush communities to the car slaughterhouses in West Bank cities like Ramallah and Nablus. The car theft enterprise has partners on both sides of the border. Our Jewish brethren help their Palestinian counterparts bring up the insurance prices.
One result of the stealing trade is that many alarm systems are now considered obsolete. Strangely, the manual wheel lock is still considered a hindrance to a fast and nervous thief, while immobilizers and key “safes” are considered easy to break. The ultimate escalation in stealing techniques bypasses all these efforts. You get the car on a tow truck and on to the Palestinian territories.
Dust and Fake Rains - Can We Keep the Israeli Car Clean?
Another major topic, elaborated on in another post is how to keep our cars clean. Everything from the desert dust to fake rains conspires to get it messy and keep it so. Only the lucky few who own a covered garage might somehow manage to keep their new cars relatively clean. The rest of us give up sooner rather than later.
Who is the Israeli car?
A word of clarification about the term “Israeli car“. The Israeli car is, of course, nothing but Israeli. Every Asian, European or American brand is represented here to various extents (Mazda 3 is still queen). In the 60s an effort was made to produce blue and white cars called Susitas (little horses), but our patriotic endeavor was terminated when the company, Autocars Ltd., went bankrupt.
Since then we had to make do with imports, a profitable enterprise for the government, as everything car is extremely highly taxed here. The few Susitas that actually rolled on the roads were cute and lovable, reminiscent somewhat of the new trendy Jeepons (little jeeps), like the beloved Kia Soul I rented on my trip.
The poor Israeli car, from the moment it drives out of the company’s shop, all shiny and pretty, is immediately vulnerable to the vagaries of the road, the weather, and, yes, let’s not forget, the Israeli driver.
Everything else aside, the main challenge for the Israeli car is the Israeli driver. The Israeli driver, especially of the male variety but not exclusively, is a hazard to himself and his environment. The national characteristic, which we succeeded to pass on to our Palestinian counterparts by a process of osmosis, is impatience. Impatience and great driving are not really compatible. When impatience is combined with mild to severe aggressiveness you describe the Israeli driver in a nutshell.
Basically, if you politely wait for everybody else to pass, like people do in America, not only will there be a chorus of car horns behind you, but you might never succeed to get on to the main road. In Israel drive like an Israeli…
Sometimes an old car gets a second (or a third, fourth, fifth) chance on life with Hassidic religious owners…
Good luck to all Israeli cars and owners. Best of wishes to all.