Gas up to $8 a gallon in Israel

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 |  Ryan Jones

Rising gas prices are always a hot topic during an American election year, and Republican officials have not missed the opportunity to skewer President Barack Obama's economic policies over the recent increase to a nationwide average of $3.70 per gallon.

What most Americans don't know is that their Israeli allies are actually quite envious of what they consider to be very low gas prices in the US.

At midnight, gas prices in Israel will rise another 5 percent, bringing the cost per gallon to around $8 in most parts of the country. Over the past year, Israeli gas prices have gone up by over 20 percent.

The sharp increase has been blamed on rising oil prices worldwide, but the Israeli government also imposes hefty taxes on imported fuel. A consumer activist campaign is pressuring the government to reduce those taxes, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to look into it.

Meanwhile, leading economists in Israel are warning that the government cannot simply eliminate such a major source of tax revenue without severely impacting spending on critical services like defense and health care. The experts are instead urging Israelis hurt by the gas price increases to find alternative methods of transportation.

But as a father of four living in an outlying neighborhood of Jerusalem, we can attest, as can many other Israelis, that it is not so simple to live day-to-day without a car in this country.

First of all, rising gas prices do not only effect the ability to fill our own gas tanks, but also produce an increase in the price of bus tickets. Even without such a price increase, anyone who lives in Jerusalem knows that despite the city's small geographical size, journeying from an outlying neighborhood like ours to the downtown district on a comically overcrowded bus can take well over an hour.

In other words, relying on the bus as our primary method of transportation in Jerusalem adds at least two hours of additional travel time to our daily schedules. That Israel, unlike most European countries, allows the Egged bus company to pack its buses like sardine cans (standing room only most of the time) means those are two very uncomfortable hours, especially for people traveling with small children.

Beyond getting around town, the rising gas prices will also increase the cost of most consumer goods, including food, which need to be transported by truck to retail outlets.

Perhaps most immediately noticeable to the majority of the population will be the increase in electricity rates. Israel's power plants are heavily reliant on coal and fossil fuels, and a major increase in electricity rates is forecast for this year, as is an energy crisis in the summer when Israeli are trying to beat off the infamous Middle East heat.

In short, the global oil troubles are affecting many people, but probably none more than Israelis, who were already in the unenviable position have having few friends from whom to buy oil. Maybe a Republican president in American could make good on those promises to start drilling and become Israel's supplier?

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