Israel’s Hidden Battlefield

It has claimed more lives than all the wars and terrorist attacks combined, but receives far less attention

By Arthur Schwartzman |
Photo: Gershon Elinson/Flash90

If you’ve ever driven in Israel, you have probably noticed that the driving culture is a little on the aggressive side, if even just blatantly rude. Looking at the data, it would be safe to say that the Israeli driver is public enemy number one. The following are some numbers to put this position into context.

Over the past weekend, the Central Bureau of Statistics published their alarming findings. They stated that during the month of July, 1,782 people were injured in road accidents, of which 32 were killed in 27 fatal accidents. The CBS noted that in July there were 982 road accidents with casualties, of which 151 were accidents in which 168 people were seriously injured. From January-July, 193 people were killed in road accidents – a sharp 11.6% increase over the same period last year.

And those are not just numbers, as a recent car accident shook the entire Messianic Jewish community here in Israel, when believers Rodrigo and Sophie Rosetsky, along their newborn son, were killed in a horrific car accident, leaving their 2-year-old daughter orphaned. The incident saw nationwide media coverage.

This is a serious problem in Israel. To put it into perspective: since the establishment of the State of Israel, more than 30,000 people have been killed in road accidents. This is more than in all of the wars and terrorist attacks combined(!), making the road a battlefield the media speaks little about.

According to the Israel Police, the main causes of the serious accidents are: traffic light disobedience, deviation from the lane (mainly illegal attempts to cross a continuous white line), failure to heed a right-of-way, failure to keep distance, excessive speed in relation to road conditions (as opposed to illegal speed) and failure to grant the right-of-way to pedestrians. About a third of those killed in accidents are pedestrians, most of the whom were hit while crossing a marked crosswalk.

Israel has about 15 deaths per 100,000 vehicles; a statistic which is higher than most Western European countries.

Most drivers are dissatisfied with Israeli driving culture and describe it as problematic, characterized by impatience, aggression and careless, life-threatening driving. In this regard, most drivers accept the image of the road as a battlefield, although they do not identify with it being a dangerous place for them personally.

According to the findings of a study conducted by Dr. Lipez Shamu-Nir and Dr. Uri Dorchin of the Department of Behavioral Sciences at the Safed Academic College, drivers show a positive attitude towards the law in principle, but their approach holds justification for ignoring it in various cases. In those instances where the driver decides to break the law, he justifies the need to maintain order, sometimes as a “logical and necessary action.” The Israeli driver’s attitude toward other drivers on the road is socially similar to his off-road behavior, with the ultimate goal of “not being a sucker.” The driver’s attitude toward police officers is not positive, as he attributes to them inefficiency and or professional dishonesty.

The government and private organizations like Or Yarok are working to reduce the number of casualties and accidents, and a steady decrease has been observed since the 70’s, but more work has to be done in this regard. Mistakes are unavoidable, as all humans err, but the Israeli magic word is savlanut (סבלנות, Hebrew for patience). The problem starts with the heart, and Israeli society will have to learn courtesy, on the road, and off the road. Until Israeli hi-tech fully integrates autonomous cars, we’ll have to opt for patience and paying attention, while urging others to do the same – losing 5 minutes on the road and saving a life is a sacrifice worth making.


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