A few days ago, I paid a visit to Harish, a community that overlooks Wadi Ara. I met one of the residents, who proudly told me how the settlement had successfully absorbed new immigrants from Argentina. "But what sort of jobs do they have?" I asked. "After all, you don't have a lot of possibilities here."
"That was true until a year ago," he answered. "But now we go down to the Nahal Iron junction, get on Road No. 6, and within half an hour we are at work, in the center, in Tel Aviv."
There you have it, in one sentence. The man summed up the great social advantage afforded by Road No. 6; instead of wallowing in unemployment in a small settlement that is unable to generate jobs, the road makes it possible to find a job in the center, see a play in Tel Aviv, and return home to the quiet, beautiful settlement as night falls.
When the road is completed and extends deep into the Galilee and the Negev, it will bring this important social message to all of the residents of the north and the south. They will be connected to the center. They will stop feeling cut off, they will benefit from the abundant opportunities offered by the metropolis. Both their socioeconomic status and their personal feeling will be enhanced.
But explanations of social benefits (and of urban crowdedness and traffic jams) fall on deaf ears when speaking to the green organizations. The common wood sorrel and the swamp dragonfly are more important to them. They have been campaigning against Road No. 6 for many years, caused an unneeded delay of seven years in its paving and serious damage that amounts to some NIS 750 million a year. The sum total of their activity in many areas is important, but they see Road No. 6 as an excellent horse to ride. The more they yell and the more extreme the epithets they let fly, the more they succeed in gaining greater media exposure, which in turn nets them more contributions and budget allocations.
Over the years, many politicians have opposed the road: Yossi Sarid, Ran Cohen, Uzi Landau, Michael Melchior, Zahava Gal-On, Omri Sharon and Dalia Itzik. Good people all. All of them seek to improve the condition of the poor and unemployed in the periphery - but oppose the road even though it is one the most important mechanisms for this improvement.
The green organizations and the good members of Knesset delayed the paving of the road by submitting countless objections to the planning authorities and 12 High Court of Justice petitions. The unbridled political campaign continues still, with opposition efforts now concentrated on the road's Section 18, which will link Wadi Ara with Wadi Milik. The 17-kilometer section is critical for a fast connection between the Galilee and central Israel, but the greens recently submitted yet another High Court petition against it. The section was approved by the government in August 2000, and if we were a normal country, it would have taken six months to draft an environmental impact statement and another six months for submission of objections and detailed planning. In August 2001 work would have commenced, and taken no more than three years. By now, we could already be reaping the benefits of the road and the beautiful landscape of Ramat Menashe. Because good roads bring the public closer to nature, enable us to tour and to enjoy the vistas - the exact opposite of what the greens are claiming.
In view of the plethora of objections and High Court of Justice petitions, work on the road has barely begun, and now the greens have come up with a new device: a 7.4 kilometer-long (!) tunnel in place of part of the road. But because there is no mountain along the approved route and it is therefore impossible to dig a tunnel, they suggest shifting the route five kilometers to the west, where there is a mountain (Har Hurshan) under which it is possible to dig. It sounds a bit like a story from Chelm. They even came up with the astonishing claim that the tunnel would be cheaper than the road. Evidently, there is no limit to demagoguery.
Such a long tunnel is by no means a common sight. It is a very expensive matter, with immense maintenance costs; it suffers from problems of ventilation, safety, danger of fires, sabotage, traffic accidents. And most important of all: We want to see the beautiful views of the Menashe forests, and not drive frightened for 7.4 kilometers under the ground.
Essentially, the hidden aim of the tunnel idea is once again to delay paving of the road for a long period, since the planning, submission of objections and approval processes would have to begin anew, and here in Israel that takes many, many years.
It goes without saying that we should take into consideration the environment and the landscape when building a road but within the boundaries of reason. Section 18 is planned to include bridges, a 300-meter tunnel and a 200-meter-wide ecological passageway that will permit deer to move from one side of the road to the other. But the difference between this and a long tunnel that would cost hundreds of millions of shekels, in a state that does not have enough money for the "health basket" - is a very long road.
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