Opinion |

Electric Bike Riders Are Tel Aviv's Lawless Hilltop Youth

The long arm of the law won't spare a Palestinian stealing a pack of gum. But the electric bike riders who channel Hell's Angels on the streets of Tel Aviv are untouchable.

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Police issuing a ticket to the rider of an electric bike in Tel Aviv.
Police issuing a ticket to the rider of an electric bike in Tel Aviv. A law enforcement effort that didn't last. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Dear Diary, this morning I was hit by an electric bike. I was walking along Rothschild Boulevard when I felt a powerful blow on my back. I lost my balance and fell on all fours, like a dog. The cyclist had been talking on his cell phone. He stopped for a moment, looked me up and down and decided I was fine. “I’ll be at the office in a jiffy,” he announced into his phone, gave me another glance and hightailed it out of there. Didn’t even ask if I needed help. For him, it was a “slight tremor on the wing.”

I struggled to pull myself together. I sat in a café on the boulevard, ordered a lungo and thought about what would have happened if the outcome had been different. I saw myself bleeding to death, my skull fractured, face crushed, hands and legs twisted. I imagined my funeral. My parents mourning. My broken body being lowered into the pit and covered with clods. My friends singing Shlomo Artzi’s “Shir Preida” (“Farewell Song”): Here lies one who was murdered by an assassin armed with a handlebar, two wheels and a battery.

Dear Diary, today I was lucky. I was almost hit by an electric bike. Some idiot was cycling in the pedestrian lane and tried to pass me at 30 kilometers (19 miles) an hour. At the last moment I managed to sidestep him. He looked back and cursed me. I didn’t curse back. I cursed him in my heart. I wished him death in a holocaust of electric bike-riders.

Dear Diary, it’s 4 P.M. and my son was almost run over when I picked him up from preschool. I managed to lift him up a split second before a bike hit him. He was frightened and cried. I barely stopped myself from crying. The cyclist, a pisher of 13 or 14, sped up and shouted to me, “Yalla, sorry ‘bro, I didn’t mean it,” and went on riding wildly, Hell’s Angels style. At the corner of King George Street and Allenby, he hit an old woman who was about to cross the road. She fell down and her shopping bags scattered everywhere. “Yalla, sorry sista, I didn’t mean it,” he said to her – and sped up.

Dear Diary, today I wasn’t hit by an electric bike. I didn’t sidestep an electric bike. I didn’t see other people being hit by an electric bike. All in all, it was a good day.

The riders of electric bikes are the “hilltop youth” – young extremist settlers – of the city. They do what they want. The establishment doesn’t intervene. It doesn’t take them seriously. People are injured, people die. No one cares. They’re treated like rascals. We know that Jews are not lawbreakers. What are they, Arabs? Gangsters? Just guys driving fast on bikes and setting fire to Palestinians’ homes. Why do you make a big deal out of everything?

It’s the perfect image for the Israeli situation. On the face of it, what’s the problem with dealing with these riders? You know, we sent a satellite into space, we freed the Entebbe hostages, we won the Euroleague basketball championship. All that has to be done is to pass legislation against riders of electric bikes. Throw the book at them, fine them, cut off their hands. I’m in favor. That seems a perfectly proportional punishment to me.

But it’s not happening. Like a lot of other things aren’t happening. A few months ago, the media reported that the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality had, at long last, decided to tackle the issue: For a couple of weeks, municipal inspectors gave tickets to people riding electric bikes on sidewalks. But as quickly as they had materialized, the inspectors disappeared and the riders went back to racing around as if they were in the Wild West. Hang on, why “as if”? This is the Wild West.

Illustration. Credit: Sharon Fadida

This seemingly minor matter exposes Israel for what it is: a lawless country. Not a “villa in the jungle,” as Ehud Barak once famously put it, but a jungle that mistakenly thinks it’s a villa. A megalomaniacal jungle. A jungle denying that it’s a jungle.

That’s the thing about anarchy: It’s contagious and looks to spread out. A country that can’t apply its sovereignty in the occupied territories will not be able to control its legal territories (especially when it has no official borders).

If the settlers do as they please, why discriminate against the rest of the citizens? Israel is not a sovereign state. It chooses when and where to apply its authority. The police know when to be Louis de Funès and when to be the Marquis de Sade. Those who aren’t under the umbrella of authority (which is imposed with exaggerated force, extreme violence and disproportionate killing) enjoy carte blanche. They can do whatever strikes their fancy.

Israel is a paradise for thieves, property crooks, thieving tycoons, tax evaders, traffickers, downloaders of illegal files. And if you’re a Palestinian who stole a stick of gum from a kiosk in the Central Bus Station? The long arm of the law will reach for you immediately!

Do you know why some tourists have been coming to Israel for the past few years? No, it’s not because of the idyllic beaches and blue sea, nor the beautiful girls or tasty food, nor the architecture or history. It’s because Israel is a totally anarchic place. You can do whatever you want here. Drink alcohol and smoke grass on the street. Ride an electric bike like a madman. Sexually harass women in the guise of “buddy-buddiness.” Dump garbage in the street. Hold raucous karaoke parties in private homes until the break of dawn. The chances are that no one will bother you, or at worst you’ll get a nonbinding rebuke and little slap on the wrist.

The feeling is that everything is possible and everything is permitted. And that’s something I don’t treat lightly – most of the world’s big cities, such as London and New York, have become police cities. They’re ruled by big capital, which issues orders to the authorities to cleanse the urban space of harmful elements. The wealthy like security, quiet and cleanliness. In Israel, big capital hasn’t yet vanquished chaos. Because chaos serves the government. Chaos is its weapon in the struggle against the Arabs.

We have translated that chaos into a sense of freedom. We enjoy that freedom. We don’t only suffer from it. Because chaos is also fun. Liberation. There’s no one in charge, no parents to rebuke you, no responsible adult. Like in the old song by Hatarnegolim (The Roosters; lyrics by Haim Hefer): “We don’t want to sleep, we want to go wild.” Israel, after all, likes to pretend that it could freak out at any moment and kill itself. That’s a scare tactic we use against the neighboring countries. It’s a country of madmen. Everything is possible. Drop nuclear bombs on Iran? Yes. Trance parties in the forests of Mount Carmel? Why not? Illegal settler outposts? Obviously.

The next time you’re hit by an electric bike, it’s important for you to understand that, yes, this is also because of the occupation. Ugh, this too? Yes, this too.