In Israel, Little Problems Kill

There's the occupation and there are the corruption probes into Netanyahu. But the electric bicycles that fill the streets have proved to be just as thorny an issue

An electric bicycle weaves through the traffic.
Eran Wolkowski

The best way to solve a problem is to silence anyone bothered by it. When there’s no one to complain, there are no complaints. A car owner in a major city has his fill of complaints. There are traffic jams, it’s hard to find parking. It’s tough.

“It’s really hard for you?” is a typical question to this guy from a government official, whether national or local. “Well, listen. You’re the problem. You and your big mouth with your complaining every day. You’re the weak link, you and your car.”

The car owner knows that the world would be cleaner without cars. Fewer cars means fewer accidents and an easier time finding parking.

People with cars should be ashamed of themselves. And this guy complains about parking? What about the earth and the environment? What about future generations?

So he’s embarrassed about owning a car. He feels guilty – guilty because he doesn’t walk or ride a bicycle when he needs to get somewhere, and when he’s home he doesn’t make sure the windows are fully closed when the air conditioning is on.

Well, I know my car doesn’t contribute to clean air, but I have no other way to get where it can take me. “Take?” an official asked me. “Take the bus or wait at home until we finish building the light rail system.”

I have no time to wait for the light rail. Let city hall wait. I ask officials when they last took a bus and how they get to the beach on Shabbat. Such questions mark me immediately as an enemy of the environment, someone who doesn’t believe in global warming, a Donald Trump supporter, someone who’ll forgo his polluting car only if he’s sure that the bus regularly comes on time, a seat will be empty and the bus will get him precisely where his car can go.

The problem is that the bus is hard to promote; public transportation isn’t as cool as the environment. Say “environment” and everyone bows down. Say “a bus that comes on time” and everyone yawns. Besides, we’ve adjusted to the situation.

We’re world champions at adjusting. We bow our heads when we’re told cars are unnecessary, when parking spots are taken away, when a commuter tax is proposed for rush hour in the morning. We don’t care that the people who are taking us to task have their own drivers and their own parking spaces, or that we’re the ones paying for those cars.

Instead, we have three kinds of problems. First, there are big problems, including the Palestinians and the settlements, which apparently can’t be dealt with, so we live with them in harmony.

Then there are the medium-size problems, including the corruption investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and whether supermarkets will be open on Shabbat. We don’t keep quiet on such issues. We say things aren’t right and we write about them on social media in posts of astounding vitriol.

The small problems, really tiny ones, are public transportation, bicycles on the sidewalk, scooters using crosswalks and electric bicycles. They’re so trifling that we ignore them, not because we accept them but because we’re used to them. We can even recite the official response: There isn’t enough manpower to deal with the problem, there isn’t a budget for it, and in any case it’s the parents’ fault.

We get used to and adjust to unalterable realities. We walk on the fringes of the sidewalk. We’re blind to scooters using crosswalks next to us. All of us, including women, the very young and the old, know how to politely move aside when electric bicycles approach. We look left and right and left again before heading toward a store window.

We’re the ones reconciling to the situation, out of a sense that nothing can be done and we can live with it. After all, no one dies from such a thing.

And then, out of nowhere, a teenager riding an electric bicycle gets killed. Then everyone says, oy, we need to do something. We ask where the police have been, say that riders of electric bicycles should need insurance, a license and a helmet, and that there should be enforcement and government funding, as if we didn’t say that five years ago.