Opinion

Man Murdered Over Parking Shows Israel's Overcrowding Is Turning Deadly

Cars drive on a highway as a train enters a station in Tel Aviv, Israel November 25, 2018.
\ CORINNA KERN/ REUTERS

A guy takes his family out to the mall in Ramle for some diversion gets caught up in a fight in a parking lot, and then he’s murdered. The out-of-nowhere cruelty of Ofir Hisdai’s death raises questions about the causes of violence in Israeli society. There are those who say it’s the occupation and security situation or point to the social differences and tensions.

Some people would blame the principles of Israeli culture which bar us from ever losing a battle or being a sucker. But the bottom line is the development of a violent, aggressive, intolerant culture that has made life dangerous in Israel, even when you’re just heading out for some routine entertainment.

The bad news is it’s going to get worse because there’s yet another reason behind Israeli aggression and violence – it’s overcrowded.  The traffic jams, hospital queues, large number of children in classes, and the desperate search for a parking spot all sound like the stuff of familiar Israeli folklore but they are costing us, and will continue to come at a heavy price.

>> A population bomb waiting to explode | Analysis

Ofir Hasdai, the man who was shot and killed following an altercation in the parking lot of the Azrieli Mall in the central Israeli city of Ramle, is laid to rest.
Meged Gozani

Some nine million people live in Israel nowadays. In another five years the population will number 10 million, and by 2048 the figure will hit 15 million. Where will all those people live? Where will they work? How will they get to work each day and how long will it take them to do so? Israel is already considered one of the most overcrowded countries in the Western world.

Natural growth is one of the highest in the developed world, with an average of 3.1 births per woman. According to United Nations data, Israel ranks 30th in population density with 405 people per square kilometer. The Central Bureau of Statistics forecasts a doubling of the population density by 2059.

There are positive aspects to the high rate of natural growth but it also means that Israel has to overcome a tremendous gap in the construction of infrastructure, transportation, hospitals, schools and housing.

Homeowners view a doubling of housing prices in the past decade as a great economic benefit, but it’s the result of poor planning and administration on the part of the government in the realm of handling state land and building permits.

Israelis wait in a traffic jam caused by a protest on Tel Aviv's Ayalon Highway, February 2019. Israeli roads are the most jam-packed in the developed world, surveys show.
Tomer Appelbaum

The great efficiency of the health system puts it in a top spot globally but it’s the result of starving the system and stretching resources to the brink. Doubling the education budget in the past decade shows the importance the government places on education, but achievements have not significantly risen because the money went to salaries instead of infrastructure and building  improvements to really reduce the number of children stuffed into classrooms.

The heavy investments in transportation focused in the past two decades on roads and intercity highways, while public transportation in city centers, particularly the greater Tel Aviv area, was neglected.  The State Comptroller has found that in the past 40 years Israel’s population has increased 2.5 fold but the number of passengers on public transportation grew by less than 50%. This fast puts Israel in first place in the road overcrowding index for vehicles per square kilometer, two to four times behind countries across Europe.

Israeli hospitals are also tremendously overcrowded in comparison to other OECD nations, its bed occupancy rating putting it in second place in this category, at 93.8 percent.  Israel has 2.3 bed per thousand compared to 3.6 in other Western countries. The price of the overcrowding is long lines, a high cost of living, low productivity, a loss of work days and productivity and another thing that’s difficult to measure but which is seeping deep into Israeli society – anger and aggression. You see it on the roads, on lines, on the streets and in social media.

In another five years another million people will crowd in here with us. Israeli infrastructure is not expanding at the same rate as population growth and the government has to change its attitude, whether by advancing and accelerating metro construction plans to the greater Tel Aviv areas, housing solutions, and investment in schools and hospitals.

In effect, the situation needs to be treated like an emergency. Even if at the moment the only thing that interests the politicians is figuring out how to unite their parties and slot candidates on their lists for the September 17th Knesset election.