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The Morning After Israel's Election, the Country Is Still Stuck on a Traffic Island

Netta Ahituv
Netta Ahituv
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Israeli school children cross a road with an Israeli flag in the Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa, in east Jerusalem, May 10, 2010.
Israeli school children cross a road with an Israeli flag in the Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa, in east Jerusalem, May 10, 2010.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner / AP/ סבס
Netta Ahituv
Netta Ahituv

The little green man appears on the traffic signal, and all the pedestrians start crossing the street. We reach the traffic island, but then the little red man shows up on the traffic signal across from us. Now we’re stuck on the traffic island, around 20 of us.

Two runners are jogging in place so as not to break stride. A blind man is standing with his Labrador dog at the ready. An elderly woman sits in a wheelchair with someone who appears to be her caregiver from another country.

Bibi went gunning for his only real rivalCredit: Haaretz Weekly Ep. 66

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Also on that same traffic island are four children, around 10 years old, in basketball uniforms, with enormous gym bags on their shoulders and balls in hand; several women and men in suits, some of them with employee IDs dangling at their waists; one person on an electric scooter and several on bicycles, including me. There are also two children on my bike, one on the front seat on the handlebars and one on the back seat.

A typical traffic jam in gridlocked Tel Aviv.Credit: Dim Schliefman

Cars race by at dizzying speeds on both sides of us. We’re stuck on the traffic island. Most of those cars contain no one but the driver. The traffic island is too small to hold all the people standing on it, so some are forced to stand on the raised border and hold onto the “no U-turn” sign.

On the other side of the island, others are trying to crowd next to a pole bearing a billboard that clearly isn’t meant for us, standing in its shadow, because we can only see part of it. It’s meant for the drivers in their air-conditioned cars, not the worn-out pedestrians.

The traffic island is too small for all us, and it’s also too narrow to accommodate the wheel span of my standard bicycle. So I’m forced to get off and turn the front wheel, lest a car hits one of the wheels and sends the bike flying, with my children on it.

The children are breathing exhaust fumes, and I’m breathing exhaust fumes. All the people beside me, and the guide dog are also breathing exhaust fumes.

A truck goes by with an especially smoky tailpipe rattling at about the height of the basketball boys. Another car honks deafeningly at the car in front of it, which dared to slow down a bit, perhaps because of the cluster of miserable people on the traffic island.

We stand like this in the rain, as the passing cars spray us with water mixed with engine oil and dirt from the pavement. We also stand like this in August, when every extra second under the burning sun, combined with the heat emitted by the cars, brings us closer to expiring. We’re all tense. Exhausted. Broken.

And why shouldn’t we be? The most basic thing any proper government is supposed to do – organizing and managing traffic in public areas – is something no government to this day has bothered to do the way it should be done.

Traffic moves past a Blue and White party election campaign poster, depicting party leader Benny Gantz, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Tel Aviv, Israel, February 18, 2020.Credit: AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

We wake up the morning after an election and know that it doesn’t really matter who was elected or what kind of governing coalition he puts together; we’ll continue to stand on that traffic island regardless of whether the government is headed by Likud or Kahol Lavan, regardless of whether it does or doesn’t include the ultra-Orthodox, regardless of whether it is or isn’t supported from the outside by the Arab Knesset members.

Nobody in the government is moved by the slogan “A green light for pedestrians.” In fact, most of them have likely never heard of it, and it’s certainly been a long time since they were forced to experience its absence from their lives.

And therefore, we’ll remain stuck on this traffic island for another term, and then another one after that, and yet another. It will go on like this forever.

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