Head to Head / Holon Mayor Motti Sasson, Why Did It Take So Long to Decide to Close the Airport at Night?

This year, the Holon mayor was chosen by British magazine Monocle as one of the 10 best mayors in the world.

The British magazine Monocle this year chose Motti Sasson, the mayor of Holon, as one of the 10 best mayors in the world. Sasson is the person who led the battle that ended in victory yesterday when the High Court ruled that Ben Gurion International Airport will be closed at night.

First of all, congratulations.

Motti Sasson
Tomer Appelbaum

Thank you. It was a 15-year battle, an exhausting one, frustrating.

Why frustrating?

For the simple reason that people have no public or social sensitivity, and they don't care.

Which people?

The Israel Airports Authority. It's amazing, people are so thick-skinned. They don't care about [other] people, children who need to get up in the morning for an exam and can't concentrate because they're woken up at night by the airplanes, people who didn't sleep well at night and can't function the way they should at work - completely thick-skinned, as if I were talking to the air, the walls.

But the transportation minister [Yisrael Katz] gave them permission.

He accepted the recommendations of the airports authority. The transportation minister can't delve into things deeply. We spoke to him and nothing came of it. They do what they want. I asked him: "What's the connection between renovation work on the runways and nighttime flights? Where's the connection?"

How do you explain that he didn't understand?

When you don't delve into a problem deeply, you don't understand. That's elementary. Delve deep into a problem, be sensitive and then you'll understand. But if you don't, you believe what your experts tell you without examining the consequences. It's also a slap in the face to the transportation minister.

Another possibility is that they had to withstand pressures greater than those coming from the residents and the cities.

That's even worse. When you're a public figure, you have to be attentive to the feelings of citizens. We're not talking here about a few thousand people. Think about the entire area surrounding the airport. We're talking about hundreds of thousands of people, more than half a million. So it's even worse that you didn't listen to us and accepted only what they told you and caved into pressure.

There was pressure?

I don't think the problem is pressure, I think he didn't get into it. And he took for granted what the airports authority said. Although I told him they were think-skinned and I said it to his face, he couldn't accept it.

To me it's strange that they don't understand. There's no one who works for the airports authority who lives near there? They don't suffer from it?

It's a fact. None of them came to listen to the disturbing noise. But I have to say that the High Court was attentive to the residents and their plight. Miriam Naor is the one who understood. She told them explicitly - even though she did not let me speak and I was rather hurt by that, I wanted to talk and she wouldn't let me - she said 'I will not allow you to turn night into day.' She was the only one who understood their feelings.

What do you think about the permission nonetheless granted to El Al to fly at night "in order to observe the Sabbath"?

Ah, that's an excuse and it's too bad. Let's put it this way, if the judge wasn't Rubenstein, they wouldn't be taking off. They haven't gotten permission from any minister, no minister ever allowed them, and they haven't got written permission, no documents. But they will have to convince us that they are really observing the Sabbath or a holiday. And if it looks like they're not, we'll sue them.

But that will be another legal fight. Don't you think they had to ban these flights and that should have been the end of it?

What a question.

So why didn't this happen do you think?

My impression is that a religious judge is more sensitive to this argument. I'm not casting doubt on the honesty of a Supreme Court justice. I understand that a religious person will be more sensitive to the issue of religion and observing the Sabbath. We won't fight him on the part about keeping the Sabbath. After all, El Al is considered the national airline even though it isn't national. It's a private company, commercial, and that isn't anyone's business. But I didn't make the decision. If it were up to me, I would say, 'guys, no go.'

So what you're saying is that they exploited the issue of the Sabbath.

I think so, yes. They exploited it. What a question, why not? They've tried in the past, no one stood in their way, so they wanted to continue. I think they don't have to keep flying [at night]. The moment there's a ruling it applies to all the companies. Why, religious people who care about observing the Sabbath don't fly all the other airlines? You have to ask the court why they made an exception.

Do you feel that the verdict strengthens the residents and the power of the citizenry in Israel?

Yes, of course. The High Court is the last resort. But before that you need to try other options, like dialogue. There was on CEO who was sensitive - Gabi Ophir. He even came and saw, and they even authorized a budget of NIS 120 million to build public facilities for noise reduction. But most of them were insensitive and we said, there's no choice, we have to petition the High Court, because the High Court is attentive to the desires of the people.

You keep saying the "desires" and "feelings" of the people, but we're not talking about murmurings of the heart, but rather a basic quality of life issue.

When I say that I mean that someone is listening to what the people say, to their troubles, their complaints. Someone is attentive.

In general, the government and municipalities don't listen?

No, they don't listen.

Do you think this is something that can be changed in Israel politics?

Yes. There is a process taking place in the world of young people starting to say that they've had it with cynical politicians, and I hope the younger generation in politics will be made up of people with a lot of social and public sensitivity, caring people who will really listen closely to the citizens.