“Russian roulette” and “Wild West” were terms used to describe West Bank roads at a meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment committee on Monday.
The meeting addressed the issue of dangerous driving and charges of lax traffic enforcement in the West Bank, and was held at the request of National Union MK Arye Eldad and United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev.
“Anyone who has been driving on Judea and Samaria roads in the past few months and years knows that the real danger is not being shot at by terrorists, but the driving practices of Arab road users,” Eldad said.
“There is a feeling that there is no one in control. There is nothing to prevent traffic violations because the Palestinian approach to accidents is different from the attitude within the Green Line. When there is no enforcement and the driving becomes wild, Israelis also die and are injured.”
Maklev said that settlers were requesting additional enforcement.
“I’ve had young people come to me and tell me that driving in the West Bank is like playing Russian roulette and that there is a ‘Wild West’ mentality because of a lack of enforcement,” he said. “We see that there is little or no police enforcement. The police don’t issue traffic reports and the courts don’t punish offenders adequately.”
According to Orit Strok, a resident of Hebron and head of human rights for the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, lives are at stake and no one is doing anything.
“I drive into Jerusalem every day and rarely see a traffic patrol cruiser,” Strok said. “We might see the police at the exit to the city, but on the open roads, where the dangerous driving takes place, they are simply nonexistent.”
She said that the most dangerous areas are along Highway 60, which passes through all the major settlements in Samaria, and Highway 90 in the Jordan Valley. She added that a lack of infrastructure in the form of traffic lights, safety barriers, traffic circles and signs also played a role in accidents.
National Union MK Ya’acov Katz suggested constructing 20 or 30 traffic circles along Highway 60 to help cut down speeding.
Eldad charged that one reason for the lack of traffic enforcement and infrastructure in the West Bank was that accidents there were not included in national statistics and thus weren’t being taken into account for the Transportation Ministry’s traffic safety plans.
“The national statistics on traffic accidents published by the Central Bureau of Statistics don’t include numbers from the West Bank,” he said. “The police only pass on the information when an Israeli citizen is involved. A majority of the accidents, which involve Arab drivers, simply aren’t counted.”
Since the 1970s, the CBS has been keeping accident figures for the West Bank separate from those for the rest of the country, saying that Sinai, the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank had been removed from Israeli control over the years, and geographic areas that change lead to skewed results.
Doron Yisraeli, head of traffic police for the Shai District, said his unit was aware of the driving dangers in the West Bank and was doing the best it could with the resources provided.
He said his officers handed out roughly 58,000 traffic citations in 2009, over 40,000 of them to Arab drivers, adding that the number of tickets for 2010 was expected to rise by 10 percent.
“I agree that the driving behavior of Palestinian drivers is dangerous and that since many of the military roadblocks have been removed, we have seen an increase in traffic and an increase in accidents,” Yisraeli said. “But my men are doing everything possible to enforce the law. Every driver caught breaking the law is issued a summons to appear before a judge. Arab drivers go before a military court, which tends to be even stricter than the traffic courts in the rest of the country. However we do have a shortage in manpower, which directly affects our enforcement capabilities.”
Yisraeli said that of 600 field officers, only 40 are dedicated to traffic enforcement.
Katz said that another element was Israel’s inability to confiscate and impound offenders’ vehicles.
“In the Palestinian Authority- controlled territories, they behave well
and drive carefully because the Palestinian police confiscate their cars
immediately,” he said. “But once they leave the PA-controlled area,
they take off their seatbelts, step on the gas and start driving like
maniacs because they know we don’t have the ability to impound their
Yisraeli explained that the police lacked an impound facility.
“We published a tender to build one four years ago, but no one has been
willing to take it on,” he said. “We are even willing to ease the
requirements [for such a facility] if anyone comes forward, but so far
nobody has. When I retire from the police I’ll construct one myself.
There is a lot of money to be made there.”
Internal Affairs and Environment committee chairman David Azoulay (Shas)
concluded the meeting by calling on Transportation Minister Yisrael
Katz (Likud) to improve infrastructure on Highway 60 and introduce
traffic circles to reduce drivers’ speed. He also called on the CBS to
include accidents involving Palestinians in its numbers, and urged
residents to volunteer for the civil guard.