The evening class is full. Thirty people including haredim (ultra-Orthodox),
Beduin, owners of stalls in the local market, an accountant, and two lecturers
from the university.
This is a true cross-section of Israeli society. But
it is not the army, the institution which was meant to be the place where
different people came together in a common cause. The army has never served that
purpose, since Arabs and haredim have never served, while even those liable for
military service are increasingly finding ways of not undertaking their army
This meeting, which takes place throughout the country on most
evenings of the week, in schools and other public buildings, is the true
equalizer. It is the only place where everybody comes together without any
international or inter-religious strife or argument.
They don’t have any
choice. This is a compulsory driving refresher course, which is a requirement
for all those drivers who have accumulated a minimum of 12 points on their
driving licenses for such mundane offenses as speeding, not stopping at a stop
sign, not wearing a seat belt and other such misdemeanors.
twelve points in any two-year period is not very difficult – two speeding
offenses will do the trick.
Drivers who accumulate over 22 points are
required to attend both a basic and an advanced course, while those accumulating
over 36 points in a two-year period can have their license revoked and, in some
cases, may even have to undergo a new driving test before being allowed back
behind the wheel.
The course takes place on three consecutive nights.
Participation requires the payment of an NIS 200 registration fee. There is no
escape. My speeding points may have been five years old, but as the time for the
renewal of my driving license is now approaching, the computer had caught up
with me. If I wanted to renew my license and have the points erased from my
record, I had no option but to pay up and attend.
The class basically
divides into two. Those who sit at the back sheepishly, a bit embarrassed to be
in this situation, remain silent, spending much of their time on their
smartphones. The other half take an active role in the class, arguing with the
teacher about his interpretation of the driving laws and regulations,
demonstrating their proficiency in their knowledge of driving conditions, and
generally using the opportunity to argue with one another about the realities of
driving on Israel’s dangerous roads. Especially prominent in this category are
the drivers of heavy trucks and large vehicles.
The teacher, who has
taught this course week in, week out for many years is an immigrant from the
Former Soviet Union. His knowledge of the driving laws and regulations is second
to none, but his heavy accent and his inability to spell words correctly in
Hebrew reduces his authority before this largely male, self-assured class of
street-savvy Israeli citizens.
Attendance is strictly monitored, at both
the beginning and the end of each evening. In the past, there were too many
incidents of people coming to register at the beginning of the evening and then
disappearing long before the four-hour session (two classes with a break in the
middle) had ended.
But the Transportation Ministry, which now franchises
the driving courses out to the Amit education system, insists on full
attendance. It also sends anonymous inspectors to randomly check that the
courses are being administered properly and that no shortcuts are being
implemented. Anyone who, like this writer, sits at the back quietly minding his
own business is immediately suspected of being an inspector and is mistrusted
At the end of the course, there is a test. Each student is
given a test sheet containing 20 multiple-choice questions and has to answer at
least 12 correctly. The questions have all been discussed in class, and they
also appear in the book which has been distributed at the beginning of the
course, but few people have taken any of this seriously and have not paid much
attention to the instructor or opened the book prior to the final
The questions and the answers are pretty much a lottery, as they
are worded in such a way as to confuse you, rather than clearly determine your
knowledge of different driving regulations or situations which can develop while
you are on the road.
Participants can choose to take the test in Hebrew,
Arabic or Russian, but no English-language option is available.
instructors take it seriously, handing out different tests to neighbors, for
fear of copying, and ensuring that all books, computers and smartphones are put
The results of the test are not announced immediately.
following day each participant receives an sms to inform him/her whether they
have passed. You would have to be exceptionally stupid or completely
unconversant with basic driving regulations not to achieve 12 out of 20, but
just in case, you are eligible for a second and third attempt before having to
undergo the entire course again.
There are memorable anecdotes. There is
the 70-yearold Israeli who admonishes the Russian teacher by continuously
telling him that he drove lorries in the Dead Sea region back in the 1950s,
before the teacher was born.
There is the Orthodox woman who informs the
class that no amount of adherence to the driving regulations will keep you safe
if you do not recite the prayer for travelling each time you get into your car.
And there is the Beduin semi-trailer driver who regales us with tales of
crashing into camels on the roads of the Negev in the dead of the night, and
also offers tips concerning the best places to stop for refreshments along the
Arava road to Eilat, and the discounts to be had if only his name is mentioned
to the restaurant owner.
Compulsory driving school for penalized drivers
has become a global phenomenon. But this one, held in a school in a Beersheba
neighborhood, is a truly unique Israeli experience. It is the one great
equalizer in Israeli society. It should be obligatory for all first-year
anthropology students – understanding the complexity and diversity of Israeli
society in the field rather than from the sterile classroom behind the gated
confines of the nearby university campus.
At the end of the day, we have
all learned something new about our driving habits. We have refreshed our
knowledge about old regulations which we have forgotten or taken for granted,
and learned some of the new regulations which have been introduced in recent
years and about which we are not always aware. And if, as a result of our
enforced participation in the course, we pay a bit more attention to our
speedometers, or are more careful about obeying the road signs, we will
hopefully contribute to making the country’s roads a little bit
safer.The writer is dean of the faculty of Humanities and Social
Sciences at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the international journal
Geopolitics, the views expressed are his alone.