Mofaz with soldiers on 1st day of train arrangement 311.
(photo credit: FADC spokesman)
A collective state of hysteria has taken hold of our nation. An eminently
reasonable – and temporary – solution to the ongoing problem of overcrowding on
our railways on Sunday mornings has been transformed beyond recognition into a
horrible injustice perpetrated against our poor soldiers.
And the news
media have been stoking the populist flames.
On Saturday night, Yediot
’s editors chose the headline, “Nightmare Sunday,” to describe what they
could not know would transpire the next morning.
Radio stations devoted
huge swathes of air-time in the morning to disgruntled soldiers and their
outspoken and assertive parents. One father lamented that only “soldiers and
dogs” were kept off the trains. A mother vowed that she would not condone the
travesty of her poor soldier son being jostled by bus across the
Encountering the discourse without knowing the facts, one could
easily arrive at the mistaken conclusion that our soldiers were the victims of
some unconscionable transportation offense.
In reality, something else
One day a week, between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9
a.m., about 10,000 able-bodied conscripts aged 18 to 21 – many of whom are
combat soldiers used to crawling in the mud, sleeping outdoors, running long
distances with heavy backpacks, and generally “roughing it” – will not be
granted free access to trains.
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Instead, a fleet of 300 air-conditioned
buses has been placed at their service, free of charge, to transport these
soldiers to their bases.
The idea is to alleviate chronic overcrowding
during rush hour. On Sunday mornings, occupancy levels regularly reach 200
percent, according to Israel Railways Director-General Boaz Tzafrir.
all the lines have been affected – only the most crowded ones that carry
residents from the north to Tel Aviv, or from Tel Aviv to certain destinations
in the north. And not all soldiers will be affected – reservists will continue
to travel on the train free of charge.
Civilian commuters – many of whom
are not so able-bodied – will no longer be forced to brave the overcrowding caused by
the thousands of soldiers returning to their military bases after the Shabbat.
Duffel bags strewn underfoot, M-16s poking into rib-cages and sleeping soldiers
sprawled out on the few available seats will all hopefully become less prominent
features of commuting by train on Sunday mornings.
While a few hundred
soldiers chose to pay full price and take the train anyway, thousands more opted
to use the free buses. As a result, occupancy was “only” 140%, and trains ran on
time in 84% of the cases, compared to less than half of time on a regular
True, many soldiers arrived late to their bases due primarily to
road traffic. But IDF commanders were ordered in advance to excuse soldiers’
The solution, in short, was utterly reasonable. But if so, how
are we to explain the public outcry, further amplified by the news media?
Perhaps part of the answer lies in perceptions.
Soldiers who spoke with
The Jerusalem Post
’s Ben Hartman expressed a fundamental lack of trust in the
IDF. They were skeptical about whether the IDF would truly stand behind its
promise not to punish soldiers who arrived late due to the transportation
Also, many of our young citizens who are drafted into the
military, and the parents that send them, seem to be fed up. The number of IDF
conscripts as a percentage of the total population is gradually
Unless present trends change, within a decade or two, less
than half of males eligible for military service will actually serve. Already,
the idea that military service is the obligation of every 18 year old is no
longer a given.
Those who do serve expect appreciation. For some, having
their free train passage rights taken away – even for three hours a week – is
perceived as a slap in the face.
The solution offered to alleviate
overcrowding on our trains was a rational one, while the disproportional
reactions seemed less so.
But it would be a mistake to ignore the root
causes of the widespread discontent revealed on Sunday.
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