Over the past year, an aggravating norm has taken root in this country, whereby every interest group with a grievance feels free to block a major intersection or road to draw attention to its protest.
This must stop. It must be prohibited. Legislation should be passed to make such outrageous behavior punishable by major fines and criminal convictions, and the police should be empowered to wield significant force to clear the roadways.
The obstruction of major roads has been cavalierly and recurrently adopted by almost every Tom, Dick and Harry movement with a gripe: by the handicapped, cement workers, haredi draft dodgers, LGBTs, driver’s ed instructors, feminists, bus drivers, cannabis users, Bedouin, university students, chemical plant employees, and more.
Just this week, feminists blocked the Hashalom junction in Tel Aviv; those with disabilities blocked the entrance to Ben-Gurion Airport; and an ultra-Orthodox super-splinter faction (one of several hundred) blocked the entrance to Jerusalem for the umpteenth time.
The way things are going – with the popularity of such extreme disruption of public welfare going mainstream – soon we’ll have wildcat demonstrations every Monday and Thursday by the Association of Falafel Vendors, Chinese acupuncture specialists, the Israeli Guild of Circumcisers, and the Ben & Jerry’s Tasters Union. Then Shas leader Arye Deri’s supporters can tie up traffic in front of the Supreme Court for days too (“He is innocent!”), and Yediot Aharonot can lead an open-ended sit-in on the Ayalon Expressway until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resigns (“He is guilty!”).
Then, each of these groups can send some representatives to a massive catch-all protest blocking Highway 6 against Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit
(for one reason or another), and each of these groups can send representatives to a massive catch-all protest blocking Highway 4 in support of Mandelblit (for a potpourri of other reasons).
Why not? Anybody who wants more pay or government stipend, or who seeks to stop a government decision, can simply stop traffic – for hours and hours, causing massive traffic jams and wreaking havoc on the everyday life of perfectly innocent citizens, not to mention the tremendous cost in lost work hours, excess pollution and missed family time. They can inconvenience the masses to the most extreme degree – also endangering those who need to get to hospital or plain old elderly folks whose attendants can’t get to them – because their narrow agenda trumps all and they can get away with it.
The problem here is twofold. First, the notion that a group’s cause is so salient and urgent that it justifies highhanded, dangerous disruption of the public square is offensive. It is selfish and ugly. It suggests a breakdown in societal standards of decorum and of respect for fellow citizens.
In normal functioning societies, there is some sort of filtering and coordination mechanism for public protests, whereby the police help plan and provide permits for necessary and justified demonstrations, within reasonable limits and warning to the broader public. This is true, too, for large events that impinge on road access, ranging from funerals to parades and sporting events.
But in today’s fragmented society, lobby group Alpha feels perfectly comfortable screwing the rest of society for injustices it feels it is subjected to, and the next day lobby group Beta will do the same. And who bears the brunt of suffering when a road is blocked? Not the government, which is the target of most protesters, but rather the hapless driver stuck in traffic who has no ability to increase stipends for the elderly or prevent the next domestic murder.
The second problem is the standoffish and anemic way the police are handling – or rather, not handling – these increasingly frequent road blockages. The police seem to stand by and watch the illegal protests for hours, almost as if they are protecting the demonstrators from rightfully-irate motorists. Until, at some late hour of the day, they gently wade in to drag some ringleaders away, only to release them in the evening with no charges.
Police reticence to swiftly clear illegally jammed intersections is probably a function of several factors: a desire not to aggravate tensions with minority sectors of society who are behind many of the demonstrations, a natural tendency to avoid conflict where possible, and concern for the reputation of the Israel Police itself. After all, dragging crippled veterans out of their wheelchairs photographs very poorly!
Then there is insufficient legal sanction for aggressive action. Alas, the police know that every violent confrontation with protesters will result in policemen under investigation ad nauseam, while the courts will release arrested protesters posthaste.
Israeli law as currently practiced does not make unannounced, intentional blocking of major roads at rush hour a significant enough crime. It’s time for the ministers of justice and public security to define such animalistic behavior as a hefty crime and make it punishable by major fines and even jail time, and to empower the police to wield real muscle in drubbing offenders.
I don’t buy the argument that “democracy” and “free speech” provides a group of protesters – no matter how pious and pressing their cause – the unfettered right to mess up everybody else’s lives. Roads are a lifeline in our high-speed society; a shared resource that shouldn’t be carjacked with such unbearable ease, just because.
One savvy Technion
medical student named Asaf Israeli is so sick of the systemic road blockages that he has created a faux Facebook event to protest the blocking of the Ayalon expressway – by blocking the Ayalon expressway! So join Asaf and me on May 13, 2021 at 11 a.m. in blocking the Ayalon in order to unblock the Ayalon. (This would be funny if it wasn’t so sad).
And until 2021, pray that our politicians and police will act to end the sick spectacle of hoodlums hijacking our roads.The author is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, jiss.org.il. His personal site is davidmweinberg.com.
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