Published in The Jerusalem Post , December 14, 2018.
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. Legislation should be passed to make road blockage punishable by major fines and criminal convictions, and the police should be empowered to wield significant force to clear the roadways.
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 in order to draw attention to their 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, Ethiopians, bus drivers, cannabis users, Bedouins, university students, chemical plant employees, and more.
Just this week, feminists blocked the HaShalom junction in Tel Aviv; handicapped 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, Israeli Guild of Circumcisers, and the Ben & Jerry’s Tasters Union. Then Arye Deri’s supporters can tie up traffic in front of the Supreme Court for days too (“He is innocent!”), and Yediot Ahronot can lead an open-ended sit-in on the Ayalon Freeway until Prime Minister Netanyahu resigns (“He is guilty!”).
Then, each of these can groups can send some representatives to a massive catch-all protest blocking Highway 6 against Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit (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 Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit (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 Israelis.
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 which impinge on road access, ranging from funerals to parades and sports events.
But in today’s fragmented Israeli society, lobby group Alpha feels perfectly comfortable screwing the rest of society for injustices they feel they are 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 Israel Police is 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 ring-leaders 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 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 films very poorly!
Then there is insufficient legal sanction for aggressive action. Alas, the police know that every violent confrontation with protesters will result in policeman under investigation ad nauseum, while the courts will release arrested protesters post haste.
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 Freeway – by blocking the Ayalon Freeway! So join Asaf and me on May 13, 2021 at 11 am 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.