Donald Macintyre: Negotiating Israel's macho character

Jerusalem Notebook: Lane discipline, a term almost never heard here, is strictly for wimps
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The late Sam Goldwyn's joke that a split second is the period between the traffic light turning amber and the guy behind you honking his horn doesn't work in Israel. The guy behind starts a lot earlier than that. Indeed when Thomas Friedman once wrote that Tel Aviv was the only city where stationary drivers honked when the lights were actually red, I thought he was joking – until I started driving in Tel Aviv.

There is something about the macho Israeli character which is laid bare on the country's roads. When the car in the fast lane refuses to give way, as it all too often does, impatient motorists behind routinely drive, lights flashing, bumper to bumper with the offending vehicle ahead, before swerving, without indication, to the right and overtaking on the inside. Lane discipline, a term almost never heard here, is strictly for wimps. And in cities it is not exactly impoliteness that stops motorists waving a friendly acknowledgement if you let them in from a side road. It's more a fear that you may be seriously deranged – or at least suffering from some contemptible weakness.

The statistics underline the US State Department travel advice warning of the "serious problem" of "aggressive driving" in Israel. Nearly 30,000 people have died on Israel's roads since the foundation of the state in 1948, significantly more than in the country's all too many wars, not to mention suicide and other attacks. According to a 2007 study co-authored by Dan Ben David from Tel Aviv University, the number of deaths per kilometre travelled was 58 per cent higher than in Britain, herself no laggard in the grim international league table of road deaths.

Lest this should be dismissed as anti-Israeli propaganda, Palestinians – admittedly prohibited from using many of the Holy Land's better roads – are not much safer. In an "Independent Minds" blog, Emma Shevah, a recent immigrant from Britain, pledged a one-woman campaign to drive "like I do in London, which means indicating, stopping at zebra crossings and saying thanks if (and I mean if) other drivers let me out". Hmmm. Give it a couple more years, Emma, and you'll be overtaking on the inside like the rest of us.

The facade of difference

The Swiss artist Olivier Suter placed a newspaper advertisement inviting look-alikes for mugshots of eight people. He didn't say that they were all Palestinians and it was to promote co-existence. It worked a dream and his favourite match was an Israeli girl, Hadas Maor, and a Palestinian boy, Adam Hurati. Adam's mother and Hadas's father were both delighted with the similarities. Adam's only problem, his mother told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, was being compared not to an Israeli but a girl.