How the Wheels Turn

Archive photo: IDF (Zahal) Spokesperson

Nachum Gabay, responsible for roads and infrastructure for both Palestinians and Jews in the Judea and Samaria region, recently finished his life-long years of work concluding that though there’s much to be done, people must be enabled to live

Date: 02/03/2011, 11:22 AM     Author: Tamara Shavit

In an emotion-filled ceremony, Nachum Gabay parted from the transportation world in the Judea and Samaria region. For forty-six years, he was the Civil Administration’s Traffic Coordinator in the territories. Instead of picking up his kids from kindergarten, he sat for hours at the office, consuming kilometer after kilometer of fieldwork. His surveillance work of the Judea and Samaria region make up the world’s circumference 29 times. He gave 22,000 critiques on operational matters. From road signs to large-scale roads, he oversaw the movement of both Palestinians and Jews in the sector.

“When I got here, there were no road signs nor signs of any kind. There weren’t basic conditions for roads at all. Those there, even the main roads, looked like makeshift paths to local villages. I aspired to build them up to the same quality of roads in Israel. We’re not completely there yet, however, in comparison to ’67, today we drive on a solid road system,” he tells IDF (Zahal) Website.

In the Judea and Samaria region of today there are 2,000 kilometers of roads, 1,400 of which are under Israel’s jurisdiction. There are 15 traffic lights, almost 3000 kilometers of safety railings and most of the routes are lit at night. Tens of millions of liras and shekels were dedicated to projects over the years and the work continues.

A Revolution in Public Transportation

The changes made, however, go beyond just roads. Much of it has to do with public transportation. “I was the one who created public transportation for Jews and soldiers. We divided buses into three types: lines crossing Judea and Samaria, lines meant for central cities and inner-city lines. Overall, we have more than 200 lines,” says Gabay.

And he doesn’t overlook foreign transportation. “Because of the village-like nature of the Palestinian regions in Judea and Samaria, that is over 450 small villages, we established that large buses were inefficient. Today, transportation is based on minibuses. Thanks to this idea’s success, the same model was established in East Jerusalem. The biggest achievement, I believe, is reducing Palestinian public transport companies from 386 to 86 by merging companies. Thus, they also became stronger and more organized. The efficiency is incomparable.”

For the most part, years held much cooperation with civilians. On the Palestinians side, we saw real structural changes. “I tried to convince the Palestinians mayors to hire traffic engineers. The road systems inside the cities were inadequate. They were built carelessly. Today, all the workers are professionals.”

“I helped bring and operate the first traffic light in the Judea and Samaria region with the Bethlehem municipality in 1987. It was built in the Beit Jala and Bethlehem intersection. Unfortunately, shortly after the Intifada broke out. Anything that symbolized Israel was destroyed, including the traffic light.”

The intifada brought on another transportation challenge. “Working with the GOC of Central Command, we built bullet proof buses. This wasn’t simple and involved a large budget and cooperation with the Home Front Command.” Still, driving back from Beit El to Jerusalem, we were enclosed by protected glass.

“People live here – we simply must enable them to live here”

“I’m not a citizen of the Judea and Samaria region,” says Gabay, “But my heart and soul have been here. I’ve always tried with everything in my power, without fear or discrimination, to fulfill my responsibilities to both the Jewish and Arabic sectors as one.”

A third sector, you could say, is those in uniform. “It was fun working with IDF (Zahal) officers, each one of them,” he says. “I drove them a little crazy. Beginning with powerful officials such as Binyamin Ben Eliezer (Israeli politician and former IDF (Zahal) officer) to Motti (Almoz current head of the Civil Administration) who is with us today. It’s my pleasure to serve you,” he says, turning to him. “Although there were arguments as well, I always loved you and always will. I’m at your service and at everybody’s service. My phone will remain available. If you need me to run over, I will.”

“What we see here is a life-time’s work,” replies the Head of the Civil Administration. “In this matter, which started from scratch, I believe we were fortunate to work with a true, upstanding professional. Moreover, we earned a friend. A dear man we can consult in.”

But Gabay insisted on mentioning the other contributors to the cause. “My deputy, Israel Afriat, who will soon take my place. Hagit Amar and Rafi Snir, who did incredible work with the Palestinians. Kineret Achrak, Rami Cohen and Ariella Zrihen, a powerful and crucial woman. We were a family. It is impossible to accomplish things without wholeheartedly working as a team.”

“Not everything is simple,” he concludes. ” It doesn’t matter which decision you make, there will always be people for and against it. But I tried to balance this out. At the end, I believe we made the correct decisions. And still, there are many more to make in the matters of public transportation, safety infrastructures and caring for the populations themselves. It’s crucial to allot funds and attention.”

“But yes, this will happen,” he replies to my question. “It will happen thanks to the many people here giving everything. And know they are not motivated by political considerations. People live here – we simply must enable them to live here. “