The Moslem village of Sha'ab sits on the edge of the Hilazon valley, surrounded by olive groves. A few of the 5,000 residents make a living from agriculture, but most work in factories, construction, retail, and services throughout the region. There is no industry in the village, and only a few shops serving the community. The closest town, where many people work, is Karmiel, but the approach road enters Sha'ab from the highway to the west, so the trip is roundabout, taking about 25 minutes; over the years, the population created its own short cut, wearing dirt roads through the valley east of the village, intercepting the highway near Shorashim, cutting travel time to under 10 minutes. It is fairly clear that the economic development of Sha'ab has been seriously stunted by the lack of a through road; the village is at the "end of the line," so that no one ever passes through -- you only go there if you live there or have to make a delivery. I have always wondered whether the planning decision to leave Sha'ab thus isolated was deliberate or just a by-product of other considerations.
Then, one day this spring I noticed road building machinery at work in the valley below. Investigating more closely, I learned that the new mayor of Sha'ab had undertaken to convert the informal dirt tracks through the olive groves into a proper road. Clay and gravel were being trucked in, graded, and packed to form a reasonable gravel road, and it was said an asphalt surface would be applied. I thought this was a welcome initiative both for the residents of Sha'ab and for us, as a route through Sha'ab would cut off significant time and distance from our trip to the Acco train station.
However, I did notice that while the new road was a major improvement over the previous condition, it was still not a professionally planned project, and zigzagged through the trees, clearly not a regulation road in infrastructure, routing, or width. Moreover, it connected with the highway right in the middle of a high speed curve -- already a dangerous spot that has seen its share of accidents.
In any case, as soon as the grading was almost complete, I had occasion to try out the new road, and it was great. A new gas station had already opened in Sha'ab, and the shell of a restaurant erected. The gas station attendant was enthusiastic about the new era about to begin for the village.
I was dismayed but somehow not surprised to see, a month later, the public works department pouring a high, thick concrete barrier along the entire length of the curve below Shorashim, completely cutting off access to the new road to Sha'ab. When I asked people in the village, they told me that this was at the instigation of the previous mayor, who after ruling for 30 years and having done nothing about Sha'ab's isolation, was not about to allow his rival and successor to take credit for the change. Since no one is outside of clan politics in the village, I have not succeeded in learning if this claim is true or not.
Now, in recent weeks, it seems some kind of compromise has been reached: the viaduct under the curve, through which the Hilazon's waters flow during the few days of winter flood each year, has been graded, so that the new road leads under the highway and curves around to meet it on the inside of the curve, with signs allowing a right turn only (toward Karmiel), but no left turn coming from Karmiel back toward Sha'ab. An unsatisfactory compromise that works only one way, only in dry weather, and will still probably cause accidents when the workers of Sha'ab make illegal left turns in the middle of the curve in order to get home in time for dinner.
Was there really no leader or institution that could have brought the stakeholders together and forged a plan for a solution? If we can't run a local zoning board, is it any wonder we can't run a country?