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Highways across this land

Make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
Isaiah 40:3-4

Was it really meant to be like this? Were the highways really meant to cut up the land? Were they meant to pierce the hills of Judah, the rises of the Negev Desert? Were they meant to cover the wadis, to be paved over orchards and forests? Were they meant to dominate the landscape? What history has finally rolled over this ancient land?

Comfort, comfort my people? Or is it that this people wants and wants more? It wants to arrive quicker at the shopping centres rising at the outskirts of the cities, the industrial areas flung in wasteful abandon across the fields, the spacious houses built in gated communities. After all, the individual lifestyles need to be catered for, economic growth needs to be enabled. And so the highways are built and the motorcar races across an altered landscape at ever higher speeds, and the occupants are disconnected even more from the environment they travel through. The highways take up large swathes of land, so that one has to conclude either that Israel has more land than it can handle or that the highways are regarded as more important than other land uses. In part, the width of the highways was chosen so that railway lines can later be built along their centre. At least that’s the justification. But that makes them no less land-hungry and intrusive.

Fences are erected along the highways, so that no unmotorised person and no animal may reach them or attempt to cross them. And so barriers stretch across the land.

No longer can the Bedouin drive their flocks across the fields. Houses and tents are separated from the grazing areas. Goat paths worn over the centuries have been destroyed by bulldozers. And so traditional lifeways become ever more impossible.

And yet, maybe I should not praise the Bedouin lifestyle too much. For when I was walking back through the forest from the new highway that obstructed my path, I came upon a Bedouin squatter settlement at the edge of the forest. Roosters crowed, chickens cackled, goats bleated, dogs barked, and children yelled. The rancid smoke coiled through the trees. Trucks were parked beside ramshackle houses made out of concrete and an odd assortment of building materials.

I avoided the settlement and ducked into the trees again, making my way to the forest road. For this squalor is disconcerting. This lifestyle is strange. I could understand the people who want to whisk right past it, who want to go to shiny malls on straight roads.

Also see my earlier post on the archaeology blog.

Readers’ Digest Version: Around the world highways are cutting through the landscapes. Israel is no different. And while highways enable some lifestyles, they also threaten others.

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