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ISRAEL, WEST BANK: MTV does Ramallah car scene

December 20, 2010 |  8:29 am

Cross-border car theft is an issue in Israel. Stolen for use, parts or occasionally by specific order, an overwhelming majority of cars stolen in Israel wind up on the Palestinian side.

The separation barrier Israel put up in recent years has managed to put a dent in the industry, but it's still a pretty big problem that, like everything else, is scrambled up into a political-security omelet.

Authorities take the matter seriously.

Boy, weren't people surprised to see that MTV's "The Vice Guide to Everything" recently tackled the subject familiar to many Israelis -- but from a rather unexpected angle.

"Like bored kids across the globe, Palestinians enjoy street racing, doing doughnuts and otherwise driving like lunatics," says one of video's narrators. "Unfortunately," he says," Israel's 40-year-old occupation of the West Bank makes getting a decent car close to impossible."

Israel controls everything, say Ramallah street racers, including car and car-parts imports. An Israeli can import an M3 BMW, says one, but not Palestinians.

To film "The Vice Guide to Ramallah Street Racing" (note: Video includes profanity) the production crew brings "Adam" out of retirement. The self-described former car thief takes them on a quick ride from Ramallah into Israel and back, with more cars than they left with. Crossing the West Bank into Israel "is a security nightmare," the narrator observes -- but no one cares who's going the other way.

After stripping everything worthwhile at the chop shop, the car bodies are discarded atop a metal mountain of car remains.

So they race with what they've got -- or what they've otherwise obtained -- speed testing and drag racing  outside Ramallah on the huge asphalt expanse of the Ofer Transit Terminal (also the Bitunia crossing), under the eyes of Israeli soldiers across the fence.  Or, as the narrator puts it in the beginning: We're in the West Bank, Israel's right there -- and "we're about to do some sick burnouts right in their face."

Sami Elsheikh, one Ramallah racer, credits Israeli race drivers as pretty good but says if they only had the superior gear, the Palestinians would be better. "In our religion, everything dies -- so our driver doesn't fear to push down on the gas,"  he says in the video.

As word of the video started making the news and cyber-rounds in Israel, some reacted with anger over what they saw as encouragment of crime as well as anti-Israeli politics. A Hebrew daily claimed in a report that the MTV producers had paid the car thieves for the stolen goods in advance. Others questioned the authenticity but were generally entertained, noting that no one would make a big deal if the story took place anywhere else. The police, according to a television news report, were not amused and called the production a show of "poor taste."

A look past the politics of cross-border crime shows the West Bank has quite a car scene going on, with local racing practice throughout the year and peaking in the summer "Speed Test." This summer, there were new spearheads among the gearheads too, as the all-female Speed Sisters team entered for the first time.

But the British Consulate were behind the Speed Sisters' show, not MTV.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Video: "The Vice Guide to Everything" features "The Guide to Ramallah Street Racing." Credit: