Cruising the information superhighway without an atlas

Cruising the information superhighway without an atlas

New database site brings transparency to life in Israel

A station in Jerusalem's light rail system. The system is included in the Transport Ministry's public transportation database. (Uri Lenz/Flash90)
A station in Jerusalem's light rail system. The system is included in the Transport Ministry's public transportation database. (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

A new website provides access to over 100 databases containing information on the public transportation system, real estate starts and sales, the average price of almost anything sold in Israel, and lots more. The site was established through the efforts of Michael Eitan, the minister for improvement of government services, who has long campaigned for more openness in government.

The 118 databases (all in Hebrew) do not contain details on individuals, nor do they reveal any security secrets. But they do contain information that could potentially save Israelis a lot of headaches. For example, one includes a comprehensive, updated list of catering halls that are operating without a license (there are 84, according to the list). Since the authorities could close down these halls at any time, it would behoove a party planner to beware before placing a deposit for an event at one of these venues. (There is no explanation given as to how and why the halls continue to operate without a license.)

Another database local activists will find useful is a complete map of the locations of cellular antennas around the country. Cell phone companies have taken to hiding them in a clever manner in order not to raise tensions with environmentalists and neighborhood activists. With the publishing of the antenna database, though, cell phone companies are likely to get a lot more complaints.

The largest database comes courtesy of the Transport Ministry, which has published detailed information on bus and train stops, scheduled arrival and departure times, cross streets where buses pass each other, transferring between bus lines and/or trains, and much more. This data is expected to be most useful for app developers who will create smartphone applications that will hopefully encourage more commuters to use trains and buses. The data is updated daily, and in the near future, the ministry said, it will be updated in real time, with buses transmitting their location, traffic information, passenger load, and other important pieces of data as they happen.

There are many more interesting databases to explore — like a complete list of exchange rates for the shekel against 24 major world currencies going back to 1977; a historical and current listing of the cleanest and dirtiest beaches; a list of decisions made by the Israel Lands Administration; and a database of cases decided by the Justice Ministry’s Sharia courts. The documents are all in Arabic, but a quick copy and paste into Google Translate will satisfy the curiosity of anyone who ever wondered how Islamic courts make their decisions.

It takes discipline and motivation to pore over government statistics, but if you are a policy wonk, interested in the minutiae of Israeli society and can read Hebrew, you may end up making the database site your browser’s home page.

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