Israel, surrounded by some of the world's biggest oil producing states but beset by rising energy consumption and the prospect of fuel shortages, is about to introduce the "carless day" as an energy conservation measure.
One day a week - a day of their own choosing - Israeli motorists will be prohibited from using their automobiles. The ban is to be made enforceable by use of brightly colored windshield stickers denoting the motorist's carless day.
The accouncement was greeted with skepticism by most Israelis, who recall a similar experiment during the 1974 energy crisis. The carless day was abandoned then after only four months. Police objected that they could not enforce it and the public transport companies complained they could not cope with the extra burden.
But the ministerial economic committee decided to bring back the carless day anyway after hearing Finance Minister Simcha Ehrlich warn, "We can no longer pretend we live on an island when the rest of the world is in the midst of an energy upheaval. We here behave as if we have the largest stockpile in the world."
In fact, Israel does not have a fuel shortage now. Imports from Mexico and spot purchases elsewhere, coupled with guarantees made by the United States as a result of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, have filled the gap created by last year's cutoff of Iranian oil. Per capita energy consumption here is the lowest among developed countries.
But oil consumption in Israel is growing by 8 percent a year, and the government has come under increasing pressure to consume less.
Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) is said to have told Energy Minister Yitzhak Modai last week that he was shocked to learn Israel had implemented no energy conservation policies in the face of a worldwide shortage.
Israel uses 7.3 million tons of oil a year. Unlike in the United States, private transport accounts for only 11 percent of the total.
Officials estimate that the carless day will save only 0.5 percent of Israel's consumption - about 37,500 tons a year.
But the Cabinet, Seeking a highly visible conervation measure, chose carless days as the first step.
"Of course, we will become very unpopular in the process," Shaul Galai, and Energy Ministry official, said. "This could not be done in the United States, but here we are more masochistic. But at least when people are screaming at us, they will be thinking about the problem of fuel consumption."
Critics of the plan claim that if favors members of orthodox religious groups who do not travel on Saturday anyway and inevitably will pick the sabbath as their carless day, they say other motorists will simply defer their driving one day and make up for it the next.
The government also moved to increase use of diesel engines in commercial vehicles, raise duty on gasguzzling vehicles and require engine efficiency tests every six months.
Facing triple digit annual inflation, however, the government did not approve and increase in the price of fuel, now 2.60 a gallon.