Saturday, December 14, 2013
From bad attitudes to chutzpah: 5 conclusions from Israel's great storm
1. Proportions – A winter of record-breaking weather and not only in Israel. Seven weeks ago, an unprecedented windstorm swept northwest Europe. Winds of over 150kmph (93 mph) hit Britain, Germany, France, Holland and Denmark. The results – 18 killed, entire cities cut off from the grid, millions of homes without electricity (660 thousand in Britain alone) and billions of euros in damage. The response of authorities there was no quicker than in Israel this weekend, but unlike here, the European media did not cry havoc. Everyone seemed to understand there's a limit to how much money you can spend on planning for an act of nature that takes place once or twice a century.
2. Authorities – It's true - local governments, Israel Railways, and Israel Electric Corporation are tainted with corruption, massive waste and nepotism, but this storm was their finest hour. The main roads in Jerusalem were cleared within hours. Dozens of teams worked repair storm damage and to reconnect homes. The 121 year-old Ottoman railway was the only open gateway connecting the capital to the rest of the country. And the grumbling over the vulnerability of Israel's civilian infrastructure, justified as it usually may be, was out of place this time. What organization would operate thousands of 4X4 vehicles, rescue helicopters, trucks and armored personnel carriers if not the Israel Defense Forces? That's the military's role in every normal country.
3. Failure – The one place where the authorities failed was in their attitude towards citizens in distress. The salary of Israel Electric Corporation's vice-president of regulation, Oren Helman, who was seldom off the airwaves this weekend, would have been better spent had it gone to pay for ten more operators at the utility's call-center. Instead, the giant national monopoly pays this former Netanyahu aide to lobby on its behalf. Some local authorities issued conflicting announcements on opening and closing schools. The transportation agencies were too lazy to update their online timetables and didn't even try to use social media to keep residents and passengers informed. Both exhibited, once again, deep disdain for their captive audience of tax-payers.
4. Trees – The comparisons between the storm and the Carmel forest fire disaster of 2010 were ridiculous. There are hundreds of forest fires each summer, but a winter like this only comes once a century. The two events do have one point in common, though: Trees engulfed in flame and trees felled by wind both collapse on power-lines and cause disruption in service. All the responsibility over and knowledge of maintaining Israel's forests and woodlands lies with an independent body unsupervised by the government and unaccountable to the public – the Jewish National Fund. No one is now is asking what precautions the JNF took to prevent the trees from falling on the pylons and plunging tens of thousands of Israelis into darkness. The Shutting down of this anachronistic body that controls millions of dunams of public land and provides comfortable jobs to failed politicians and the shifting of its resources and responsibilities to the relevant government departments is long overdue.
5. Chutzpah – The hundreds of drivers and passengers who were stuck for long hours in their cars on Route 1 should blame mainly themselves for not heeding the police's warnings and heading to Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon right before the road was blocked. But the complaints of MK Ariel Atias (Shas) who was also stuck and accused the authorities of a "complete breakdown" represent breathtaking chutzpah. We didn’t hear anything from Atias in the aftermath of the Carmel blaze about how his former party leader MK Eli Yishai neglected the fire department when he was the in charge as Interior Minister. And besides, Atias, who worked for a car rental agency before going into politics, should have been well aware of vulnerability of a passenger car on a snowy road.