Friday, July 27, 2012

A not so special week

"You have put a mirror in front of our society. A terrible mirror, reflecting how poverty looks in the State of Israel in 2012. Poor people are being shamed and humiliated, must go through an indescribable toil mask of bureaucracy in order to eventually receive a pittance. With not enough to either live or die, they  must  beg in order to survive."  Thus spoke Rabbi Idit Lev of the Rabbis for Human Rights at the grave of Moshe Silman. Ten months she and her friends had tried in vain to get him a modest roof over his head. Silman was buried in the Holon cemetary accompanied by a huge amount of young friends.

Following Silman, another man set himself on fire - Akiva Mefa'ai, a disabled IDF veteran in a wheelchair, who tried to protest the way the State of Israel rewards soldiers who went to the battlefield on its behalf. At this moment he is still hovering between life and death. But he has received much less media attention than did Moshe Silman. Soon such events will begin to bore the media, and at most get a few lines on the bottom of page five. And if Keren Neubach would try to devote more attention to it on her radio program, care will be taken to "counter-balance" her  with a broadcaster from the other side of the spectrum, those who just want to get rid of “parasites”.

This week a plane left Ben Gurion Airport for the sixth time, carrying citizens of South Sudan who are expelled from Israel back to their homeland which is still plagued by poverty and war. This, too, no longer captures the headlines. Interior Minister Eli Yishai, "Mr. Refugee Expulsion", no longer bothers to go to the airport to be personally present. Only Israelis who personally knew some of the deportees came to bid them goodbye at the bus taking them to the airport, and pupils in some schools feel the painful loss of classmates.

And just on the day that the deportation plane set out for the capital of South Sudan, Israeli government officials met with representatives of that new country, and in a warm and friendly atmosphere signed several cooperation agreements. French anti-Semites used to say “Nous aimons les Juifs - en Israël”  ("We love the Jews –  in Israel"). Incidentally, just this week the Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky expressed his disappointment that the killings at the Jewish school in Toulouse a few months ago did not lead to a significant increase in the number of French Jews moving over to our country.

And this week the State of Israel officially informed the Supreme Court of  Defense Minister Ehud Barak's decision to destroy eight villages in the South Hebron Hills, 1500 houses in all, and expel the Palestinian inhabitants to make place for soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces to train. But the army is generous and will graciously let the deportees come to work the land on weekends. And not very far from there Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar announced a great expansion of the project bringing high school students from all over the country to stay as guests in the settler enclaves at the heart of Hebron. With their own  eyes the pupils could see the great achievements of the settlers, who had made the lives of their Palestinian neighbors into hell and successfully made the center of Hebron into a ghost town where only the most stubborn and determined Palestinians are left. "It's not a political issue, the pupils must get to know the history and heritage of the Jewish People," stated the minister.

This week, for a change, not so much was heard about the danger posed to Israel by Iran's nuclear program. It was replaced at the top headlines by another serious threat – the chemical weapons in Syria which, with the developing civil war there, might fall into the wrong, the irresponsible hands. As usual we could witness senior ministers competing with each other in making verbal offensives and dire warnings of military operations to seize or destroy chemical weapons in the stormy Syria. And again as usual in this country, it was the military echelon, i.e. Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who poured some cold water on the militant ministers and expressed strong reservations about any idea of sending the troops under his command across the Syrian border.

And all this was forgotten the next day, the Syrian chemical threat making place for Israel's own government intending to raise the VAT to cover the budget deficits. Raising the VAT of course - not, God forbid, the tax on the giant companies. And the tens of billions which they owe to the state treasury are not even collected. But who is counting?

The veteran satirist and columnist Kobi Niv wrote this week: "In this country, even the black and bleak prophecies turn out to have been too rosy. However much I try to be pessimistic, so as to be a bit realistic about what is going on here, I always discover I had still been too optimistic, and reality is so much  worse than I expected. For example, last year (to be precise, on August 2 last year) I predicted that 'the wave of social protest will be drowned in a reduction of VAT by one and a half percent. And look what happens now? The final outcome of the protest is a raising of the VAT by one percent. In short - be realistic, when you make the blackest prediction you can think of, always add at least two and a half percent to reach the real result.”

Yes, as the PM said, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The citizens of Israel must cover the deficit and take care of the fifty millions of shekels needed to fund the new university at the settlement of Ariel and the three hundred million for establishing a network of prisons and detention centers and holding camps over the Negev, where tens of thousands of refugees and infiltrators and illegal immigrants from Africa will be held. The law providing for them to be held three years without trial has already been duly approved by the Knesset, but what use is such a law when there is not nearly enough place in the prisons? In short, there is no such thing as a free lunch and through the VAT all Israeli citizens - and especially the poorest – will get to take part in this important national enterprise.

As on almost every weekend in recent months, there will be a protest on the streets of Tel Aviv. Tomorrow night, Holocaust survivors will join with academics, slum dwellers youths and other concerned citizens, in a march to protest the treatment of refugees and remind of relevant chapters in Jewish history. The march supported by the Assaf Association and by the Migrant Workers support Group.

How much of an effect, really, can people of good will have? They can do all that is in their power. They have to do all that is in their power.

P.S. See description of the protest,7340,L-4261493,00.html