Every summer, Israelis wait to see if there will be a war. Whether it’s Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in the North, tensions always rise with the temperature. Every few years, that pressure cooker explodes and there is a war.
This summer, the war seems to be internal. Less violent, to be sure, but no less a source of major tension for many Israelis. Including me.
Israel is at its best when battling outside foes. We come together. Everyone pulls their weight, and the best of us shines through. When rockets fly in the south, people in the north open their homes and hearts, inviting those under fire to come to where it’s safer. Weddings are held in bomb shelters and tons of food, supplies, and hand drawn notes are delivered to the men and women of the IDF protecting our homes.
But, what happens when the enemy is within? What happens when all of the issues forced to take a backseat to the real wars eventually explode from the pressure? How will Israel handle the emergence of the problems that plague us all at once?
The coronavirus came in two stages for Israel. The first was an external war, which we handled valiantly. Lockdowns were maintained, patience was too. People seemed to understand that this was a war that we could only fight by staying still, and people did their duty. Israel flattened that curve.
But the gradual reopening made us think the enemy had disappeared … and now things are going haywire.
Our infection numbers are rising, rapidly. It seems that all the hard work and paying the price was for naught. Unemployment is at 21%, some 850,000 people are without jobs or are on furlough. Our economy is not doing well.
Nobody expects a pandemic but now, our social workers have been on strike for 17 days, the result of a crippling workload, low wages, understaffed departments, and an unsafe environment.
Nurses were on strike too, but that was solved in one day — remember the external problems are the ones we’re good at.
Social workers deal with those internal problems that people don’t want to acknowledge, domestic violence, mental health, the elderly and those with special needs. While they strike, those they care for, the most vulnerable among us, suffer. No protection orders are made for children in danger, no tending to domestic violence, no allocation of minors to out-of-home care frameworks … and the list goes on.
Also protesting are those who are angry with the government. In the streets and squares of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, calls echo against Netanyahu, who is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and bribery, and thousands protest the government’s economic policies aimed at battling coronavirus.
Who can blame them? From day to day, Israelis don’t know if they can open their restaurants or go to the beaches. In-fighting among those in charge is played out on the media and confidence — whatever was left — in the government plummets.
Monday night, we were told that restaurants would be closing again. Tuesday morning, we learned they are to remain open (with restrictions). You see, the Knesset has a coronavirus committee that votes on whether to approve the government’s suggested measures and restrictions.
Lately, the committee has been drawing the wrath of the ruling party, Likud, and even the PM. It seems that the head of the committee, MK Yifat Shasha-Biton (also of Likud) has been rejecting the government decisions to close pools and restaurants, saying that the data on the risk posed by these places is inconclusive and that mental health and the ability to get out is important.
Of course, none of this is truly a “war”, a word we don’t take lightly here. The social workers have inked an agreement and got their demands, Bibi’s trial will continue in a court of law and whether in lockdown or in phased restrictions, we will weather the pandemic.
The real question is, what will we learn? After every military action there is a review, to learn for the next time, to not repeat mistakes, and to implement measures for greater efficiency and fewer casualties. It is this that Israel must do now as well. How to avoid the collapse of the social welfare system, how to ensure the health system has enough medical staff, how to implement measures and maintain public trust in the government while doing so.
Above all, we must learn that internal problems can no longer take a back seat to external enemies. They will break us just the same.
Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is a writer and activist