Thursday, November 24, 2005

Shirking Responsibility 101 - A required course for Israeli bureaucrats at all levels

Even after so many years in Israel, there’s one thing that happens here that still amazes me, despite the frightening degree of regularity with which it takes place. It’s that unwavering ability to wait for something horrible to happen, and only then to react with shock and dismay that the event happened in the first place. The signs are all there, of course, but those in charge repeatedly choose to ignore them. It happened with the Versailles wedding hall, it happened with the Maccabiah bridge, and these days, it’s happening in our schools. Bureaucrats are playing with the lives of our children, ignoring the signs and failing to take action. It is a travesty in the making, and if action isn’t taken soon, the children will pay the price.

My friend A has been at the forefront of a battle against the school board in the Sharon area town of Kfar Yona (there are many similar stories, and Yediot Ahronot’s Hebrew website has even created framework forpublishing these stories via public complaints). His daughter is a first-grader at the Amal school there, which has been turned into a treacherous construction site. What originally began as a battle waged by the parents over asbestos ceilings has turned into a situation where the school grounds have turned into a perilous obstacle course. One part of the school has been torn down and preparations have been made to begin reconstruction, which will, of course, take place while school is in session, subjecting the students endless noise distractions, not to mention the inevitable increase in dust levels that accompany all such work.

Promises have been broken right, left and center; it was agreed upon that certain aspects of the work would take place and be completed during the holidays, when school was not in session, but it seems that they’ve been unable to stick to the timetable. A fence was supposed to be erected to keep the children away from the construction site, which is currently a large, two-meter deep hole in the ground (and contains additional narrow 12-meter deep holes for poles to be inserted). The fence has been erected, but it is not complete, has holes in it (including a gate that allows people to enter the school grounds freely, contradicting local laws designed for security reasons), and was built too close to the hole, a fact that became quite evident following recent rains that shifted the sands in which the fence was erected, creating a situation where the fence threatens to topple into the hole itself. As a result of this dangerous situation, the children were forced to remain in their classrooms all day long, and were not allowed to go outside during breaks.

In the midst of this big balagan (mess), the local council is claiming that everything is going according to plan and that all security precautions are being taken. Was this the case when tragedy was narrowly averted the day a tree cut down by the workers fell over the fence and into the school yard? What a miracle that no children were hurt, given that it occurred DURING school hours! A and the other parents have been waging this battle for their children’s safety since July (who can blame A for not wanting to send his daughter to school on a construction site?), and have met with little success as all agreements have been ignored, all promises broken, and all concerns belittled?

This situation is a tragedy waiting to happen. All it will take will be for one curious and industrious child to make his way to the other side of the fence. After all, isn’t such an obstacle merely an invitation to these children? Who wouldn’t want to take a look to see what was happening? Who among us hasn’t tried to steal a look between the gaps in a fence to see what was on the other side? In this case, the results could be disastrous, even fatal. I can already see the recriminations, the passing of blame that so many Israelis in positions of power seem to be so good at in situations like these. As is par for the course, they will claim that they didn’t know. That all security regulations were being met. That something unexpected must have gone wrong. But none of that will matter, as a child may be injured or dead. The nation will be shocked and outraged, will demand that something be done. And something probably will be done, but it will be some token measure, taken to pacify an outraged public. The cycle is sadly predictable. We will move on to other issues, and everyone will forget about what happened in Kfar Yona. And then, once this tragic episode is firmly behind us and forgotten, the nation will once again rise up in awe and anger when it happens again, because someone chose to shirk their responsibilities until it was too late.

For more info on this situation, check out this link from the local Kfar Yona newspaper (in Hebrew), or this article that appeared in Haaretz back in August (it's the story entitled "Parents protest overcrowding during school reconstruction").


Yael K said...

Sadly such incompetence and shirking of responsibility is not limited to Israel. When I was a child my mother had the offer to move us from a bad living situation into family housing on the college campus in New Orleans. On her student budget and with 2 kids this seemed like a great opportunity. But she decided it was better to stay where we were once we toured the place because there were many rusty metal spikes sticking up out of the ground, some of them two feet high, in the playground/courtyard area. She complained to the university and learned that many complaints had been lodged in the two years the apartments had been up but nothing had been done. A maintance man for the apartments tripped, fell on one of these spikes, and died. That was another four years later. The spikes were finally removed six years and one death too late.

He said...

But..."hiyeh beseder"!
A line guaranteed to wind you up.

A said...

Indeed, not to mention that school bus accident that happend in Kfar Yona junction.
Two things can be learned from it:
1) Nothing was done in the junction to improve it - and this week the minister of tranportaion on a "private" visit announced that there will be no working on this road as planned for the next 5-6 years...

2) More important - the same minister is not invoking the reulation that enforce school buses to have seat belts!

So what can we learn from it? that even if something happens - it does not assure us that it will be taken care of... maybe we should rethink about what is going on in our knesset. Just consider all this "spins" that going on last two weeks = NOTHING IS REALLY CHANGED = Those are the same people just in different permutation!!! After the elections nothing will be different and as we say in hebrew: "Shelo Yaavdu alechem" = "Don't let them fool you"

Liza said...

Yael: I'd like to think that what happened on the campus in New Orleans is a thing of the past in the US, though sadly, I'm guessing it's not. Is there a better system of checks and balances though? Is there a greater expectancy with regard to accountability? I know I've been living outside the US for a long time now, but I suppose I want to believe that the American mentality at this point in time does its best to ensure that things like this don't happen.

He: :-P

A: Excellent point. Unfortunately, I don't see things improving any time soon, given that the Israeli mentality is not likely to change in the near future, and even though the government players are switching teams, they are all just the same players. It is a sad situation that the Israeli public grudgingly accepts because most people are too apathetic to do anything, especially when they see that the government is nothing but a well-oiled machine of corruption, ignoring the real issues while they waste time protecting their colleagues who dabble in dirty deeds.

Anonymous said...

Oh damn- "He" stole my line!

Yep, the good ol' "Yehiye beseder"-a line that like no other strikes fear deep into my heart.

I really like your blog, guys. And "She", in this post you articulated perfectly one of my pet peeves in this crazy country.

Jeru Guru said...

First time to your blog but won't be the last.