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Friday, May 05, 2006

Not In My BackYard - Please!

I had this post just about written when the browser decided to shut down and it was wiped out. Hopefully this time it will be a bit more successful.

Ramat Beit Shemesh is a lovely area filled with private homes that house lots of Americans who used to live in places like Teaneck and Passaic and West Orange. I have a lot of friends there. Some of them may even be reading this blog.

I have said on several occasions that Israel is badly afflicted with Not In My BackYard (NIMBY) Syndrome.

This is a story about what happens when a country and its people are afflicted with NIMBY Syndrome.

Sometime during the day on Wednesday, Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), an eight-year old Beit Shemesh girl named Lipaz Himi went out to play with friends. In order to reach her friends' house, Lipaz cut through the Beit Shemesh marketplace. She never returned home.

Around 12:30 AM on Wednesday night, an inebriated 'Palestinian' worker found Himi's body lying on a mattress at the bottom of a stairwell in the marketplace. She had been strangled to death. Shortly after the body was found, that 'Palestinian' was arrested along with four others and charged with Lipaz Himi's murder. All five of the 'Palestinians' were in Beit Shemesh illegally; they did not have the required permits to spend the night in a Jewish town.

Apparently, this is not uncommon in Beit Shemesh. According to neighbor Gila Edri:

"I am very scared," agreed Gila Edri, another mother of three who has lived close to the market for the last 10 years. "I can't believe this has come to Beit Shemesh. It has always been such a quiet neighborhood, no murders or rapes here. From now on I won't let my boys go out on their own. Today it is someone else's kid; tomorrow it could be mine."

Edri said it is not uncommon for Palestinian workers to sleep in the marketplace. "I have seen them with my own eyes," she said. "Every so often the police come, round them up and take them away."

A vendor, who has worked in the market for 18 years, also confirmed that he often sees Palestinian laborers sleeping in the market.

This morning comes news that the phenomenon is not limited to the Beit Shemesh marketplace. It happens elsewhere in Beit Shemesh - and probably elsewhere in Israel as well. But let's stay focused on Beit Shemesh for a minute:

Atop a ridge overlooking a construction site in Ramat Beit Shemesh, segments of shipping containers stand in a rectangle with corrugated metal sheets thrown on top of them.

An electrical wire and a cable connecting a TV to an adjacent satellite dish run along the outside wall of the shack and through a glassless window into the interior, where three cots with mattresses and blankets lay empty during the midday heat yesterday.

Thirty meters below, a half-dozen Palestinians were laying the second-story concrete for a brand-new, spacious home they are building as part of a new construction project a few kilometers south of one of Israel's original development towns.

After saying they were from Jerusalem, the workers refused to answer additional questions. "I cannot talk to you," one of them said. When pressed, he became more forceful. "All I have to say is 'Hello,' that's it, no more. Now go."

All around Beit Shemesh, the estimated hundreds of illegal Palestinian workers who live on construction sites and other less-permanent dwellings around town are a not-so-well-kept secret. With the security fence under construction and checkpoints all along the roads leading in from the West Bank, Palestinian day laborers have become anything but, choosing to stay in Israel for weeks or months at a time rather than deal with the hassle of going through security on a daily basis.

"Theoretically, they are not supposed to be here," said Yossi Buchnik, a contractor who claims only to employ Romanians. "But yes, they are here. If the army can't succeed in keeping them out, then how can the people who they work for do any better?"

This arrangement, which local authorities have alternately confronted and allowed, has proven mutually convenient for the contractors and Palestinians. The former take advantage of the cheap labor to build the stucco and red-tile homes. The latter are happy to have any work at all, given economic conditions in the territories.

Mr. Buchnik, who "only employes Romanians" (who come with their own set of problems that are different from those we confront with the 'Palestinians') misses the point. If you ask him, he will tell you that he hires Romanians (and okay, an occasional 'Palestinian') because he cannot find Jews to do the work. Mr. Buchnik will tell you that Jews don't want to work in construction. But Jews would be happy to work in construction if Mr. Buchnik and other contractors like him would pay a living wage. This country was built on Jewish labor and it can continue to be built on Jewish labor. Look at the annual reports of any building contractor whose shares are publicly traded. You can find them here. Look at their gross profit percentages. You will frequently find gross profits of 60-70%. That's outrageous. I'm a capitalist too, and I believe that those who work hard should earn money and those who don't work hard shouldn't get handouts. But I don't believe in making a small number of people rich at the expense of the public's safety. And that's what we're doing every time we allow a 'Palestinian' to take a job in this country. It's amazing that the government continues to facilitate this even as they try to implement a policy of "us here and them there" through the 'security fence'. But somehow, they have missed that contradiction.

NIMBY Syndrome is not supposed to be a Jewish disease. Our Rabbis tell us, "Kol Yisrael areivim zeh ba'zeh," that all Jews are responsible for one another. It is this responsibility, this "arvuth" that allows us to fulfill certain "mitzvoth" (obligations) on each other's behalf.

In Israel in 2006, NIMBY Syndrome has reached epidemic proportions. The national oil terminal has to be moved out of a populated area of Tel Aviv - fine, just don't move it near me. Hezbullah is placing Katyushas in southern Lebanon because the IDF abandoned the area? Okay, but they can't hit Tel Aviv from there. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are shooting Kassams at Sderot and Ashkelon and Netiv HaAsara? Yes, but at least they can't reach Jerusalem. Ehud Olmert wants to divide Jerusalem? I live in Herzliya anyway. Olmert wants to withdraw from (surrender) Judea and Samaria to the 'Palestinians'? The Kassams that Hamas will shoot when we leave won't reach Tel Aviv anyway. And so on and so on.

It's time for it to stop. It's time for us to take responsibility for one another. It's time to think beyond each of our own private, parochial interests. (Beginning with the government and the outrageous 'coalition negotiations' that took place over the last three weeks). We need a Nachshon ben Aminadav, who wandered into the Yam Suf (Red Sea) up to his neck before God split the sea. What do you say Ramat Beit Shemesh? Are you up to it?


At 4:27 PM, Blogger westbankmama said...

Fantastic post Carl. We decided in our yishuv that anyone who builds a home has to pay for an armed guard to watch the construction, and the person on day patrol has to escort all of the workers out of the yishuv at the end of the work day (depends on the time of year, but around 5:00 pm). That way there is noone here at night that isn't supposed to be here, and the workers are watched at all times during the day.

At 5:42 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

I'm glad to hear that this concerns someone . Here, we still have 'Palestinians' working in the Makolets, although so far they have been well behaved.

At 4:48 AM, Blogger aliyah06 said...

Way to go! Great post! A little more collective responsibility by ALL Jews for each other can only result in a better society. We can start with the greedy contractors and maybe move on to the bank directors......there's a lot of room for improvement.


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