The state of Israel thinks about "the future of its children" in security terms and not in socio-economic terms. We got out of Lebanon for the future of our children, we will leave Gaza for the future of our children, perhaps someday we will make peace for the future of our children. In every election campaign, every party platform, the future of our children is paramount.
Children, it would appear, are at the heart and soul of Israeli society.
However, words are one thing and reality is another. The children who are talked about so incessantly, whose welfare is mentioned from every rostrum, are one of the most neglected groups in Israel. They are poor, they suffer from malnutrition, they suffer from inferior education, from violence in the schools, the collapse of preventive medicine, lack of free health care, poor living conditions and a dangerous environment.
The children in the most serious condition are those in outlying areas and the inner city. These children are "our children" only when they sit together in an armored personnel carrier or in a fortification with middle-class kids. When they go home, they are forgotten altogether.
The soldiers of the "Bedouin Battalion" who were killed this week grew up under the most severe conditions of social distress. Those who demand passionately to get them out of Gaza for the sake of their welfare and their future did not make the effort to protect them from the dangers of driving unpaved roads in the Negev or the Galilee, from the pollution of Ramat Hovav or from the murky water they drink. The struggle for the future of our children skips over them until they reach the army.
Even the future of the children of the middle class is not promising. Their parents have long ago privatized the child protection system. They buy their children nourishing food and purified water, supply them with additional health insurance, shore up failing public education with private tutoring, buy them an apartment, arrange work for them and promise them higher education.
There is only one thing middle-class parents cannot privatize - Israel's defense policy. And so, middle-class parents have gotten behind the public struggle to get out of Gaza. The struggle is widely supported because the danger of service in the territories is one of the only dangers faced by all the children in Israel, children who enjoy the protection of their parents as well as other children whose parental protection system has collapsed. Thus keeping their children out of harm's way during their army service has become a basis for consensus among Israelis.
Keeping within the confines of the narrow military interpretation of the call to ensure "the future of our children" serves the middle class well. It harnesses all of society to political struggles important to it, and makes them forget society's responsibility to the rest of Israel's children.
The past year has been an especially bad one for children whom the state is supposed to protect: The number of children living below the poverty line, and the number of children in families where no one is working, have increased considerably.
On the other hand, the number of children receiving a hot meal in school declined, school preventive medical services have collapsed, dilapidated school buildings are endangering children's lives, violence is increasing, and the educational project that saved children from resounding scholastic failure has shrunk to half its size. The future of our children has never looked more disappointing.
When the Labor Party sits at the coalition negotiation table, it must be concerned not only for the children of the middle and the upper class, but for all of Israel's children. Therefore, together with the demand to get out of Gaza and to lower university tuition fees, it must demand socio-economic security for those children who have been shoved to the margins of society.
The budgetary significance is clear: Resources must be allocated for nutrition, for pediatric health care, for free education and for scholarships for university students. Only then will the words "for the future of our children" be transformed from a class policy serving the middle class to a social policy serving all of Israel's children.
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