Text size

On Tuesday morning, around the time State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss refrained from handing in his report on the functioning of the home front during the second Lebanon war to the Knesset State Control Committee, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was conducting a cabinet meeting about the failure to pay the salaries of the local council employees. The connection between these two things is a coincidence, but not really.

According to the philosophy taking shape on orders of the prime minister, as a lesson from the war, just as the local councils are responsible for providing services to their residents in peacetime, they will be responsible for doing so during war. Since we can assume that in a future war the home front will be attacked by even more powerful missiles, it would be a good idea for the local councils to be prepared.

But it is hard to understand how a worker who has not received a salary for months on end, or an employee from whose salary the municipality ?deducted? payments for a pension fund but used the money to cover deficits or for less exalted purposes, could or would want to run through the missile barrages to distribute equipment in the bomb shelters, or transport the disabled and ill for treatment, or repair explosions in the pipelines.

In wartime the employees of the local councils will be required to handle two main problems: physical protection and psychological protection. Both the Home Front Command and the Prime Minister?s Office are making an effort to accelerate the upgrading of the shelters and their equipment, and the Interior Ministry claims it has transferred money for that purpose. The local councils claim the ministry did not transfer the money, or transferred only part of it, and that the ministry intends to cut back funding in the 2007 budget.

The debate is only a symptom of a familiar chronic illness: mismanagement in some of the local councils and a lack of supervision over them.

There was good reason why Olmert this week adopted a decision, arrived at by the National Security Council after long months of deliberations, to leave supervision over the defense of the home front during wartime in the hands of the Interior Ministry. Logic dictates that the Interior Ministry should deal with internal matters, but it is clear that in the case of Israel this is a recipe for disaster.

In light of the failure of the central government, anyone who has made the effort to travel abroad in peacetime will be prepared during time of disaster. A diligent and well-connected mayor who recently raised half a million dollars for his city will be able to invest the money for purchasing equipment for the next war. The residents of his city managed to function during the last war as well. Other cities that have difficulties even in peacetime will have difficulties in wartime as well. The irony is that strong cities less in need of help get more help because they know how to obtain it.

The Home Front Command, on which the new concept is based, is not the answer to these ills, said Brigadier General(res.) Meir Elran, with justification. Elran is a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. The command knows how to rescue the injured from a building that has collapsed, but it cannot provide psychological treatment, education, welfare and health services, and all those civilian networks that exist in every local authority and are required to provide psychological protection, or what is called ?national fortitude.?

During times of emergency the state itself must guarantee that these systems will be budgeted and that there will be someone to operate them. This does not require large sums of money, but mainly commitment and involvement.

There is a need for a system to combat insensitivity and to promote responsibility: of the state for its citizens, of the strong local councils for their weaker counterparts. This week we heard anger at the fact that a contribution from Arcadi Gaydamak was needed to complete the construction of the memorial to the victims of the 1997 helicopter disaster. Why the amazement? All the fans of privatization, all those who like the idea of limiting government involvement, all those in favor of tax cuts − this is where they lead. To Gaydamak?s pocket, to the wallets of the donors. As in the Diaspora. As though a state had not been established.