If an international body - let us say, the World Health Organization - were to rate Israel solely on the basis of its newspapers and evening news shows, it would reach the conclusion that no country in the world takes such good care of its citizens, at least in all that concerns health, hygiene and protection against pests and diseases. I bet you would not find a pastoral village in Switzerland, with not a security threat in the world, as obsessed with the purity of its food, the sterility of its meat, the freshness of its vegetables, the quality of its water and air and health hazards as Israel has been of late, in a kind of strange, though not entirely unwelcome, frenzy.
Whether this is a reaction to the negligence in national affairs (peace and security, for example), a light break from such concerns or just part of the country's habit of being in constant fear of something (Iran, West Nile fever, a pedophile on the loose), not a day goes by without some kind of worry, something to cluck our tongues over, something to keep us anxious: killer viruses lurking in the fins of innocent-looking fish; a sea full of E. coli plotting a joint offensive with monster jellyfish; vegetarian meat that plays tricks in the freezer and forges its own sell-by date; ordinary vegetables sprayed with poison and organic vegetables full of worms; water just waiting in the tap to attack our inner organs; days when breathing is absolutely not recommended in Gush Dan.
The investigative reporting never lets up. The media have appointed special "scary affairs" reporters whose job is to come up with a new threat nobody has ever heard of every day. Their orders: find the carcinogen of the week! Neither the worry nor the investigation makes Israelis healthier or more robust, but how can you complain when such awareness, such concern about the environment and the health of every one of us, has suddenly surfaced after years of neglect?
The new trend is welcome in itself, of course. Unfortunately, the neglect was due to a different set of national priorities: Israel has spent the last 60 years on primitive and primal matters such as wars, occupation and defending territory. So shaking our heads and saying tsk-tsk would definitely be in order, if it were not for the fact that we are still engaged in these prehistoric endeavors today.
Proof of the fact that not one of these primordial, antediluvian issues has been resolved is that just a few months ago, dozens of Israelis were being injured by Hezbollah's missiles, which are not exactly healthful, and which also did not do wonders for Israel's environment (especially not the forests). The same goes for the Qassams falling on Sderot, which have opened more roofs and walls than chakras. Mainly, one sees it in how naturally we discuss the advantages of antioxidants and lycopene in organic tomatoes, and in the same breath, almost parenthetically, the likelihood of war with Syria or Iran - although it will not help the air quality around Haifa Bay, or contribute to the balance of iron and magnesium in the body (unless one sustains a direct hit), or improve the quality of the water in any faucets that remain intact.
Some will say: What do new, improved Scud missiles have to do with the benefits of oatmeal? Others may say: If we have to go to war, at least let us go into it healthy. And yet, when it comes to public welfare, without belittling the value of quinoa and wheat germ oil, maybe there is something in the old priorities. To put it another way, if we had insisted that our leaders invest in diplomacy, defense and peacemaking even one-tenth of what we are demanding today from food suppliers and delis, it would contribute a lot more (statistically, at least) to our health and longevity.
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