Dependent on the Next Qassam

Like insurance companies, the State of Israel has a key to the cost of a life. But unlike insurance companies, this key has absolutely no relation to the person who has been hurt, to the length of the life that has been cut short or disrupted, or to its quality.

The death of Afik Ohayon, the little boy who was killed by a Qassam rocket, shocked the Israeli public. Out of pain and frustration at the death of a young child, just a few meters from the entrance to his kindergarten, the Israeli government allocated millions of shekels to his town of Sderot. The assistance has come at the right moment; for several years, the town has been dealing with economic distress and social problems. It isn't alone; many other towns are confronting similar problems, but these towns have been fated to deal with the social distress without assistance.

If the government was kind to them in the past because they were on the front line, today they have been forgotten. The summer day camps have closed, the journalists have disappeared, and with them the special projects, the investments by Diaspora Jews and the attention of the government. Several of the residents of those towns have explained to the residents of Sderot the ephemeral quality of their status, and the irony underlying economic policy directed by "the index of apparent danger" - an index that channels government investments to places where a disaster has just occurred.

Like insurance companies, the State of Israel has a key to the cost of a life. But unlike insurance companies, this key has absolutely no relation to the person who has been hurt, to the length of the life that has been cut short or disrupted, or to its quality; it is related to media coverage of his death. Therefore, the government will invest in Sderot after the death of Afik, because the two major television stations chose to spend an evening there; it will announce the construction of an overpass at the scene of a lethal and publicized traffic accident, which left a shattered family - that was extensively interviewed; it will call for supervision of construction after the Versailles tragedy (when a floor collapsed in the middle of a wedding) - the videotape documenting it is hard to forget - and will discontinue such supervision when the tragedy is forgotten.

They will begin cleaning up the Kishon River after the battle waged by the naval commandos who contracted cancer because it was so polluted. They will supervise the raising of dangerous dogs after the cruel death of the little girl Avivit Ganon, and will demand the paving of bicycle paths after the tragic death of Israel's cycling champion. A substantial portion of these investments will go to waste, because there won't be any follow-up to them, some won't reach their destination, some will melt away when the media turn their eyes to the next disaster.

This method of operation guarantees that the "quiet dead," who don't receive media exposure, won't benefit from any investments. The elderly, the infirm, those harmed by radiation or air pollution, those hurt in traffic accidents that took place on a day when there were many other newsworthy items, Arabs, new immigrants, and anyone who has no voice in Israeli society will not engender any investment, even if they are hurt. Along with the "quiet dead," all those with whom the media have grown weary will suffer, like single mother Vicky Knafo and her friends; residents of the northern communities, where there are no longer any security-related incidents; employees of the local councils, who were already discussed last week; and the children of Lod, after the article written about them several weeks ago has been forgotten.

Even the lucky ones, like the people of Sderot, whom the government is favoring at present, will soon find themselves without assistance, because the attention will wander to another place, together with the promised funds.

There could be an entirely different policy, of course, one based on a meaningful order of priorities, which has nothing to do with the latest media sensation. Investment directed toward the long term, which attributes great importance to preventive measures before the disaster, rather than after it. Investment with a social rather than a media-oriented compass. But apparently that will happen in another country, where there is social planning rather than ass-covering, which has a real commitment to the weak rather than to those who report on them. A country whose media don't consider individualized and well-publicized handling of the latest item - a hungry child, a sickly old man or a homeless person - the be-all and end-all, but are interested in planned, preventive overall treatment.

Only in such a country will the residents of Sderot know that they and their needs will be tended to without any connection to disasters that may strike them, God forbid. In Israel, unfortunately, they are dependent on the next Qassam.