Everyone's to Blame but Us

In Israel, we always complain, always blame someone else, always deny responsibility, always wail that they did this to me, they did that to me, and I, the innocent lamb, am not responsible for anything.

A month and a week ago Friday was a day the Abu al-Kian family will never forget. In one terrible tragedy, three of the family's young members drowned in the Yatir Forest reservoir in the South Hebron Hills.

A boy peering from under an Israeli flag

The Bedouin youths were having a barbecue on the side of the reservoir when one of them decided to take a dip. When he got into trouble, one of the others came to his aid, but he too began going under, so the third also tried to help. All three drowned.

Just after the family recovered from the initial shock, they began blaming the whole world for their catastrophe. They blamed the regional council for not posting guards at the reservoir, they blamed the Jewish National Fund, which had built the reservoir, and they blamed the government for not providing enough water.

But actually, this is the most well-ordered reservoir there is. It has a fence around it and plenty of warning notices. So anyone crossing the fence and entering the water, even if he does not know how to swim, is responsible for what happens to him. No one else is. But instead of accepting this, the family adopted the usual Israeli tactic of blaming everyone else.

The problem is, this tactic will only lead to the next tragedy, because if the authorities are to blame, then we don't have to do anything. We can go on not teaching our children to swim and not educating them to take warning notices seriously.

This is but one example of a characteristic trait of Israeli society: Always complain, always blame someone else, always deny responsibility, always wail that they did this to me, they did that to me, and I, the innocent lamb, am not responsible for anything.

We are full of complaints about the government, municipalities, trade unions, income tax, schools, HMOs and the National Insurance Institute. We ceaselessly carp about the authorities' grave shortcomings. But what about us? Why, we're always right.

It's true that it's only human nature to seek justification for our actions to free ourselves from cognitive dissonance and feel better. But is there no limit to this?

Someone murders someone else and immediately blames society and his disadvantaged childhood. And there has been something new to blame recently: overindulging in alcohol. Yes, says the murderer, I killed but it's not my fault, I don't remember. It's the bottle's fault. A young man who was recently accused of attempted rape on the bank of the Yarkon River found an even more original pretext: They put drugs in my drink, so I'm not responsible for what I did.

Every now and then, the media features a family bemoaning its plight. The father has been sick for years and can't work, and the mother hardly has a half-time job. But then, as if incidentally, the reporter mentions that the couple has eight children. No one has the guts to ask them where they got the audacity to have eight children when they couldn't afford to feed even one.

This is because we never blame a family for its plight. We call it a "weakened family" and not a "weak family," because it's clear that the evil authorities weakened it intentionally. We also call it a "family blessed with children" instead of, perish the thought, a "family with many children," because children are a blessing, a joy, even if they have been brought into the world in an outrageously irresponsibly manner and into a future that will certainly be one of poverty and deprivation. This status slides into the next generation.

Then there are the drivers who stop on the shoulders of highways and are killed by passing vehicles. They too are not to blame. It's the Public Works Department that's to blame, or the Transportation Ministry. No, they didn't heed the endless warnings that stopping on the shoulders is totally probited.

But it is not only the weak who blame others. The most powerful industrialists also look for someone to blame, and of course appropriate compensation as well. Now that the euro is weak, exporters are demanding that the Bank of Israel intervene and buy euros, and that the government give them benefits and subsidies "to avoid layoffs."

Why don't they blame themselves for shortsightedness? After all, they could have insured themselves against exchange-rate risks, or they could have financed their operations in euros so that when that currency weakens and export revenues drop, the value of the loans they took would also diminish, saving the day.

Today, two days after the Festival of the Giving of the Law, we may recall the ancient character of the People of Israel. It is written in Exodus that even after the great miracle of the parting of the Red Sea, on the way to receiving the Ten Commandments, the people were not satisfied and complained to Moses about not having enough to drink. And there was an abundance of other complaints about his taking them away from the fleshpots of Egypt.

Weeping, wailing and incessantly moaning are not a new thing. They are apparently a congenital character trait.