Praying in Haifa for Tel Aviv

The one thing that Haifa residents should be praying for these days is that no missiles fall on Tel Aviv.

Why? For one thing, Haifa residents surely don't want to see central Israel dragged into the war.

But they have a more prosaic reason, too: the moment one single missile falls on Tel Aviv, there goes their compensation.

The young turks of the treasury, who'd never seen war before, had to consult sages of days past in order to see this glaring point. Total war, like the Yom Kippur war during which whole sections of the people were recruited to reserves and couldn't work for months, are wars in which no compensation is paid at all.

Why? Because when everybody suffers and everybody needs compensation, who should get it and who shouldn't? So nobody does.

Do you know how many businesses collapsed in 1973 because their owners were gone for five months in a row? No? In 1973, nobody asked how many businesses fell: Nobody cared if your company survived or fell: there was nobody to help you anyway.

The dimensions of the war, or the damage it does, are the main factor influencing compensation. It is not a question of justice: that would require everybody suffering damage from the war to get compensation. It is a question of capacity, of ability, of resources.

The state has the wherewithal to compensate for damage from the war as long as the damage is contained. The moment the damage grows, the moment large sections of the country are hurt, the smaller the ability to compensate becomes.

So Haifa must pray that Tel Aviv stays out of the firing range, which improves the chance of Haifa receiving compensation  for the first time in history. At this point the government has decided in principle that the entire north will receive compensation, not only towns within nine kilometers of the border (which had been the traditional interpretation of "front line" for the purposes of compensation for war damage).

Compensation, by the way, means for wages paid to workers who couldn't work; and possibly for loss of income, too. The only question at this point is how much compensation the northerners will receive, and how it will be divvied up.

Senility sets in

The young turks at the treasury, having consulted their hoary elders, heard about the First Gulf War of 1991, when compensation for loss of work was provided. Workers had to give up a third of their pay, employers paid a third of their pay and the state provided a third.

But wait a moment. Perhaps senility had set in among the hoary sages, because nobody at the treasury could find any proof whatsoever of any such agreement. Nobody actually remembers for certain whether there was any such agreement or not, to the dismay of the treasury today. The treasury would love an agreement where everybody pays a third - it, the employers and the employees. But the Histadrut labor federation and the unions probably won't bite: they want more.

But the government's willingness to pay more, or less, will depend on how much there is to compensate for. The direct damage to buildings has already reached hundreds of millions of shekels. Many hundreds of millions of shekels.

Now we have to add the bigger damage of indirect damage according to the broad guildelines set down so far: compensation down to the Haifa-Tiberias line, wage compensation (without compensation for lost income) until the end of last week, when the Home Front said people could go back to work in the north (from that point, if you don't go to work, it's your problem).

Indirect damage is mounting beyond a billion shekels and the war is not over yet.

The bill has reached NIS 1.5 billion and counting. Property tax is sitting on an NIS 3.5 billion kitty. If the war drags on, or its boundaries widen, there is a good chance that the kitty will disappear entirely.