Keeping Priorities

Combating violence in an uncompromising way requires a lot more than policemen. Also needed are educators, welfare workers and truant officers, prosecutors and a true commitment.

Frida Ben Lulu directs the department of social services at the Eilat municipality. During the past six years the number of cases with which her office is dealing at any given time has increased from 1,000 to 2,500. Eilat leads the nation in the proportion of single-parent families (one out of every five children); a considerable proportion of the population is replaced every year; many families have no supporting safety net because they have moved to the city from other places; young people and not-so-young people relate to it as a city of refuge; its population is doubled daily by pleasure-seeking tourists; and its young people are exposed to an excess of temptations.

All of these, against the backdrop of a general atmosphere of relaxed inhibitions, constitute fertile ground for lawbreaking and violence. In recent months, Ben Lulu has been given another burden to shoulder - Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevy has delegated to her the coordination of the day-to-day activities of the "city without violence" campaign.

Halevy realized that if the city did not take control of the violence, the violence would take control of the city and endanger not only tourism but also any chance of attracting a quality population of students to the developing university, educated professionals and investors.

With the help of a steering committee established by Dr. Yigal Ben Shalom, director general of the National Insurance Institute, and experts from the welfare field, a program for dealing with violence was formulated - starting with the illegal peddlers' stands that clog the northern promenade to the last of the battering men, the harassing students at the schools and the cabdrivers who go wild on the roads.

The plan has been implemented gradually over the past year, and police are reporting a significant drop in juvenile delinquency. A week ago Halevy and heads of the Social Welfare Ministry presented it to the ministerial committee on dealing with violence in society so that it can adopt it for other local authorities, with the necessary adjustments.

The annual cost to a city with a population of about 50,000 is estimated at approximately NIS 4 million. The committee, headed by Minister of Public Security Gideon Ezra, adopted the model. However, the Finance Ministry people hastened to cool the enthusiasm and announced that they would not allocate budgets. A local authority that wants to implement the Eilat model will have to find the funding on its own.

Eilat can teach other local authorities how to obtain funding. It has to schnorr money from government ministries, public and private foundations and even the Isrotel chain. Other bodies that are trying to deal with violence also have to beg. At the Community Center in south Netanya, for example, the Pfizer pharmaceuticals company is funding projects in the battle against violence.

Beyond the temporary nature of these solutions - a private donor can decide tomorrow to stop giving - the private funding raises a grave problem of ethics and conflicts of interest: What will the Eilat municipality do if a hotel chain that has contributed generously to the battle against violence wants breaks in its licensing conditions? What will the Eilat municipality do if an industrial plant that contributes large sums asks for breaks in the conditions for dealing with industrial wastes?

When it comes to projects in the areas of education or culture, perhaps it is possible to forgo a private donation if it comes with strings attached that are unacceptable to the local authority. But when the issue is dealing with violence, local authorities are liable to be faced with a choice between their commitment to protecting citizens' lives, and improper management as well as a multitude of other implications of submitting to demands of business interests. This is like a situation in which the police, or the army, have to raise money from private donors in order to purchase weapons.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon established the ministerial committee for dealing with violence half a year ago, accompanied by the declaration of an uncompromising fight against violence that he compared to the war against terror. However, whereas billions of shekels a year are budgeted for the war against terror without any public debate or real oversight on the way it is spent, the supposed war that has been declared against violence has not been allocated a single agora. The only sum that has been devoted to the matter was given "negatively" through the cancellation of a cut of NIS 200 million that would have obligated the firing of about 1,000 policemen.

Combating violence in an uncompromising way requires a lot more than policemen. Also needed are educators, welfare workers and truant officers, prosecutors and a true - and not just a declarative - commitment. The establishing of a ministerial committee following some newspaper headlines about murder cases is not the answer.

Last year, in terror incidents within the context of the national conflict, 117 Israelis were killed; in criminal terror, 174. Once again we are witnessing distorted priorities that derive from the lack of understanding and internalization of the fact that the dangers to the state that lurk from within are just as serious and extensive as the obvious and known dangers from without.