What Do We Israelis Care About Endangering Others?

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A child stands next to the remains of a demolished tent dwelling in the Jordan Valley.
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

This past Monday, Alex Levac and I drove up to the northern part of the Palestinian Jordan Valley to prepare another piece about Israel’s abuse of the Palestinian shepherds and farmers there. This time we were accompanied by a film crew making a documentary about soldiers with PTSD. As part of the preparation for the film, they joined Levac, who teaches photography, on a volunteer basis, at the Lev Hasharon mental health center.

It was a hot day in the Jordan Valley, the crew’s cameraman and soundman rode in our car, the director rode in the car behind us. As usual, the scenes we saw made us sad and angry. The soundman hardly said a word all day; he seemed like a nice guy.

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That evening, we got a phone call: The soundman just found out that he’d tested positive for the coronavirus. He’d ridden with us for a whole day in a closed car, without masks (our fault), without informing us that he’d been tested the day before and was awaiting the results after being exposed to an infected person. That he might have been infected himself. He could have infected his crew, the two of us, and maybe also brought the infection to the remote villages in the northern Jordan Valley. But he evidently decided that losing a day of work and 1,200 shekels would be a heavier price for him.

Filmmakers are a special breed. Energetic, ambitious, perfectionist, with a whole world of their own; almost all of them wear shorts and Blundstone boots from Australia. This particular crew wasn’t wearing Blundstone but fit all the other Israeli filmmaker stereotypes. The soundman was no different.

A graduate of the sound engineering program at Sapir College, a resident of an eastern neighborhood of Tel Aviv, a guy who brings “professional equipment, a good attitude and a great love for cinema” (as his listing in an industry catalog says). Married with a three-year-old daughter; he showed us her picture. His wife doesn’t work, and the family depends on the filming days that he is able to pick up.

These people in the industry are sensitive to every fluctuation in the economy. They are freelancers, and every crisis leaves them financially bleeding by the side of the road. They live from hand to mouth, there are good days and not so good days; lockdown poses an existential threat to the people who work in this industry. Yet he and others like him are just the ones who are liable to cause Israel to be subjected to another lockdown. And then they’ll moan and wail and demand compensation and blame the government.

He didn’t tell us that he might be sick with the coronavirus. He didn’t even think that we ought to wear masks throughout the long day. Life at age 30 looks different. Then came two tense and irritable days of coronavirus tests for all of us, of barely contained fury at him and anxiety over what might lie in store. The nice soundman, who turned out to be a ticking bomb, could have brought disaster upon all of us. He once again showed how egotistical we Israelis can be.

Like the Israeli drivers who never signal. A straight line runs between those who don’t bother signaling their intentions on the road and those who don’t bother warning others of the coronavirus danger they may be exposing them to. It’s not a matter of enforcement, it’s a matter of culture. When you don’t care about others, but only about yourself and your own needs, no amount of enforcement will help. When there is no social responsibility, and much less actual caring and solidarity than the commonly schmaltzy descriptions of what Israelis are like, it is not possible to halt a pandemic.

One cannot always pin the blame on the government. We, the Israelis, are not doing our share. We are showing appalling irresponsibility. But what do we care? We can always say it’s the government’s fault. In our book, the government is always to blame for everything. The soundman is not to blame at all, his friends are not to blame, none of us are to blame. How convenient.

There are other countries where hardly any enforcement of rules and regulations is needed. Where social responsibility is in their DNA. Not in Israel. The soundman thought only of himself, and to hell with everyone else.

After two tense days, we received negative test results. The soundman was tested again and also came back negative. The first test was apparently mistaken. He’s “living in a movie.”  

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