Road Map / No Winds of Hope in Beit She'an

The children of Beit She'an had a happy Purim holiday last week. They hopped from party to party, wearing a wide variety of costumes and towing along tired parents. This day of fun helped the residents forget, even if only for one day, their daily troubles.

"It was impossible to rest even for one moment," said Itzik Hajian, the owner of a small restaurant in the local mall. "The place was so full there wasn't any room left. It was impossible to move. The kids bought pizza, candies and drinks all day, shouted and played. They really had fun."

But the next day, Beit She'an returned to its daily life as a city caught between financial crises and limited resources, fighting for its modest survival as a stopover for Israelis on the way to Tiberias or for kibbutz and moshav residents seeking a taste of city life. The economic rehabilitation that has occurred in the center of the country has yet to reach Beit She'an, making the opening of even the smallest new business a cause for celebration, while the closure of a business is a cause for mourning.

Above all, the residents are most bothered by the feeling that changing the occupant of the mayor's office has not improved their lives. Former mayor Pini Kabalo, a Laborite, went home after a tempestuous term of office and was replaced by Jackie Levy from the Likud after a no less tempestuous time in the opposition.

More than two years have passed since Levy won the mayoralty by a few dozen votes, but the residents are not feeling the winds of hope.

Many residents are worried by the Levy family's support for Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu. While Netanyahu was finance minister, Beit She'an received increased income tax breaks in exchange for the support of the extended Levy family, headed by Likud MK David Levy. But as soon as the Likud collapsed and Netanyahu left the treasury, Beit She'an became the object of Kadima's revenge.

"[Acting Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert blotted us out," said Hajian. "Because Jackie went against [Ariel] Sharon, now he's losing out, and basically all of us are losing out. Olmert came for a visit to Beit She'an and didn't even go to see the mayor. It's a catastrophe for Beit She'an."

Nonetheless, the Likud's situation is not good either. David Levy lost power, Netanyahu lost power, the Likud lost power - and so Beit She'an finds itself, for the first time in years, far away from the sources of power. The scent of the elections that used to envelop Beit She'an residents months before Election Day has also disappeared. A city that lives and breathes politics has found itself cut off from its elixir of life.

Jackie Algarisi, a veteran resident, has yet to absorb the strange serenity that has taken over his city. Algarisi moved into Beit She'an in 1964 after immigrating to Israel from Casablanca with his family of 10, and remembers how day-to-day life used to come to a halt as elections approached.

"It was sacred," he said, rearranging his skullcap. "We would sit around the table and argue all night until we would go to synagogue. What wasn't there? Shouts, blows, fights. There was everything. Look now - it's like a dead person. There's nothing."