The Home Front's Hysterical Calming

People in the North needed a pamphlet of this sort with the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War. It is unnecessary now.

Tomorrow morning, every responsible citizen should stock up on three liters of water, canned food, a flashlight, a transistor radio, a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit that includes: bandages, adhesive bandages, sterile pads, disposable gloves, tourniquets, disinfectant and scissors. Also, everyone must buy polyethylene sheets at least 100 microns thick and transparent, 30-micron tape that is at least 55 millimeters wide. Tomorrow afternoon, after all the emergency purchases, each family should hold a meeting to discuss the threats against the state, describe the types of missiles that could strike, pick a reinforced space in which members of the household will hide in an emergency and decide on a division of labor.

These instructions are in the Home Front Command pamphlet currently being distributed to 2 million households, accompanied by a comprehensive ad campaign. The logic behind the ads is: Emergency situations occur suddenly; it is best to be prepared in advance; readiness saves lives.

The Home Front Command's best experts were recruited to create a clear and convincing document. Self-defense experts have poured all the relevant information into it, psychologists have contributed insight into how to get the message across in the most reassuring manner possible, social workers have written recommendations relating to vulnerable population groups, physicians have provided medical input. Each instruction is professional, but the totality indicates a loss of common sense.

The tone emerging from the pamphlet is of a hysterical state, or maybe just a Home Front Command that has lost its grip, living with the constant sense of imminent severe warlike calamity. Anyone calling on the public to immediately prepare an emergency stock of medicines and food, coordinate assistance mechanisms with the neighbors, prepare emergency cards for disabled relatives says of himself that he experiences a powerful daily feeling of existential threat. And anyone who decides to instill these fears in the entire population says one of two things about himself: Either he knows something important that is not evident to the common citizen, or his judgment is impaired.

It would appear that the majority of Israelis are not in the constant grip of fear that war could break out at any moment (which really does require taking the preparatory measures outlined in the pamphlet). Last week, figures were even published indicating that last year was one of the calmest, security-wise. Even the people of Sderot, under daily rocket barrages, do not experience the emergency situation of extended stays in reinforced spaces that requires preparations of the sort advised in the Home Front ad campaign.

Their situation is closer to that of the people living in the major cities during the intifada: fear and preparedness against scattered attacks. Even the "Grad" rocket that landed in Ashkelon late last week doesn't change the fundamental security situation (which is bad enough in and of itself). What then is the significance of the timing of the distribution of the stress-inducing pamphlet? Are the state's leaders heading toward an all-out war, or is the campaign the result of a bureaucratic decision and maybe some CYA?

There is of course an inherent contradiction between the Home Front's duty - to prepare the population for possible emergency situation - and the need to maintain routine and not instill fear. The way to bridge the contradiction is proper timing: People in the North needed a pamphlet of this sort with the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War. It is unnecessary now. It is logical to instruct the public to identify the reinforced space at its disposal and to recommend keeping the pamphlet in an accessible location, in the event of an emergency. It is foolish to urge the public to immediately fulfill all the instructions. Haim-Bar Lev's opponents said his cool demeanor was a kind of hysteria; of the heads of the Home Front Command it must be said that their calming campaign indicates hysteria and invokes it in others.