Don’t worry, it will be OK

On Monday morning, an underground parking lot being constructed in Tel Aviv collapsed into itself, killing at least three workers and injuring some 20-odd others. As I write (Wednesday) there are still several workers unaccounted for, probably buried underneath piles of concrete and steel.

Since the collapse, literally hundreds of rescuers – Homefront Command soldiers, firefighters, MDA and Hatzalah workers, special rescue teams with dogs and high-tech equipment to seek weak signals from mobile phones, and others have been working nonstop to try to get to the remaining trapped workers. Some have been pulled out of the rubble, but as time passes it becomes less likely that they will come out alive. Rescue workers say they will not stop until everyone is accounted for. The Prime Minister and the IDF Chief of Staff have visited the scene.

Most construction workers in Israel are Arabs – Israeli citizens or from the territories – or foreign workers. One still missing is Mohammad Dawabshe, a member of the extended family from Duma in Samaria that was a victim of a murderous arson that has been controversially blamed on Jewish extremists.

So what can we say about this?

I don’t mind saying that Israelis care about human life, including non-Jewish human life. You might not believe this if you get your knowledge about us from the subversive, lying Ha’aretz newspaper or the biased foreign press, but they do.

We went to Haiti, to Turkey, to Nepal and to other scenes of natural disasters in order to save lives, which we did, even though Ha’aretz will say that we were just trying to hide the fact that we are committing ‘genocide’ against the Palestinians. We have been systematically providing care for Syrians wounded in the civil war that is taking place next door. Sick Gazans are able to come to Israel for treatment (the obstacles in their way are primarily placed by Hamas, despite what is written in Ha’aretz). Even relatives of Hamas and PLO leaders are treated in hospitals in Israel.

Our army really does try to avoid hurting non-combatants when we defend ourselves against murderous attacks. International military experts say so, despite the flood of propaganda from anti-Israel sources.

Every day Amira Hass writes in Ha’aretz that Israeli security forces and ‘settlers’ practice deliberate cruelty against Arabs. But every day Amira Hass puts on her one-way glasses, the ones that block Arab terrorism and Jew hatred, and magnify accusations against Israel. This is how a conflict looks when you see only one side. And the more ‘information’ that you get that comes through filters like Hass, the more you become incapable of seeing things differently.

Although the PLO and Hamas are obsessed with death, there are Arabs that care about life too. An example of a real-life situation here was the murder of Rabbi Miki Mark in June. The car in which he was travelling with his wife and several of his children was riddled with bullets by Hamas terrorists. Rabbi Mark was killed, his wife seriously wounded and two children also injured. But the first car that stopped to help was occupied by an Arab man and his doctor wife, who got them out of the car and provided first aid. It becomes still more complicated when you note that these Arabs protected them from other passers-by who were not so benign, and that one of the rescuers lost his job because of the incident. Because he saved the lives of Jews.

But to return to the construction site, isn’t it the case that safety rules and practices in the construction industry are outrageously lax, and many workers are killed every year in avoidable accidents? And isn’t this because the workers are non-Jews and we don’t care about them?

The answer to these questions are ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Construction in the US is much safer. More money and time is invested in worker safety. But the lack of attention to safety in Israel does not only affect non-Jewish workers. As I found in my years working on two kibbutzim and in my army service, there are cultural attitudes that express themselves as carelessness, attitudes that are shared to a great extent by both Jews and Arabs. My wife says it’s a Middle Eastern macho thing: we don’t need no stinkin’ hard hats, ear plugs, or dust masks.

In this incident, as in the collapse of the “Versailles” wedding hall 15 years ago when 23 lost their lives and 380 were injured, it’s obvious that there was negligence, and heads will probably roll. There has already been one person placed under house arrest by the police in connection with this incident.

As always, after a particularly bad accident or terror attack everyone says “well, now things will have to be different.” But most of the time they go back to being more or less the way they were. The Versailles disaster was much worse and changes were made, but apparently the procedures for ensuring that sound design and construction practices are followed still need improvement.

It’s hard to change deeply embedded cultural attitudes, and the Israeli attitude is to distrust rules and regulations and improvise as the situation demands. As I have been told countless times in this country, “don’t worry, it will be OK.”

But not everything can be flown by the seat of your pants or fixed in the field with duct tape. The air force learned this a long time ago, and the army learned it from the Second Lebanon War. Maybe it’s time the construction industry learned it too.

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