Small business owners and employees in Ashkelon were unimpressed after Finance Minister Yair Lapid approved on Wednesday funding for indirect damages to businesses harmed by the security situation.
“What a downturn. I used to have no time to breathe there were so many customers. This really hurt us.
People are afraid to come – I understand it. People won’t even go to the bank. It’s stressful,” Shalom Moshe, manager of a minimarket in Ashdod’s Shimshon neighborhood, said.
Then, Moshe turned back to “Tehillim against tillim” – “Psalms to protect from rockets.”
On Wednesday morning, Lapid skipped a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on indirect damages from the Hamas rocket fire, meaning economic damage from days of work missed and loss of customers.
“Lapid’s empty chair symbolizes his disrespect for residents of the South,” Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) said. “Even if they aren’t his voters, the finance minister should take responsibility for them, without thinking about politics.”
However, following demands from Elkin, Lapid agreed to include such damages in the general, NIS 5 billion compensation fund for residents of the South.
Still, the committee only renewed the “special situation in the home front,” a sort of state of emergency for the South, for another 24 hours, because the Finance Ministry has yet to negotiate the compensation with the Histadrut labor federation, or for those who live in houses without safe rooms, among other issues.
In the center of Ashkelon, Rachel Shimoni waited in her empty evening- gown shop Boutique Mini Pop, which she has owned for 40 years, and no customers arrived.
“We go through this every time. Whenever it gets a little better, there’s another wave. This one paralyzed everything. People aren’t leaving their houses. They’re afraid to take their children out or to leave them home alone,” she explained.
Shimoni said this is wedding season, and that she ordered extra inventory, which remained in the store.
“In June-July I usually sell all the merchandise. I’ll have to sell it at a discount now, or save it for next year – but fashions change. We’re left with inventory that the government doesn’t recognize [for compensation], but I had to pay for it,” she explained.
Shimoni added: “Government compensation comes six to eight months later. Businesses find themselves with a huge overdraft and then they fall apart.”
The shop owner pointed out that there is a domino effect from businesses closing, because then their suppliers, accountants and others lose a customer.
“The government needs to help small businesses before they have to close,” Shimoni said.
Then, Shimoni, ever cheerful, began to talk about another shop she owned, where she sold plates to Suha Arafat, Yasser Arafat’s wife, on which to serve food to then-US president Bill Clinton.
“I used to have customers from Gaza all the time. They like to have a big dowry when a woman gets married, so they would buy a lot. It doesn’t have to be like this,” Shimoni said wistfully.
Meanwhile, in the small strip mall where Moshe worked – which also includes a lottery shop and a fruit stand, and is in front of a crumbling housing block and a synagogue that also serves as a bomb shelter – men sat at small tables, smoked cigarettes and lamented their economic woes.
Michael Attias, a contractor, said he has no work to do because Palestinian workers from the West Bank are not being allowed into Israel.
“I lost a lot in Operation Pillar of Defense [in 2012], at least NIS 100,000. I didn’t ask the government for compensation because it was too much paperwork. Maybe I’ll think about it this time. No, it’s too complicated,” he said.
Attias explained the lack of women sitting outside: “They’re home with the kids and they’re more afraid than their husbands. [Hamas] ruined our kids’ holidays. The camps are closed. Everyone is f*****.”
Still, Attias, who lived in London for 13 years as his ex-wife is British, said: “I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”