gas mask 311.
(photo credit: AP)
Citizens could soon find themselves legally required to pay for their own gas masks due to budgetary shortfalls in the Defense Ministry, MKs were told Tuesday, during a meeting of the Knesset Subcommittee for Defense Oversight.
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The panel met with legal experts to discuss the possible solutions for the pressing question of home-front readiness, an issue blasted in a recent State Comptroller’s Report.
“In the current budgetary situation, there is no ability to defend Israeli citizens with personal defense kits,” warned Subcommittee Chairman MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima).
Schneller said that with the current budget, slightly over 60% of Israelis can be provided with protection kits that include both the masks as well as atropine shots to be used against chemical agents.
“The bottom line is that Israel invested thus far over NIS 3 billion and there are no results,” he continued. “Our role as a subcommittee is not just to quote the report, but also make sure that the government corrects the problems.”
Schneller said that there were a number of proposed solutions to the problem, the first being that all citizens be required to acquire masks for themselves.
“The state in such a situation will need to make sure that there are enough kits and that what will be sold will meet specific guidelines. But if a person decides not to use a seat belt or not to buy a kit, or to jump off of a tall building despite fences, then it is ultimately that person’s responsibility.”
“The state could also decide that they are unnecessary, and thus not provide them to anybody, or to allow those who want to buy them to do so, and those who don’t, not to.
“But what the state can’t do is to decide who will get them and who will not, and that those 50% who don’t get them will have to go without,” he said.
Schneller added that he believes that there is a legal consensus regarding requiring the purchase of such kits, but ensuring that the law “appropriately takes into consideration specific groups,” whether that meant pro-actively distributing kits in weaker communities or subsidizing them for socioeconomically challenged sectors.
“I think that most of the community that dealing with this field agrees that the rest can be required to acquire the masks, but public opinion will ultimately make the final determination. If the public understands that independent acquisition is necessary for its defense and supports the plan, they will be protected with a low investment.”
But if there is a public outcry against the idea, he said, “the results will be that there will only be kits for a small amount of the public and for the rest, the kits won’t be available when it counts.”
Experts estimate that the kits will need to be issued to or purchased by every adult at least twice during his or her lifetime, as they expire every 20 years. Each kit cost around NIS 500, but Schneller said it is likely that kits will be issued free of charge to soldiers, children under 14 and retirees over 67.
Opposition to the nascent plan has already emerged, with MKs Nahman Shai (Kadima) and Aryeh Eldad (National Union) attending the subcommittee meeting to voice their displeasure.
“The idea of privatizing this service, and of selling the security kits on the open market is completely insane, especially when 60% of the population has the ones that the IDF is issuing,” said Shai.
“If it adopts this plan, the State of Israel is refusing to protect its
citizens as it is required to do as a state. This is illogical and
impractical. Today, you can call a number and have them delivered to
your door, but if this plan goes into effect, people will put off
purchasing them and when a crisis happens hundreds of thousands of
people will break into stores and demand them.”
Shai, who was
instrumental in calming the home front – and transmitting orders to the
public regarding gas mask usage – during the 1991 Gulf War, said that
the current topic “is a moral, legal and social issue, and is similar to
the government telling people that if they want safe neighborhoods,
they must hire private police. It is the weakest sectors of society who
will be harmed by this.”
Shai said that if the plan was advanced,
he would propose a law to require the state to provide the kits to the
public, and suggested diverting funds from haredi students’ yeshiva
funding or to add the cost of the kits to the existing tax structure.