Poet and writer Haim Gouri, noting that Israel is a country
characterized by sudden contrasts, once said that even our weather goes from one
extreme to the other. And that is the thought that kept coming back to me
throughout the unusual cold spell – barely two weeks after we were complaining
about an unseasonal heatwave.
It has been a period of opposites, bringing
out the best and the worst in the Israeli public.
How is it, we
collectively wondered, that we can cope with missiles and wars, scarcely missing
a beat, and yet Mother Nature can bring us to an abrupt halt, the capital cut
off in something that brought to mind the various sieges of
The snow storm is called Alexa, but knowing its name didn’t
make it seem any friendlier.
If anything, having a name that starts with
the first letter of the alphabet bodes badly: How many more such storms are we
meant to be facing? And, more to the point, will the relevant authorities be any
better prepared in the future.
There were calls from the opposition for a
parliamentary committee of inquiry to examine just how it was that thousands
upon thousands of homes throughout the country were left without electricity,
many of them for days on end.
Last Thursday, as the storm was breaking
out, Israel was unanimously accepted as a full member of the 20-state council of
CERN, the Center of European Nuclear Research that operates the Large Hadron
Collider, the first non-European country to have that honor.
striking contrast. Surely a country whose scientific research is so far-reaching
should be able to provide the solutions to power outages. It seems the many
trees that fell in the high winds and under the weight of snow brought the high
voltage electric cables down with them. In effect, they brought the whole
Commissions of inquiries are only as effective as the
implementation of the recommendations they offer. It doesn’t take a high-level
panel to determine that it would be costly but effective to bury the cables
underground leaving them – and us – less exposed to the vagaries of nature (or
war, for that matter.) As an added bonus, it would also improve the landscape
No special committee need convene, either, to determine that
Jerusalem should ready itself for winter with supplies of salt and having more
snow plows wouldn’t hurt. The driver of the bulldozer doing his best to shovel
the snow on the main road outside my apartment window was poorly equipped to
deal with the quantities – if you get my drift – and not equipped at all to deal
with the ice which brought all the public transport to a halt for the night. The
bus drivers were unable to take the risks involved with the black
Black ice is a term that only entered the Hebrew lexicon and
consciousness this week, although the term General Horef (General Winter) – a
reflection of the sort of weather that brought Napoleon down in Russia – has
long been in use. Perhaps that too is a reflection of the way our collective
mindset is programmed to deal with acts of war rather than acts of
The situation reminded me somewhat of the empty promises (or
threats) at the unexpected outbreak of the Second Lebanon War in 2006 – before
it turned out that the military storerooms were not sufficiently equipped and
the IDF was not prepared.
Empty promises echo particularly loudly in
poorly stocked warehouses, be they military or municipal. Note to newly
reelected Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat – in case he hasn’t figured it out for
himself from the invective comments that rained down on him in the press and
social media: Do not have your photo taken with a token, insufficient, snow plow
unless you are really prepared for the storm, and not in the “Apres moi le
deluge” sense. When residents of your Holy City see the pictures as they shiver
in their unheated homes, unable to step out on the treacherously slippery roads,
it’s like pouring some of that obviously lacking salt on our wounds.
don’t need a committee of inquiry, we already know the problem: arrogance and
the “smoch alie” mentality, “Trust me.”
The same can be said of the
Israel Electric Corporation whose spokesman ahead of the storm promised that the
company could deal with the extra demand that would come with added heating
Very quickly it became apparent that it couldn’t even
supply any power to many people and what seemed to be the light at the end of
the tunnel was actually coming from an innocent passerby struggling to use his
cellphone as a flashlight as he avoided ice, snow and broken branches on the
During the frequent outages that hit my own home, I
tried to call the IEC emergency line. Never has the taped company slogan coming
down the phone been so annoying as the voice singing out “With you every minute,
the electric company.”
Not every minute, not every hour and not even my
very miserable moment of distress when in the dark I slipped and smashed my
glasses, which would have been bad enough even if I hadn’t been wearing them at
the time. My black eye matches my mood every time I hear an ostensibly calming
The corporation’s suggestion of checking the company’s
website for details regarding the places where it was working on restoring power
went from seeming funny to making fun of us poor consumers. Note to IEC
management: When you don’t have a working modem and can’t charge your cellphone
for hours and days, access to the Internet disappears.
Altogether, one of
the lessons we learned from the storm was that sometimes the technological
advances amount to very little.
A grandmother of 10 who lives in a
community that had no electricity for at least four days told Israel Radio that
the adults and older children were taking it in turns to strap a newborn
grandchild to their chests and walk around to provide body warmth.
was of course a positive side to the situation, the silver lining in the clouds
of snow. As in any emergency, people pulled together. Family, friends, neighbors
and complete strangers lent each other a helping hand, pooled resources, cheered
one another on.
The country was paralyzed – those areas not hit by the
blizzard were effected by the heavy rains and flooding – but the milk of human
kindness flowed. Meals and hospitality were provided to those stranded far from
home; a woman in labor, stuck in the non-moving traffic on Route 443, gave birth
with the help of a medic and nurse stuck in the same traffic jam; a bride was
transported to her wedding.
And the helping hand extended at a national
level. Nature knows no borders, and the torrential rains fell not just on
Answering a UN plea, on Sunday the Mekorot water company provided
heavy-duty pumps to Gaza, where thousands were made homeless by Alexa’s floods.
Fortunately, while the Dutch water company Vitens last week cut off contacts
with Mekorot for alleged violation of international law for operating beyond the
1948 borders, the Palestinians in Gaza themselves did not boycott the
humanitarian aid from an Israeli company. Later, however, rumors that Israel was
responsible for causing the Gaza flooding surfaced, as they do any time the
Hamas government has trouble coping with a problem.
Israel, winter 2013.