Fear Itself? (Extract)

Extract from a story in Issue 20, January 19, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. On the eve of the new year, The Jerusalem Report poll took the opportunity to look at Israelis' deepest worries: What scares us? What are the greatest threats in Israel today? Which of a list of concerns troubles us the most in our daily lives? The top concern, chosen by more than one in five Israelis (21%), is the conflict with the Palestinians, including Qassam rockets. The conflict is the permanent pall over Israeli life and the rockets have brought a sense of terror and outrage shared by Israelis who live far away from the bombarded south. Young people were the most concerned: More than one-quarter chose this as their top fear (27%), compared to 18% of both the middle and the older age groups. Traffic fatalities take second place, with 17 percent citing this as their top fear. With a horrific bus accident just two weeks ago that killed 25 tourists and a spate of lethal hit-and-runs in recent months, the prominence of this fear isn't surprising. But there is a certain contradiction here: as of this writing, Qassam rockets have claimed 5 lives in 2008. According to the National Authority for Road Safety, by December 2008, 437 people had been killed in traffic accidents. That's 107 times more road fatalities than Qassam fatalities. And while nearly 20,000 people live in Sderot, all Israelis must contend with streets, roads and cars. And so, it becomes clear that despite the imbalance in the numbers of people who are directly exposed, Israelis identify with the national threat more than with individual traffic deaths. The average citizen has no control over the external threat posed by the Qassams. But every driver and every pedestrian can make decisions that result in life or death - from the bus driver of the crash that killed the tourists, reported to have had 22 traffic violations, to the criminally reckless (and probably drunk) driving that killed 27-year-old Meital Aharonson one late night in Tel Aviv recently. At least some of those 437 deaths could have been avoided by a simple dose of personal responsibility. And men are less concerned about traffic fatalities than women. Just 13 percent of men state that this is their top fear, in contrast to 20 percent of women - traffic deaths are only third on the list of top fears for men, compared to No. 2 for the total population. Yet more men fear the disintegration of law and order (11 percent) than women (6 percent). Perhaps it has not occurred to them that one of the major consequences of the culture of lawlessness is abominable driving that leads to avoidable road deaths. Even though the economic downturn is beginning to hit Israel, too - with the financial daily newspaper Globes recently reporting a 2.2% increase in the number of unemployed; and of the 24,000 new people seeking jobs in November, 16,500 were doing so because they'd been fired from their previous job - the economic crisis and social gaps came in third among Israelis' top fears (13 percent).Yet ask Israelis and they are likely to say that Israel is proving more resilient than the rest of the world. Dahlia Scheindlin is an international political consultant and public opinion analyst based in Tel Aviv. Extract from a story in Issue 20, January 19, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.