South Tel Aviv, a reminder of indifference

It is hard to get back to everyday matters when we consider the heart-breaking disaster that led to the deaths of Dean Yaakov Shoshani and Stav Harari last Saturday in Tel Aviv.

People try to release a car that was stuck due to heavy rains in Jaffa on Sunday  (photo credit: FLASH90)
People try to release a car that was stuck due to heavy rains in Jaffa on Sunday
(photo credit: FLASH90)
Disasters of the sort that happened over the previous weekend in different parts of the country are not unexpected. The rainstorm that flooded the country North to South – with intense showers that became dangerous over-flowing rivers – is not an event that one can always foresee its dimensions and scope and completely prevent its failures that can end in tragedies, as we experienced recently.
Every once in a while, we hear about typhoon storms that lead to the deaths of hundreds of people in other parts of the world. Such disasters happen even in wealthy countries that are normally expected to be ready to face powerful winds or rivers that can drown anyone standing in their path.
This is true when speaking about the Americas, Europe and Asia. In recent weeks we have see how massive sections of Australia are on fire, causing massive property damages and claiming human lives. Such fires are not an unusual or abnormal occurrence. Every year massive parts of Australia fall victim to bushfires, at times quite close to the large cities in that country, and this wealthy developed nation seems helpless to prevent them.
When we observe such events in other parts of the world, events that end with heart-wrenching tragedies, there is no reason to overly beat ourselves up over negligence, oversights, and indifference when similar events, though on a smaller scale, happen in our own country.
Yet, it is hard to get back to everyday matters when we consider the heart-breaking disaster that led to the deaths of Dean Yaakov Shoshani and Stav Harari last Saturday in Tel Aviv. True, the storm was much stronger than those we are used to dealing with. The rain falling over Tel Aviv was without precedent. The showers were astonishing in their deluge. Yet, it is hard not to consider the inferior infrastructure conditions in southern Tel Aviv – such a gap is not fitting the wealthiest city in the nation.
Yet this event is not only about infrastructure, it’s also an issue of alertness, readiness and the effectiveness of the emergency services that must be ready to handle such situations in the entire city, including its southern part.
One cannot issue a pass to Tel Aviv City Hall, bailing it out of its responsibility for the faulty infrastructure in the south of the city. I have great respect for Ron Huldai. He is an excellent mayor with many worthy accomplishments. Yet it is not work migrants and immigrants that bear the responsibility for the lack of proper maintenance in those streets. City Hall does – it has enough resources to improve roads and drainage systems across the city and there is no other body it may point a finger at in order to assign responsibility for this debacle. This is the complete and full responsibility of city hall, even if some aspects of its responsibility touch upon various government ministries or agencies.
The collapse of the paths leading to the new Bloomfield Stadium also point to lack of care and attention. Huldai is correct when he says there are few rainy days in Tel Aviv. Maybe he is correct when he claims there was no known reason to cover the seats of the newly renovated stadium with a roof, a renovation mostly paid for by City Hall, yet this does not justify the negligence of the streets leading to the stadium that were overrun with water and became a danger not just to those visiting the stadium but to local residents as well.
Yet the main debacle over the past weekend was the operation of the emergency services call centers. There is no other path forward, I think, than having one body manage all emergency calls and that body should be City Hall – not several government agencies.
It is not acceptable that out of more than 2,000 calls to emergency call centers, only seven percent were answered at one time. I do not want to suggest any conclusions about who is to blame for the tragic deaths of Dean and Stav and it is possible that the whole thing was an unexpected and uncontrollable coincidence for which no single person is to be blamed. Perhaps. Yet the lack of efficiency displayed by the emergency call centers, in particular in times of emergency as during the previous weekend, has happened over and over again so many times it can no longer be ignored. This is not the first time the number of phone operators at call centers was far lower than the number of workers needed during an expected – or unexpected – emergency.
All such, emergency centers – fire fighters, police, health and rescue services and law enforcement – need to be located in one spot under one authority and work from one headquarters. This is not a proposal to dismantle these various organizations and establish a new one in their place, but rather a proposal to create one phone number to call in a time of crisis, and from this one call the necessary response can come, based on the situation’s dimensions and the nature of the problem.
Based on my personal experience as the former mayor of Jerusalem, as a minister and as Israel’s prime minister, an efficient City Hall will always be more effective than a well-functioning government office. The City Hall of Tel Aviv demonstrated more than a few times its ability to be effective when making quick decisions based on its deep knowledge of its residents’ needs.
The fault should not be placed at the foot of the crowded living conditions in southern Tel Aviv or the migrants who reside there. The infrastructure must be improved and south Tel Aviv’s streets need to be a safe, protected, prosperous place to live. City authorities know how to accomplish this and can do it with the means at their disposal.
It is City Hall that must be handed the authority to manage emergency call centers in all matters – directing them and equipping them.
If only we had a government willing and able to see to the everyday needs of its citizens, we could have brought a change to these matters. True, these issues are not connected to saving the nation from imaginary outside threats. Yet such changes define the quality of life enjoyed by the people living here. This current government will not do so, as it is too busy protecting the man leading it. City halls, not only the one in Tel Aviv but those across the country, can. They must be given the authority and means to do so.
The writer was Israel’s 12th prime minister.