Those visiting Kiryat Shmona after the second Lebanon War were likely surprised to see homes left standing. A town bombarded by more than a thousand Katyusha rockets and mortar shells remained standing.
Yet this picture is misleading; those who wish to see what happened in Kiryat Shmona must look into the soul and gently feel the social wound, whose damage is worse than the physical one.
Those walking around the town’s main streets see the housing projects constructed in the 1950s and 1960s. Graduates of “poverty and meagerness university” carry with them Israeli society’s wounds and maladies.
They’re angry over the injustices done to them but find it difficult to demand what they deserve by law. Kiryat Shmona residents are the reflection of the intolerable gap between Israel’s center and peripheral areas.
The 200 kilometers (roughly 120 miles) separating the town of Raanana, just north of Tel Aviv, and northern residents are sometimes the difference between the first world and the third world.
This “third world” on its various manifestations was not first discovered in the second Lebanon war, but the war did prove that the social gap is s strategic problem and existential question not only for those living on one side of the chasm but also those on the other, warm and comfortable side.
When was the question of whether Kiryat Shmona residents constitute a strategic asset or burden brought up for public debate? When was an honest, incisive debate held on the meaning of the border communities’ strength in the upper and western Galilee?
War’s nature is that it speeds up processes in the diplomatic and defense theaters but marginalizes social issues. The last war revealed the direct and fundamental connection between combatants on the battlefield and civilians at the home front, who were exposed to the horrors of war.
The current war emphasized the Gordian knot tying together the military and civilian arms, two forces that equally influence and are affected by the war and its outcome. Hence, the war lessons require us to equally address the fighting force and the endurance of the civilian home front, which finds it difficult to speak up.
New budgeting priorities needed
Five main components are involved in boosting the periphery: Employment, education, infrastructure, housing, and leisure. All previous governments committed themselves to promoting those components in the periphery, both in the Jewish and Arab sector.
The Lebanon war, just like a flamethrower, fired a flame in our faces to remind us we abandoned the regions that serve as the country’s wall of defense. It’s difficult to repair the crisis of confidence created between the political government center in Jerusalem and economic-cultural center in Tel Aviv on the one hand, and residents of the Galilee and Negev, who paid the price of the war.
What will bring about the required change? National leadership determined to deliver on its promises, in cooperation with local leadership in the north of the country and in Gaza-region communities.
This will ensure attention to the problems until a solution is found in two key areas: First, a groundbreaking development drive. Secondly, long-term solutions that address the personal security of residents in border areas.
The government of Israel must establish a professional, apolitical team that would regulate the state budget according to new priorities. The budget must be formulated through a clear preference to the Galilee and Negev and not according to the narrow vision and economic perceptions of the “Treasury boys.”
In order to implement these lessons we do not need commissions of inquiry, but rather, a firm executive arm that will implement a new strategic thinking that gives expression to the existential needs of a state of Israel fighting for its life.
The grave danger at our doorstep is that now, with the battles over, we’ll again neglect northern residents and abandon them while on the other side of the court, only 200 kilometers away, we’re left with the cozy, content home front that did not carry the burden of war and is unwilling to help out those who did suffer and did carry the burden.
The time has come to act, and not “soon” or “at the first opportunity” or “once relief sets in.”
Yigal Zachor is the Chair of the World Labor Zionist Movement and the Director of the Beit Berl center.