Ra’anana Industrial Park exemplifies several typically Israeli contradictions. On the one hand, it is home to some of the world’s top technology companies, leaders in their fields, housed in tall, proud buildings with bright windows sparkling in the blazing summer sun. On the other hand, there is a total lack of order or planning in the surrounding streets, where modern buildings sit alongside remnants of old shops and thorn-strewn gravel lots, and the air is filled with the ear-splitting noise of construction and the sweat of people rushing from one place to another. And, always, the most irritating challenge of all – trying to find a parking spot.
That is how I found myself searching frantically for parking one scorching June day when I had driven from the Galilee to Raanana. After driving around and around looking for street parking, I suddenly noticed, in a fallow field, a parking lot in which there was parking aplenty. I approached the rusty iron chain that served as a makeshift barrier and asked the bored attendant in the little booth to let me park there for about an hour. “It’ll cost you 10 shekels,” he muttered wearily. “Come in, park, and pay me on your way out.” I went in, parked, and went back to the makeshift barrier with the money in my hand.
When I got there I saw him standing behind his booth, as if he were hiding from someone. He was not such a tall man to begin with, but now he seemed to be trying to make himself even smaller. “Come over here, come to this side so the cameras can’t see me,” he whispered. At first I did not understand what cameras he meant. Perhaps a hidden camera for a reality show in which the audience can gloat over the suffering of frustrated seekers of parking…
“May I have a receipt, please?” I asked the hiding attendant in all innocence. “No receipts!” he said. “This isn’t a parking lot for just anyone, it belongs to the firm. You should thank me for letting you park here! They mustn’t catch me… “ I asked again, to see if I had indeed understood correctly what was going on. “But I need a receipt so I can claim back my expenses. May I please have a receipt?” “What do you mean, ‘receipt’?! There’s no receipt! Go on with you, quickly!”
I crossed the road and went to meet Yadin Kaufmann at a restaurant for local high-tech workers. Yadin, a long-time venture capitalist, is one of the pioneering investors in the Palestinian high-tech industry. While we sat together eating sushi and discussing some of Israel’s social challenges, I continued to muse about the attendant hiding behind the booth.
I tried to picture him in my mind – his background, the challenges of his life. He looked about 55 years old, thin and stooped. From his speech he seemed to have limited education but he was clearly not lacking in initiative. His salary must be very low, probably minimum wage, and his options for other employment would be very limited. He probably bears the responsibility for supporting the family. Perhaps he has children at university. Perhaps he has elderly parents dependent on him…
He must know he is flouting both his employer’s regulations and the State law. But perhaps the attendant in the booth goes home to watch the evening news, worn out from an exhausting day’s work standing in the sun and sitting in the stifling booth, and sees too many of the country’s elected officials and others of their ilk on trial and being convicted of embezzlement, or fraud, or bribery… and so our hero thinks to himself, “If they can line their own pockets, why can’t I take a little something – 10 shekels here and 10 shekels there – from frustrated people desperate to find parking? After all, there’s plenty of space in that lot. Really, I’m doing them a favor, the security cameras won’t spot me if I hide properly… and let’s face it, ‘they’ are all crooks. Why should I be a sucker?!”
The hero of our little story represents the most destructive result of corruption in the public sector: ordinary citizens, struggling to cope with the heavy burdens of taxation, army service, the rising cost of living and erosion of wages, look up at the high windows and say to themselves, “Why is it OK for them but not for me?!” Or, in the words of the Babylonian Talmud (Moed Katan 25): “If the mighty cedars fall victim to the flame, how can the moss on the wall avoid the same fate?”