The March 28 paper Jerusalem Post carried an interview with Ron Cohen by Lidat Gravé-Lazi, The Jerusalem Post’s education and social welfare reporter: Construction industry in Israel very problematic, says Labor Ministry official; Occupational-safety head says country seriously lacks work supervisors. It only dealt with the need to upgrade laws, inspectors, fines and repercussions for violations of safety.
The next day, I found a JPOST EDITORIAL: CONSTRUCTION SAFETY which added statistics (international comparisons) and asked: who will take up this battle for the powerless workers against the powerful building companies.
Let me add eight more points.
These three preconditions should work preventative and help redress:
- The State of Israel was founded on Socialist principles. It is extra grave that in such a country workers’ safety would be insufficient.
- Jews know the value of life. We don’t say that we just suffer in this world on our way to Paradise which would make it all worthwhile. This world is a gift in itself to be enjoyed and in a way more valuable than the Next World. Here we can elevate our morality – after death we can’t. We should be more shocked about death than anyone, and in fact it seems we are. (Not that others don’t hurt when a loved one dies.)
- The rabbis of old tell us that one of the scandals of the building of the Tower of Babel was that when a stone would fall down, the builders regretted the loss of such a wonderful stone, but when a worker would fall off the construction, no one cared. That is meant as a reproach of such practices in general: praising the “wonderful shape of the economy” while not caring about poverty in the population. How true today! Moreover, a building story must bear on the building industry.
There are at least five more factors that help create the mess that are not named in the above two bold JPost articles:
- Israeli culture is sloppy. A real challenge for Swiss, German and Dutch immigrants, this relaxedness prevents stress but also endangers our health all day long. Watch your step, the typical Israeli tells you after you tripped.
- Centuries of non-Jews not caring about Jewish lives have taken their toll on the sensitivity of Jews regarding Gentiles. I’m sure that we still care more about other Nations than any other People on the globe. Look at how much we help other Countries and populations and how warm we are with tourists. However, while we care deeply about fellow (and not-fellow) Jews, we tend to be far less sensitive about the good fortune of “others.” On the flip side, especially non-religious Jews are more incensed about such callousness, because we know that this is not befitting. Yet, if so many Jews would die at work, we would have been less lax, sorry to say. (I’m sure anti-Semites would love to take this conclusion out of context, but being silent about it transforms my plea from hopefully informative to propaganda, and I don’t want to mislead even a little.)
- Measures for workers protection are never welcome by most workers. A helmet is bothersome. Gloves are uncomfortable. Face masks are disturbing. In every country, safety measures need to be enforced on the workers by the employer and the employer by the state, or they will not be heeded. Workers learn too good that they are inferior and replaceable. (And don’t blame the victim of oppression.)
- Religions and other thought systems than capitalism could increase workers’ feelings of self-worth. Unfortunately, they can also diminish them. Regular Muslims think that G-d is so powerful, that they have no choice, it’s all supposedly decided from On High. In the East, the idea about Predestination is strong too. Most workers at building sites are Muslims and Asians. (And European Christian are taught that this vale of tears is not that important.) We need to teach them the Jewish notion of Free Will: that G-d decides but takes into account what we try to do and that every minute of life is priceless. We all have decisive powers Above!
- Many regular Israeli Jews see workers on building sites. How difficult is it to grab a bottle of water, a thermos with tea, a few cups, some cookies (not during the Ramadan – this year about May 26 – June 25), and have tea with them. (They will fear to be poisoned if you don’t partake yourself. If you are a woman, make sure that they don’t misunderstand your intentions; go with a friend or stay in public view.) Then, in a friendly chat, ask them: don’t you have a helmet, gloves, masks? Do you know what will happen with your loved ones when you (literally) drop dead? You can add a piece of Jewish advertising saying: the rabbis teach us not to complain to G-d about injury after you refused to protect yourself. Even if not all would shape up after that one time, the fact that you showed that you care and your smile might have far-reaching consequences eventually. And you can repeat this until it helps. (Ah, you don’t speak Arabic, Romanian, or Chinese? I need to tell Jews to talk with their hands? And cookies and smiles work in every language.)