Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word
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Who will milk the cows?

Israeli citizens (and the US administration) are stepping in to fill the breech left by a failed and clueless government
Former Israeli chief of staff and minister of defense Moshe (Bougie) Ya'alon milking cows under fire in Kibbutz Nahal Oz on the Israel Gaza border during Operation Cast Lead, January 2009. (Wikimedia Commons)
Former Israeli chief of staff and minister of defense Moshe (Bougie) Ya'alon milking cows under fire in Kibbutz Nahal Oz on the Israel Gaza border during Operation Cast Lead, January 2009. (Wikimedia Commons)

The kibbutzim on the Gaza border had crops in fields going right up to the border fence, and they have dairies, as well. Who stayed behind to feed the cows and make sure they get milked? Moshe (Bougie) Ya’alon, ex-general and former kibbutz member, reportedly helped in the past few days after a call went out to volunteers to go down and milk. (The photo is from 2009, but milking is like riding a bike. You don’t forget.)

“Even in 1948, the day after 20 members were massacred on my kibbutz, they managed to evacuate the cows to another dairy!” I yelled at the TV. Why are we leaving dairies next to the border, allowing people to risk their lives to keep them running instead of removing them to other places? (Having milked during previous wars, hunkering down in the dairy’s shower room during sirens, I’ve had a small taste of what that is like.)

“I offered to take in cows,” said the head of the dairy on my kibbutz, “but I was told there are no trucks to move them.” (I assume if they are milking the cows, they also need to get refrigerated milk trucks and feed trucks there. I’m not sure why milk trucks would get there, but not animal transport trucks.)

Along with the Israeli citizens living near the border, hundreds of foreign agricultural workers were evacuated. I am now getting posts asking for mattresses and a refrigerator for some of these workers, who have been moved to a kibbutz farther north. In fact, every other Facebook post is a request for donations, some from organizations that have sprung up overnight. Help those evacuated from the kibbutzim and Sderot! Help Bedouin in the Negev who are living under fire and are not getting evacuated anywhere! Buy raincoats for soldiers! Donate to Magen David Adom! Once again, citizens are volunteering and donating where the government should have stepped in by now.

In the meantime, a request for immediate financial assistance to families of hostages was turned down in the government. Businesses that have had to close because of the war have no idea how they will manage, and the government is not offering any clues. As far as the government seems to be concerned, it is business as usual. They are warning us it may be a long war, but until now, we have had few clear directives, outside of getting to shelter when the siren goes off. Many workplaces and businesses seem to be on COVID-lockdown standing; we are rattled enough that even Tel Aviv residents – people known to sit and sip coffee in street-side cafes in all circumstances — are keeping close to their safe rooms or fleeing the city.

The government ministers have been mostly muzzled, apparently for good reason. Our Communications Minister, Shomo Karhi said, on camera, that the government had nothing to apologize for. In any case, he said, the Hamas only attacked with some motorcycles and carts. He later retracted the non-apology, but much more infuriating is the fact that we have a communications minister who apparently has no idea what really happened on October 7 on the Gaza border. When ministers do speak to the press, they speak from scripts that obfuscate rather than enlighten. “I spoke to some families of hostages. We are doing everything we can, blah, blah, blah.”

We are coping under the strain of services that have been consistently neglected, undermined or outright cut over the past few years, including health and police. The only thing we have heard from our health minister is that he wants to refuse to treat terrorists. Our treasury minister, Bezalel Smotrich, admitted failure to protect the residents living near the Gaza border, and in return, he was given the position of heading a “war economy council.” More and more, we are hearing news of the various ministries’ failures to keep up with the needs of the country, committees that are not meeting, and ministers who continue to squabble among themselves.

The funny (not ha ha) thing is that things are more or less working, with or without the government. Local councils are taking up the slack. People are volunteering — to pack food, play games with kids or take their turns at guard duty. A friend is going to hospitals just to sit and talk with people. The teens on the kibbutz baked cakes and brought them around. The army woke up on October 8, shamefaced but ready to call up every single reserve soldier in the country. The hospital emergency rooms dealt with the incoming wounded from the Hamas incursion with professionalism and without complaint. It was the local councils who decided to evacuate people from the Lebanese border in the North, without waiting for a government decision.

And when the vacuums are not filled from beneath, they are filled from above the top. Anthony Blinken seems to be our new unofficial Minister of Rational Management. Thanks to his insistence, the Palestinians who vacated northern Gaza at our urging are now to receive humanitarian aid. American generals are consulting. The press conference in which Biden and Bibi appeared together will not save Bibi’s skin once the war is over, but it will reassure us that someone is looking over Bibi’s shoulder, for now.

Still, I ask myself, as this war drags on (as we are told it will), will the Americans continue to prop up our government and keep an eye on our methods? Can we continue to count on Blinken to keep us in line? Will volunteers keep showing up to help, or do we actually need some government assistance from various dank corners of our bloated ministries? (The answer might be yes, and no. I’m not sure.)

In the meantime, I salute comrade Ya’alon for showing up to the milking parlor on the Gaza border (though his apron is suspiciously clean in the photo). But if we can just think a minute, a better move might be to prioritize getting the animal transport trucks down there to relocate the herds. There are tons of truly wonderful initiatives, but it might be time to be thinking about solutions, as well.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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