Monday, August 22, 2005

Bureaucracy As Usual

It's dispiriting to hear just how the Israeli bureaucracy is treating civilians forced to move from Gaza, even the people who cooperated and agreed to leave before the deadline. I keep coming across stories about how nothing at all suitable by way of living arrangements has been prepared for the evacuees moving with their children from settled homes. Here's one example from the Jerusalem Post:
Sigal Barda's family resided in Elei Sinai for 15 years. Her husband is a policeman, which tipped the scales for her decision to cooperate with the Disengagement Authority and thereby also spare her three children the scars of forcible expulsion.

However, the housing Sigal was promised in Kibbutz Or Haner isn't ready. The family was instead sent to a hotel in Ashkelon, where the Bardas arrived exhausted and emotionally drained. Yet there was literally no room at the inn. They were told to find other accommodations.

Worse still for Sigal, as she told The Jerusalem Post yesterday, was being made to feel as though she's seeking to rob the state coffers. Bassi's assessors haggled over every single detail of her claim, including declining to take into account the size of her Elei Sinai balconies, so as to award less compensation.

The content of the house was going into containers for which the state demanded she shell out NIS 7,000 or have it deducted from her compensation. It did her little good to note she hadn't initiated her eviction. Eventually she bargained down the price.

This is not an honorable way for a state to conduct its affairs.
Israeli bureaucrats have been treating citizens and non-citizens like this for years. In this situation, when they have done so little to provide help for the very people they are supposed to be helping, and are hostile and aggressive about the entire situation, making - for no reason at all - a horrendous personal situation worse.

These bureaucrats act like this all the time, in mini sadistic displays of power. I have my own personal, but far more trivial, experience with this. Once, on a trip from Turkey to Israel, I was carrying several rugs I had bought for myself to take home to the US because I wanted to enjoy them and inadvertently – really by mistake – walked through the nothing to declare line for tourists. The customs guy in charge utterly humiliated me, threw all my goods on the floor and went through everything ruthlessly. They took away my rugs, charged me a ton in customs fees before I could get them back before leaving and also made me pay to rent the space they held the rugs in while they were holding them hostage.

All this was a deeply unpleasant reintroduction to Israel as a tourist after a few years away, when I was so looking forward to spending time there again. You know that positive, warm uplifting feeling you get before you arrive -- well all of it went squash on the spot. I spoke to a lawyer there at length at one point about this situation, to see if I could do anything to reduce the charges. He told me that it's a racket for them, just a way of securing revenue since tourists make these inadvertent mistakes all the time – a fact they're well aware of.

After all, had I been trying to smuggle in those rugs, I hardly would have been carrying them in a huge bag that held only them.

Foreign journalists often complain about similar things. And one can't help but realize that all these little bureaucratic hassles do inform the image of Israel they are going to promote in their newspapers. An image that is resoundingly negative in the world press. Why make it worse just to feed the sadistic urges of some bureaucrats.

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