Everyday life in an extraordinary place.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Israeli Insurance

This Postcard from Israel was originally written on 11 March 2000

Last week, my daughter took her gas mask to school.

When Liat first told me she was supposed to bring her gas mask to school so that it could be inspected to make sure it was still in proper working order, I was shocked. It was another one of those "Only in Israel" moments. This was not the kind of thing I had expected to have to worry about as a parent.

Of course I knew that we had the gas masks at home. In Israel, every citizen - adult, child and infant - is provided with a gas mask. Actually, the infants use a device more like a tent, but the purpose is the same. This has been the case since the Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein bombed Israel with conventional weapons, and threatened to also use chemical ones. In fact, for several years after that war, parents of newborn babies were provided with these tents before the mother and infant left the hospital. Periodically, the masks are inspected by the army to ensure that they will function properly, should the need ever arise.

So last week Liat and her classmates had their turn to hand in their masks. Because she has grown since we received her mask, she was provided with a larger one.

The masks are not the only security precaution you will find here. Ever since the establishment of the state in 1948,the law requires that all homes be built with a bomb shelter. Apartment buildings used to have large, communal shelters. Large public buildings, such as schools, shopping malls, office buildings, and theaters also have bomb shelters.

Nowadays, each apartment has its own shelter, which must also be capable of being sealed against poisonous gases (another new law since the Gulf War). The rooms look like any other, but the walls are constructed out of solid, reinforced concrete. A retractable heavy iron shutter closes off the room's only window which, like the room itself, has a regulation size and construction. The door to the room is also made of metal, with a heavy duty locking system.

Sometimes on the news we hear about residents of northern towns, such as Kiryat Shmonah, being sent to their bomb shelters while the Hezbollah* shoots rockets onto the city. And of course, during the Gulf War, people throughout the country spent a great deal of time in these security rooms.

Obviously, these are necessary precautions that everyone hopes will never be needed. But they are like life insurance for us, and are accepted as a normal part of the cost of living, just like car insurance. And in a way, that acceptance is the most shocking part of all.

* A terrorist group which operates from Lebanon, on Israel's northern border.

(c) Amy Samin

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