Children go back to school. Photo by Flash90.
With just 17 days to transition from eight traumatic days of war to eight festive days of Hanukkah, Israelis set about picking up the pieces of their lives even before the November 21 ceasefire agreement ink was dry. Bouncing back quickly after disaster strikes is a hallmark of life in Israel.
Despite the relatively short duration of Operation Pillar of Defense, the financial and psychological cost was considerable. Estimates of total impact to the economy – including between $50,000 and $65,000 for each of the 421 successful Iron Dome missile interceptions – range from NIS 1 billion ($240 million) to NIS 3 billion (about $760 million).
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Yet Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz predicts that the bills for fixing property damage, compensating parents forced to stay home from work while schools were closed, paying military reservists, national insurance payouts, income tax breaks for residents within 25 miles of Gaza, and other direct or indirect expenses will not cause significant long-term damage to Israel’s economy.
“In previous periods of confrontation, the impact on the economy was generally contained, and the Israeli economy demonstrated its ability to recover quickly,” according to a statement from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor.
“As the local economy continues to be underpinned by strong macroeconomic fundamentals, it has learned to endure and even thrive in times of crisis.”
Israel’s capital market and stock exchange operated normally during the November 14-21 conflict; most factories in the confrontation zone continued to operate under rocket threat; Ben-Gurion International Airport, Ashdod and Haifa ports were open for business; and roadways and communication networks were up and running. A leading Swiss bank even inaugurated new offices in Tel Aviv in the midst of the war.
The emotional damage is, of course, harder to assess.
Khaya Dinsky, a schoolteacher in hard-hit Ashkelon, tells ISRAEL21c that she and her colleagues held baskets of candy at the doors of her reopened school on Friday, November 23. “A lot of the children smiled and you could see their bodies relax when they saw us standing there,” she says.
An Ashkelon schoolteacher’s view
The impact of 1,500 rockets launched from the Gaza Strip during those eight days is felt strongly in Israel’s southern schools, which must compensate for time lost, provide psychological services to traumatized pupils and teachers, and deal with property damage.
Dinsky notes that the Ashkelon municipality and private owners have been fixing whatever they can as fast as possible. “One kid I work with said a Grad [missile] fell in the playground he usually plays in, and now you wouldn’t know where it hit.”
While school was closed, the school website was the place to turn for homework assignments and chat forums. In the final days of the confrontation, all the teachers in Dinsky’s school called their students’ homes to ask about stress reactions and suggest where to turn for help. It was not only the little ones who were traumatized.
“The day we came back, one teacher was still too panic-stricken to leave her house, and another who has health problems stayed home because her blood pressure was off the wall,” Dinsky tells ISRAEL21c. “One teacher couldn’t stand because her legs were shaking, so she sat. For me, my problem is the 15-minute walk to school where there is nowhere to run if there is a siren.”
For themselves and their pupils, many teachers are using a program of coping skills, such as deep breathing exercises, developed for schools after 2009’s Operation Cast Lead.
Dinsky reports that only about a third of her elementary school’s 600 students returned on Friday, but by Sunday almost all were back in class. Filling in for the absent art teacher, she noted that half the children drew colorful pictures of flowers and butterflies, while the other half either drew angry faces or tore the paper.
“Two kids drew a line to show a fence, with a stick figure and flowers on one side and a large black figure holding a rocket on the other. They taped another piece of paper behind the guy with the flowers, which they filled with squares and rockets to show the Iron Dome.”
Myriad organizations and institutions are offering counseling to residents of the South and elsewhere, such as the University of Haifa’s hotline for callers experiencing anxiety, depression, and feelings of helplessness and loss of hope. The southern regional coordinator for OneFamily, a terror victims assistance organization, visited the injured and provided counseling also to more than 600 previously injured victims who were at risk of being retraumatized by the November conflict.
Tourism expected to rebound
Tourism industry leaders in Israel reported cancellation rates of between 10 percent to 20% during the conflict, and a slow-down on future reservations. But no scheduled airline canceled incoming flights and only a few charter flights were scrubbed.
The Tourism Ministry announced a three-month marketing blitz in key overseas markets. Foreign opinion-makers will be invited to visit, while photos and videos of happy tourists in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will be posted online.
Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov promised millions of shekels to help southern hoteliers and other tourism providers get back on their feet. Mobile tourism “incubators” will be stationed in towns and villages along the Gaza periphery. Special events are planned for the Ashdod Port to encourage cruise ships to dock there, and the budget for the February Red Sea Jazz Festival has been boosted.
The Where Else: Israel Tourism Convention is expected to open without a hitch at the Tel Aviv Opera House on November 29, to include 150 leading tour operators from the US, UK, Brazil, Canada, Belgium, France, Spain, Finland, Norway, Germany, Sweden, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Italy, Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, South Africa, China, India and Korea. Some of these countries currently have no tourism packages to Israel, a situation that may well change just eight days after the ceasefire took effect.