Keren Neubach is angry. Not only did the government pass a drought “tax,” on water usage over a certain quantity, the water authority raised the price of water by 50% beginning in January. Yesterday Neubach invited three people to speak on her morning program on Reshet Bet about water policy.
Neubach and MK Ronit Tirosh of Kadima claimed the tax was pushed through illegally, bundled with the bill on the state budget. The money doesn’t go toward infrastructure or anything connected to the water crisis, like desalination plants. It was blackmail.
MK Yaakov Litzman of Agudath Yisrael complained about the effect of high water rates on poorer families. Even MKs whose grandchildren visited them over the Sukkot holiday were shocked by their bills. Neubach pointed out that families in lower-income areas are more likely to have poor infrastructure that causes leaks, and of course they suffer most if water rates go up.
So MK Tirosh advocated civil disobedience, advising citizens not to cooperate with the water authority’s request for the number of people in each household. She and Neubach also suggested canceling your standing bank order, delaying payment, deducting extra fees, and “flooding” the water authority with pointless questions. The idea is that the water authority would never dare cut off anyone’s water supply.
Well, fifty percent is a lot (although that may be closed to the “real” price of water). I have no doubt that the tax is flawed and perhaps illegal. I’m not sure about civil disobedience, though. Take it to court or get the law repealed. My son suggested we follow Tirosh’s logic and stop paying our electric bill, to protest the exaggerated salaries and pensions of the government monopoly’s workers.
Most annoying of all was the exchange between Litzman and a man whose name I didn’t catch. He had written an email (to Neubach?) about the effect of the tax on his household. He said that he decided to build a private house, “in a place no one wanted to live” (i.e. he was doing everyone a favor using all that land, although I somehow doubt the area’s property value has decreased). He added a large garden, most of which he allowed to dry up. Because they are only two people their water allocation at the normal rates can’t support the garden.
At this point Litzman interrupted him. “Tell the story! I read your mail and it was so touching.” Apparently, four years ago the man’s son was killed in battle, and the father erected a memorial corner in his garden. Now he is worried that the price of water will get so high that he won’t be able to continue watering the olive tree in memory of his son.
There are so many things wrong with this.
- You don’t build public policy around one olive tree, no matter how meaningful. Let MKs Tirosh or Litzman propose a law allocating water to preserve special projects.
- Let’s remember the soldiers who died protecting the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) in 1967 and 1973. Maybe saving it from ecological destruction will honor them as much as the olive tree honors that man’s son.
- Let’s remember the current and future soldiers who protect our land and water. I don’t want my sons to have to participate in some future “water war” because Israel let individuals’ interests get in the way of conserving our limited national supply.
- Litzman is charedi and presumably didn’t send his kids to the army. I bristle at a show of compassion for families of fallen soldiers from people who encourage their kids to opt out while others risk their lives to protect them. I bristle even more when they show compassion to someone who happens to be on the same side in a political argument.
There needs to be healthy debate about water policy in Israel. But Neubach didn’t invite anyone to present a view in supporting of current policy.
No policy will please everyone, and some people will be hurt more than others. That’s how it is whenever you have a tax, fine or rate increase. Neubach’s only positive suggestion was to give discounts to people who save water instead of fining people for wasting it.
I’m no expert on water policy. But I know enough to be disturbed by people who talk as if having as much water as you want at a cheap price is a God-given right. Israel has a finite amount of fresh water, and it’s time we started working together to find solutions.
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