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Day by Day
by Judy Lash Balint
Israel Insider
January 3, 2003

Day to day life for most people in the western world is fairly predictable. Work, studies, entertainment, culture, economic and family concerns make up the lives of the average person. In Israel, we have all of the above--plus concerns that most westerners will never encounter.

Today, I ran into a Home Center store to pick up some motor oil. Strategically placed, just inside the entrance, was a five foot tall stack of boxes containing "Protective Suits." Next to the cash registers, a pile of rolls of adhesive tape blocked the way.

The plastic protective suits cost 300 shekel--around $63. They're not supposed to protect the wearer from paint splashes, but from biological and/or chemical substances that Sadaam Hussein might feel like tossing our way. Curiously, the suits are made in Israel but packaged in English. Information on the box says the gear is manufactured to Israeli army standards and are good until August 2009.

All Israeli citizens have already been issued a Protective Kit that includes a gas mask, atropine injection and explanation booklet. The newspapers have published instructions about how to prepare the shelters and what to take into the sealed room. Information sessions in English and Russian have been conducted by immigrant organizations (see: Getting Ready, archived on this website). Army personnel have begun visiting schools to teach students how to react and prepare for Iraqi attacks.

No one in officialdom has suggested that the public go out to buy protective suits, but with media hype at a high fever pitch, I wouldn't be surprised if there's a run on the items before too long. Yesterday, the Home Front Command decreed that every household should have at least 12 liters of water per person on hand. The commander explained that meant 4 liters per day for three days, in case the nation's water supply becomes contaminated.

In an interview on Channel 2 TV, the IDF spokesperson, Brigadier General Ruth Yaron told us that there would be a three minute warning in the event of an Iraqi attack. "The warning will enable the public to get into protected areas and wait for further instructions," she said. All well and good for those who have access to shelters (many shelters, unused since 1991 are home to mold and creepy crawlies. Others function as storage units, with no room for people anymore) but I'm one of the thirty percent of Israelis whose buildings do not have a shelter. Most of us live in apartment houses constructed after the Yom Kippur War and before the Gulf War. So it's off to the sealed rooms for us.

I'm trying to decide which room to designate as "sealable." The bedroom, which has two large windows and no food, or the kitchen, which has water and food, but a lack of sleeping accomodations.

Maybe I'll consult one of the local handymen who will come and seal windows and doors for a standard fee, arranged by the enterprising Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel .

Even though health authorities have recommended against vaccinating the entire population against smallpox, a national smallpox information center went into operation this week. More than one thousand people called the hotline during its first day.

Yesterday, a special pamphlet for senior citiziens began to be distributed through HMOs and community centers, instructing the elderly on such details as how to take medication while in a sealed room.

In other medical news, the Association for the Deaf in Israel has purchased more than 7,500 vibrating text beepers to be loaned out to those with hearing deficits for use in the event of an attack. The devices will notify the deaf when to enter sealed rooms, and when the all clear has been sounded. At Tel Hashomer Hospital, near Tel Aviv today, medical personnel staged a simulation to deal with victims of a non-conventional warfare attack.

Still, most official experts have deemed the threat of attack as fairly low . However, as one fifth grade teacher told me after a school preparation exercise: "It's better to be prepared than panicked."