I. Recently we received a notice from the National Insurance Institute (equivalent of the Social Security Administration) that we must pay back the child allowance received for two of our children for one year, since they have discovered evidence that the children were abroad for an entire year -- from July 1993 until August 1994. The wheels of the bureaucracy grind slowly... Unbelievably, I found the kids' expired passports in the back of a drawer, clearly stamped to indicate that they were out of Israel for three weeks in the summer of 1993, and again in the summer of 1994. I mailed back photocopies of all the relevant pages; I wonder how many years it will take for the system to respond.
II. Last week I paid a parking ticket that I received in December, for an offense committed in June. The parking enforcer in Tel Aviv took down my license number and filed a report of my offense without putting any kind of ticket on the car itself. The bureaucracy then slowly processed the report and mailed me the ticket six months later, giving me another two months to pay. There is of course no possibility of contesting the conviction, as there are five drivers in our family -- how can I ever reconstruct who might have driven to Tel Aviv on that day, and where they parked when?
III. Last year, I received a speeding ticket in the mail, four months after the offense; a few days later, I received another, for the same speed trap in the Karmiel industrial zone, issued a week after the first. This time we were able to reconstruct our travel history, and figure out which family member may have committed the offenses. The irking thing, of course, is that had the driver been issued a ticket on the spot, s/he would almost certainly not have committed the same offense again a few days later in the same place; with this system, the police could have issued daily tickets for the same offense by the same driver in the same place for months before s/he became aware of it. Legal. But it seems unfair, and not so helpful in deterring offenses.
Both of these practices, which are the norm here, leave one with a strong sense of helplessness; somehow the inefficiency of the system gives the citizen the feeling of being taken advantage of, with no recourse. Of course, one could begin a campaign against the system, contesting convictions in court for lack of due process or something, but it would take a huge investment of time and energy and might well fail -- and, after all, there are so many more important things to fight about...
IIII. Yesterday I accompanied a local high school group on a visit to the National Police Academy as part of a seminar on law and justice. As part of the tour, we were shown an anti-drug video, in which the police stake out a schoolyard, and observe a teen apparently involved in a drug transaction near the fence. Suddenly an unmarked car screeches to a halt and two thugs grab the kid and stuff him in the back seat. They are, of course, cops, who take him to an interrogation room straight from the movies (movies about third world countries), where he is denied any contact with his parents, a lawyer, etc. The movie ends with the kid still protesting his innocence while contemplating the dire consequences that await him if he either admits to a crime or refuses to admit to it. I don't know how effective the film was in discouraging drug use, but it certainly was effective in teaching the kids to wonder about the principles on which the legal system operates here.