After garage collapse, press finds failures aplenty
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Hebrew media review

After garage collapse, press finds failures aplenty

Papers see plenty of blame to go around for Monday’s deadly Tel Aviv cave-in, from corporate corner-cutting to official foot-dragging, and shine a long-overdue spotlight on Israel’s poor worker-safety record

Rescue workers at the site of a building collapse in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Rescue workers at the site of a building collapse in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

There are some tragedies that are unpreventable. Sharks will bite, earthquakes will destroy, hurricanes will wreak havoc. Then there are other tragedies, like the collapse of a parking garage in Tel Aviv Monday, that seemingly could have and should have been avoided. The cave-in dominates the print press agenda Tuesday morning, but as the dust settled – both literally and figuratively – following the first chaotic hours after the catastrophe, newspapers focus not on the dramatic scenes of death and rescue among the twisted metal and concrete, but rather on the preventability of it all.

While Israel Hayom’s front page hawks news of the “parking garage failure,” it’s Yedioth Ahronoth that leads the pack in assigning blame, of which there is plenty to go around, between shoddy building methods, poor worker safety practices and nearly no government oversight. The paper’s lead story, rather than being the hard news on the cave-in and ensuing rescue efforts – with five workers still thought trapped under the rubble when papers went to press — is instead an expose revealing the fact that the head of the company that was building the collapsed garage said in 2013 that he had forgone having an engineer – you know, the guy who makes sure the building can stand up straight – in favor of an architect on the garage project, since it would save time and money.

“The pictures coming out of the disaster in Ramat Hahayal yesterday were not easy. A massive mound of dust stood in the place where yesterday morning there was a four-story underground garage on the cusp of opening to the public. The needless death and hopes of rescuing trapped workers were disturbing – but no less so was the thought that the tragedy could have been prevented,” the paper leads off in its tsk-tskiest voice.

Perhaps most shocking is the fact that Danya Cebus CEO Ronen Ginsburg didn’t whisper his corner-cutting plan in some smoky backroom, but actually bragged about it to Yedioth’s financial vehicle Calcalist as a way of saving money for clients.

“In the public garage project in Ramat Hahayal in Tel Aviv, where we are the contractor, we took on an architect to manage it,” Ginsburg is quoted saying in 2013. “He’s up on technical, environmental and other issues and can solve them faster than an engineer, who is really just a technical person like a constructor who is responsible for making sure the building doesn’t fall.”

But even if somebody didn’t read Calcalist that day, there were more signposts along the way. Haaretz reports that in May a wall fell in the garage, injuring two workers, but work never stopped and no safety inspector was sent to the site since it was never reported to the Labor Ministry. The accident was not a one-off.

“Over the past six months, three serious accidents occurred at different Danya Cebus sites. Safety violations were discovered at other sites, one of which resulted in the launching of a criminal investigation against senior executives in the firm, which is one of Israel’s largest infrastructure construction companies,” the paper reports.

Israeli medics and emergency units work at a construction site where an underground car park collapsed on September 5, 2016 in the Ramat Hahayal neighbourhood of Tel Aviv (AFP PHOTO / GIL COHEN-MAGEN)
Israeli medics and emergency units work at a construction site where an underground parking garage collapsed on September 5, 2016, in the Ramat Hahayal neighborhood of Tel Aviv (AFP PHOTO / GIL COHEN-MAGEN)

Even closer to the collapse, the signs of coming doom were apparent, reports Israel Hayom, which says workers warned the garage was in danger of falling mere days before it did. The paper also quotes engineers who say the collapse was seemingly not an accident, but a technical fault.

“It seems something technical failed, for instance in how the concrete was calculated, the construction, the metal or the rebar. It could also be that the work was not done right and somebody skimped on materials,” the source is quoted saying.

Danya Cebus’s response to all three papers is essentially the same: it follows the law, has strict building standards and safety measures in place, and is doing everything it can to help the trapped workers and cooperate with the investigation.

It’s not just Danya Cebus on the line, though. Haaretz reports that there have been 325 deaths and tens of thousands of injuries on work sites in the last decade. Chief among the causes is a lack of official oversight, with just 18 inspectors for some 13,000 building sites.

If the statistic is shocking but readers are wondering why they are only hearing about it now, it may be because most workers are from the margins of society, namely Arab Israelis, Palestinians and foreign workers. In a column for Haaretz, Or Kashti asks if their nationality or ethnicity plays into the fact that government doesn’t seem to care much for worker safety.

“According to figures gathered by a coalition of activists against construction accidents, out of the 39 people killed in 2015, 12 were Palestinians, nine were Israeli Arabs and six were foreigners. The background of some of the victims is not known, but even so, 70 percent were non-Jews. The figure for the first half of this year, during which time 28 construction workers were killed on the job, is even higher – almost 90 percent,” he writes.

Even if the government doesn’t care much, builders will if the almighty shekel gets involved, writes Prof. Yehiel Rosenfeld, an expert in construction oversight, in Israel Hayom.

“The building sector needs to go through a radical change of genuine investment in both the important areas of safety and quality,” he writes. “In a fatal incident, there should be a huge financial cost, both directly and indirectly. If you can invest one shekel for something good instead of six for something bad, it will give people a sense of security and ensuring safety and production.”

Israeli rescue workers gather at the site where a building collapse on September 5, 2016 in Tel Aviv's Ramat Hahayal neighborhood. (AFP PHOTO / GIL COHEN-MAGEN)
Israeli rescue workers gather at the site where a building collapse on September 5, 2016 in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Hahayal neighborhood. (AFP PHOTO / GIL COHEN-MAGEN)

Yet even as the catastrophe exposed the worst in some, the tabloids are quick to point out that it brought out the best in others, namely the emergency crews and search and rescue teams working tirelessly to try and dig out victims, five of whom were pulled from the rubble alive Monday.

“It’ll take us 24 hours to get everything out of here. It’s possible there are air pockets, we already found a few during the rescue, but since we are talking about the collapse of a four-story building the chances aren’t high,” a source in the Home Front Command is quoted saying in Yedioth. “Despite that we are optimistic we will find someone alive. From our point of view, as long as we don’t know otherwise, they are still alive. We’re doing everything we can to reach them and we won’t give up on anyone.”

Putting a camera on Klarman

While both tabloids focus almost exclusively on the building collapse, Haaretz fills its pages with other news as well, such as a report (denied by Shas head Aryeh Deri) on a plan by ultra-Orthodox parties to outlaw all business operating on Shabbat, even small grocery stores in secular Tel Aviv.

On the paper’s page 9 is an expose by investigative reporter Uri Blau finding that among the right-wing media watchdog CAMERA’s funders are Seth Klarman, who cofounded The Times of Israel, and Israel Hayom owner Sheldon Adelson. The story, which importantly directs sunshine on who is behind CAMERA, indeed uncovers a possible conflict of interest and there’s little surprising about Adelson using his wallet to push his agenda. But the story does nothing to back up its insinuation that ToI is being used as part of CAMERA’s supposed war against Haaretz.

As founding editor David Horovitz is quoted in the piece saying, Klarman has no editorial input into the paper. If he has an agenda, I can attest the ToI staff doesn’t know about it and certainly does not toe it. If Blau wanted to find proof of ToI acting as a media watchdog, he could have looked no further than this column, which provides a critical (and hopefully entertaining) look at what is being reported in the Hebrew press without any agenda or bias toward any particular news outlet or ideology.

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