As reflected in the word apocalypse, which derives from the Greek apokalupsis – disclosure or revelation – emergencies are a type of X-ray that exposes the strengths and weaknesses of states and societies. By nature, emergencies mandate a significant deviation from a society’s routine activities and ways of life. The scope of the deviation and the harm imposed on the society, as well as its ability to cope with such situations, are determined in part by the society’s level of readiness and the thought and organization invested in preparing for potential crises.
Extreme and exceptional situations inherently involve uncertainty. Their causes – earthquakes or other natural disasters, climate crises, the outbreak of epidemics, massive enemy attacks on civilian population centers, regional or global economic crises, and more – and their occurrence are difficult to predict. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great uncertainty surrounding the nature and origins of particular kinds of emergency, each obviously requiring different types of response, these situations share common characteristics. This document aims to address the common features of emergencies, focusing on the value-related, cultural, and social questions they engender, and to chart a response to these questions.
The committee’s recommendations relate to these questions and do not directly pertain to the organizational and administrative issues they entail, such as staff work, coordination between various bodies, and so on.
The committee identified and addressed four principal issues that together constitute a platform for different emergency contexts:
A. Trust and Emergency
Emergencies often require mobilization of the entire society to contend with the challenges they bring. The success of such broad cooperation depends among other things on the degree of trust between citizens and policymakers and among the communities and individuals that comprise society. So, how do we foster the public trust that is critical for widespread collaboration in times of emergency? And how do we prevent that trust from eroding?
B. The Value of Life vs. Economic Considerations in Times of Emergency
Tensions arise during emergencies between the tremendous urgency of saving lives and the ability of the health system to function, on the one hand, and economic needs with extensive social and psychological repercussions, on the other. How should we balance these tensions? How does an emergency affect economic reality? And what are the patterns of preparedness for this effect?
C. Economic and Social Disparities in Times of Emergency
Health, economic, social and educational burdens are not evenly distributed among all sectors of the society, and some population groups are more vulnerable than others in emergencies. So, how do we prepare fairly and appropriately in light of these large disparities? Moreover, cultural differences among the various communities that comprise the society have a significant effect on their respective responses to emergencies. How should we take these differences into consideration in designing an informed policy?
D. Emergencies and Individual Rights
Emergencies sometimes require imposing restrictions on civil liberties, monitoring citizens’ various contacts with their surroundings and acquiring up-to-date information on their condition. How do we weigh the important interest of protecting the public and contending with the emergency, on the one hand, against civil liberties and the protection of privacy, on the other?
While this document discusses each issue separately, they are all linked: The question of the value of life as against economic considerations is intertwined with that of economic and cultural disparities in times of emergency; and fostering trust and cooperation must sometimes take into account the cultural differences that create disparities in access to information and in sources of authority. The balance between protecting the public and maintaining individual liberties is connected, among other things, to the scope of the harm to human life and health and the extent of the economic harm caused by the crisis. In discussing the various topics, the internal connections between them are taken into consideration.
The committee was formed in the midst of the turmoil and distress elicited by the COVID-19 crisis. Consequently, the pandemic is referenced in the discussion of all four of these issues. However, most of these questions, which were addressed from a broad perspective, are relevant to other types of emergencies as well. We hope, therefore, that this document may be useful to the State of Israel in preparing for the challenges of future emergencies.