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The Benefits of Victimhood

Witness to a terror attack (G.F. Photos)

The unprecedented number of terror attacks perpetrated against Israelis in recent years has given rise to a plethora of victims’ support groups.

Approximately 900 Israeli civilians have been killed in the past four years, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

As such, a wealth of resources and options are available to Israel’s thousands of terror victims – people who have survived terror attacks and the families of people killed – both in the public sector and through many private organizations.

In theory, Israel’s National Insurance Institute (NII) provides people injured in terror attacks with medical and psychological care, a social worker and rehabilitation. Some people are paid a regular stipend for their whole lives, depending on the degree of injury, according to Nachum Ido, spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Social Welfare, which is responsible for the NII.

Some people receive enough monetary compensation from the NII to live on. The NII’s spokesperson was not immediately available for further comment.

According to Ido, because of the massive increase in the number of victims of terror in recent years, the government has become more “sensitive.” For example, a new law has been passed that provides specifically for children who lost both parents in terror attacks, a situation which has become increasingly prevalent, with entire families having been wiped out in certain cases, Ido said.

Aftermath of a bus bombing (G.F. Photos)

“It is the lack of contact between the government and population in this case which made us so overwhelmed in our work,” said Benjamin Philip, director of Hineni, a community center in Jerusalem, which among other things, runs support groups and activities for victims of terror.

Hineni is an independent charity, financed solely through private funds.

Many victims of terror (he refers to them as survivors of terror) didn’t know how to get in touch with help, he said.

The process of being officially denoted as a victim of terror by the NII is exhaustive and could take months, Philip added. “Some say that this is done on purpose so that survivors shy away and say ‘I don’t have anymore courage or strength to explain myself [again] as a survivor.’”

“I have heard so many times ‘I was very much hurt by the terror act but more hurt mentally by the NII,’” Philip said. Furthermore, the NII suffers from a significant lack of funds, he said, as do most of Israel’s social services these days.

Osnat, 31, was drinking coffee at Jerusalem’s Cafe Hillel when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up at its entrance last September, killing seven people. A single mother and head of a local nursery school, she was not physically hurt but suffered a mental breakdown, which left her uncommunicative and bed-ridden for six months.

She began to process her claim with the NII nine months ago and at publication time was still waiting for the department responsible for victims of terror to deem her handicapped. In the meantime, the handicapped department has declared her 75% disabled as a result of the terror attack, but because the former has not approved her case, she has not received any NII benefits.

“Hineni knocked on my door,” she said. They helped her realize that the state would take her 11-year-old son away as she was unable to take care of him. The Hineni workers begged her to participate on its trip to London in June.

“I came back from London on a high with the desire to make changes in my life.” With Hineni’s help, Osnat re-opened her nursery school this month.

As with Osnat, Hineni assists with costs of specific things that will help its members successfully continue living, according to Philip. They help people defray costs like university tuition, depending on the individual need, and send groups of young adults on trips abroad.

Hineni goes to great lengths to find people that have “fallen through the cracks, ” realizing that the NII does not and cannot provide for all the secondary and tertiary effects of terror attacks. “The majority of people start to suffer more from mental problems than physical problems,” Philip said.

However, Hineni does not hand out money directly to victims of terror who are not affected physically, he said. When this is done, Philip explained, “ I see a lot of people becoming shnorers, or personal fundraisers.”

Anonymous sources, some of them victims of terror themselves, have informed The Media Line that many victims of terror are skilled at asking for help. Many of them receive help, including things like massage sessions, from several organizations at once.

Recently, police arrested several people who were making the rounds of Jerusalem’s charities pretending to be wounded in a terror attack and successfully soliciting funds.

In 1998, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) voted to make The Organization of Israel’s Terror Victims (OITV) the official representative body of terror victims.

Ninety-nine percent of Israel’s terror victims are involved in the organization, said its chairman Yehoshua Cohen, a full-time volunteer. He is currently trying to make membership to the OITV automatic for all Israeli victims of terror.

Cohen said that as the legal representative organization, the OITV has “an intimate relationship” with the Minister of Social Welfare Zevulun Orlev. Thanks to the efforts of his organization, he added, victims of terror are now eligible for the same compensation as IDF soldiers killed on duty by law; in addition, victims of terror are now honored on Israel’s Remembrance Day, which until several years ago, has been a day reserved for remembering Israel’s fallen soldiers.

Zevulun Orlev (Ministry of Social Welfare)

As for the NII benefits, “the system works very well, especially in the last few years…the state does its best to help its citizens and it can’t always run smoothly.”

The OITV does not receive any funding from the government and functions on members’ fees and donations.

When asked about private organizations, Cohen said, “I embrace anyone who tries to help victims of terror, but the directors of those charities make profits from them – over 50% of the income goes to them.”

When Michel Elharar’s daughter Maya was killed in a car bomb attack in Afula in 1994, he felt there was no one to turn to and he founded the Organization for Casualties of Terror Acts in Israel. He said that his group’s strongest asset is that its workers (all volunteers) are victims of terror themselves and fully understand what the others are going through; “the heads of other organizations have had no personal experience with terror.”

Maya Elharar (Organization for Casualties of Terror Acts in Israel)

Receiving benefits from the NII isn’t easy, said Elharar, but “no one will say anything bad about the NII.”

There are always difficulties with specific NII employees, but “the door is a lot more more open than it once was.”

The Media Line requested to be put in touch with members of Cohen’s and Elharar’s groups but received no response.

“There is a need for improvement in the NII’s services,” said Ido. “We have to deal with them as quickly as possible and they should receive everything that they deserve [according to the law].”

“The organizations that really bother me are the ones that go around asking for donations, saying that victims of terror are poor,” Ido said. “That doesn’t exist. They play on people’s emotions, and even go abroad to raise funds.”

Monument set up by the Organization for Casualties of Terror Acts in Israel for the Afula bombing in 1994 (Organization for Casualties of Terror Acts in Israel)

All three organizations mentioned above receive donations from abroad (generally Europe and North America) and their websites are accessible in several European languages.

“For the most part, our victims of terror are all taken care of,” Ido said.

On the other hand, Ido understands the need for support groups on the emotional level that a government institution cannot provide. “We are very much in favor of them.”