While I try to focus on the larger questions of Israeli-Palestinian relations, one of the things I appreciate most about Yudit Ilany’s OCCUPIED, is that she focuses on Israel writ small–the everyday joys and injustices that make Israel such a fascinating and distressing place to live. Yudit is a social worker and focuses with laser like intensity on issues of social injustice and inequality within Israeli society. Her blog is a treasure for anyone who cares about making Israel a better place for all its citizens.
Sometimes Yudit’s posts just break your heart. Life is so unfair and things can be so unjust in Israel especially for its children. Read The Jaffa ‘Heiress’ and try not to weep:
Intissar is seventeen, bright, funny, streetwise, the youngest of 10 children and until yesterday, full of hopes and dreams. A knock on the door of the small apartment where she lives ended those dreams. Her sister’s little 3 year old boy opened the door and several police men entered with arrest warrants for Intissar, her elderly disabled mother and all of her nine sisters and brothers (2 of them disabled as well). That’s 11 arrest warrants in one go.
Why? Because of debts, not even theirs. Debts they inherited.
The story goes back a long time. Intissar’s mum developed a mental disease, when Intissar was very young, a tiny toddler, and became unable to care for her children. Intissar’s father was addicted to to drugs and alcohol. The welfare department removed all children from the home and placed them in boarding schools. Intissar was only 2 years old when they took her from her parents’ care and placed her in a home, in order to give her a chance…
Intissar’s father died about 4 years ago. Junkies with alcohol problems don’t live long. After his death, all minor children were returned home by the welfare department. Their mum is still suffering from the same severe psychiatric disorder she’s had for many years, and not really able to care for her daughters. But Intissar is strong and in spite of many difficulties, she copes, somehow. But how can a 17 year old girl cope with her “heritage of debts”? Because that’s the problem here.
In Israel, when a person dies, and he or she leaves behind money or other possessions, these are shared by the inheritors according the the person’s last will or, if there is no will, according to the law on inheritance. BUT, if the person died owing money, his or her survivors inherit [the] debt. If the person owned a house, usually the house can be sold, the debts covered and the remainder shared among the family, the cat or dog or whoever else.
Yet, in Intissar’s case there is no home to be sold, there are no possessions. Her large family lives in a tiny public housing apartment in one of the worst slums in Jaffa.
…Their father was interested in one thing: getting high before cold turkey sets in. Over the years he made incredible debts. How exactly is only partially clear. Each time the water, electricity or phone were cut, he renewed the connection not by paying the bills, but by putting the new bill in the name of the next child of his 10 children. Thus, all of the 10 kids, while they never lived at home and were minors, ran huge debts at the various utility companies without knowing anything about it.
I do not exactly understand how the utility companies accept contracts made by minors who are not present at all. Minors who have been made “wards of the state” and are under the responsibility of the welfare department…There is an “inheritance” of over a million NIS shared by all of the family members, and arrest warrants against all, including minor Intissar (which is illegal, by the way) because of those debts.
This story reminds me of Bleak House and the family living together in debtors prison until one of them can work off the debt. But of course, Dickens story takes place in backward Victorian England. While this is the 21st century, right? The Torah says that the sins of the fathers must not be visited upon the children. How in heaven’s name can such injustice exist? Who protects the children? Anyone?