Thirteen people were killed in Israel during the recent conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Two of them were residents of unrecognized villages without any shelters and one a person living in a dilapidated shack in Ramat Gan. The stories of Gershon Franco of Ramat Gan, Khalil and Nadin Awad from the village of Dahmash, Thai migrant workers Weerawat Karunborirak and Sikarin Sa-ngamrum, and Indian caretaker Soumya Santosh again show how poverty can be more lethal than other epidemics, especially in time of war.
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Franco, 55, was sick with cancer and was deemed 100 percent disabled; he had lost his parents and sister in recent years. He ended up on the street and lived on a National Insurance Institute allowance of 3,250 shekels ($1,000) a month and a small supplement to help with his rent. The aid he was getting was suspended after he became homeless. His friends found for him a dilapidated shack in Ramat Gan that had previously been used for storing tools.
Last week Franco died from rocket fragments that penetrated the door of the shack, which was not fortified, and wounded him in his upper body.
“It’s a place not worth a rent of 10 shekels a month,” Naftali Cohen, Franco’s friend, told Haaretz. “He lived in it only because he didn’t want to sleep on the street. At least he had a shower and a bed – the rest we were able to arrange. He didn’t interest the welfare authorities. He appealed to them a million times. I told him we would go to the Housing Ministry and he said, ‘Naftali, help me. I have no strength to fight.’ No one listened to him.”
Franco’s friends said his decline began after the money he inherited from his parent ran out. “He got some help with money from friends, including me,” said Cohen.
Franco was known to the welfare authorities. Until a year and a half ago, he was living in Givatayim and was helping his ailing mother. Sources in the welfare system said that he refused their help. One of them claimed that “For himself, he wanted nothing.” Eventually, a social worker from the Givatayim municipality recommended that he get a rental subsidy, but the amount he was awarded, starting last September, was just 770 shekels a month.
Dr. Gili Tamir, who hosts a program on Reshet B radio on how to qualify for government assistance, told Haaretz that rental subsidies are the easiest form of assistance to receive. “They look at your disability level, go the [government] housing companies and file an application. But the main problem is that no one explains how to do it. When you’re on the street, you become a marginal, invisible person who doesn’t interest anyone, except for your friends in the best case. There’s no agency that sees to you.”
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Khalil Awad, 50, and his daughter Nadin, 16, had no place to take cover from rockets. In their village, Dahmash, which has a population of about 600, there is no fortified area or public shelter due to legal disputes over the status of the land the village sits on.
The Sdot Dan Local Council, which is responsible for the area, claims that it has no legal authority to build facilities and rejected pleas from Dahmash residents seeking to have them built.
This week, when the Israeli ambassador the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, showed pictures of Nadin at the UN, as if to say that rockets launched from Gaza also kill Arabs, Dahmash residents were angry. “The government is hyping this death,” said Ismail Arafat, Nadin’s uncle and head of the village, who has been leading the struggle for legal recognition.
Recently, the High Court of Justice ordered the government to recognize Dahmash within one year’s time, but in the meantime the Awad family is coping with its loss, as well as with the purchase tax authorities, who refuse to recognize the damage their home sustained for compensation purposes because it was built illegally.
“The family will be compensated for the contents of the house and for its cars that were there at the time. But according to the rules, it’s impossible to approve compensation for the structure itself, which was illegal on the day it was hit,” the authorities stated.
“The family’s situation is very difficult,” said Arafat, choking up. “They live in my brother’s house, and it’s not a comfortable arrangement. My brothers’ children are traumatized. He was with them two hours before it happened. My only desire is that their deaths won’t end up being for nothing. I only want that this place to be recognized officially.”
Karunborirak, 43, and Sa-ngamrum, 23, were in a tin shack on Moshav Ohad when a rocket struck. The small shelters near them could not accommodate all the workers. Seven others were wounded – one remains in serious condition. Sa-ngamrum, who was married, leaves behind a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter. He came to Israel last month and had worked at Ohad only three days before he was killed. Karunborirak, who was also married, leaves behind two daughters, aged 13 and 21.
The previous week, Santosh, the mother of a 9-year-old son, from Kochi, India, was killed in Ashkelon. She had worked in Israel for eight years as a caretaker for an elderly woman. Like most residents of Ashkelon, she had no protected space in which to take shelter.
The three are not the first foreign workers to be killed in the south of Israel as a result of violence from the Gaza Strip: According to Kav LaOved – Worker’s Hotline for the Protection of Worker’s Rights and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, in December 2004, Jitladda Tap-arsa, 25, was killed by mortar fire at Moshav Ganei Tal in the Gush Katif settlement in Gaza. Narakorn Kittiyangkul, 36, who worked in the hothouses on the Ashkelon coast, was killed during the fighting in 2014. Foreign workers were injured in 2011, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
In light of these cases, in June 2019, attorney Michal Tajer of Kav LaOved asked the director of the Population and Immigration Authority, Shlomo Mor-Yosef, to immediately investigate cases in which employers risked the lives of their workers by leaving them without protection, to cancel work permits in such cases and publish the Home Front Command directives regarding the prohibition against employing workers in areas far from shelters in the relevant foreign languages.
Three month later, Kav LaOved also asked the head of the Home Front Comman, Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, to publish missile warnings in Thai, not just in Hebrew, Arabic and English. The requests were not met, and after the Thai workers’ death last week, the Population and Immigration Authority instructed employers in the south to coordinate all agricultural activity near the Gaza border as well as the transfer of any worker seeking to temporarily leave the area to work elsewhere.