An Alarm Clock That Never Stops

Why is the income of bereaved parents so low? Because 85 percent of the bereaved parents are aged 65 and over. For example, bereaved parents from the Six-Day War are today around 80-90, and bereaved parents from the Yom Kippur War are around 75-80 and so on.

Last Tuesday, the Knesset plenum passed a not very festive decision. It extended the state of emergency prevailing in Israel for another year, and thereby also ensured that the state would enter its 60th year still facing an unending emergency situation. However, it must be acknowledged that in the state's 60 years, there were quite a few periods when there was no real emergency situation here.

It is doubtful, for example, if Gush Dan residents remember the last time there was a state of emergency there. It was most likely during the first Gulf War. But the truth of the matter is the declaration of a state of emergency has nothing to do with roaring artillery or falling rockets. It is simply a declaration of a legal status, by virtue of which numerous laws take effect.

Some, and only some, of the laws and regulations for emergency situations are directly connected to the security situation. Presumably the High Court of Justice would disqualify sections of these laws that affect human rights were it not for the emergency situation. So, for example, Israel places the Sudanese refugees in detention by virtue of the Law to Prevent Infiltration, an emergency law that is more than 50 years old.

Among the state of emergency laws that the defense establishment would have a very hard time dropping are: the State of Emergency Jurisdiction Law (arrests), which enables administrative detention, and the Authority to Search during States of Emergency and the Terrorism Prevention order, which is the basis for declaring organizations as terrorist organizations.

Among the emergency laws deal that have nothing to do with the security situation, Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin likes to cite the emergency regulation for supervising the price of car races. It will certainly be very useful when we have car races here.

As a rule, price supervision here is based on emergency regulations, as are back-to-work orders in the event of a strike. During the recent teachers' strike, they were issued back-to-work orders by virtue of the emergency regulations. And according to the weapons law, anyone who has not renewed his weapon's license can expect a sentence of up to six months in jail, but during a state of emergency (that is, always) he may expect a sentence double that amount.

Over the years, there has been some progress. Since 1996, the state of emergency has not been in effect continuously; instead the Knesset must extend it. That is certainly an improvement because it renews the debate every year. It also highlights the fact that there appears to be no end to the state of emergency on the horizon. Or as the chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, MK Tzachi Hanegbi said during a Knesset discussion on Tuesday: "Since 1996, each year, the Knesset decides by virtue of the situation that the state of emergency has yet to end, and we tend to extend this state of emergency annually in the hope that there will be some change in the future."

MK Haim Oron (Meretz) said in the discussion that the automatic extension of the regulations makes parliamentary oversight into a joke.

In 1999, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned against the state of emergency. The High Court of Justice at the time ordered the state to prepare a detailed work plan, including a timetable, for amending all the laws based on the state of emergency, so they could take effect independently. The state estimated this would take about six months. This assessment turned out to be unbelievably optimistic.

Beilin says that when he was justice minister in the Barak government (1999-2001), the ministry's main objective was to replace all the legislation based on the state of emergency and put an end to it. However, the Barak government did not last long enough, and since then Beilin says the efforts to amend the legislation have been minimal. According to him, the fact that Israel is still in a state of emergency is "embarrassing and childish. There is no other country like it in the democratic world. It's like an alarm clock that doesn't stop ringing."

Hanegbi noted that during the past year, the Labor and Welfare Committee replaced three orders with regular laws, and in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee as well, such amendments are making progress. According to him, the delay in replacing emergency regulations is not because of the Justice Ministry, but because of the slow pace of legislation in the Knesset. In any case, it seems that if the State of Israel does not declare ending the state of emergency as an objective, then it will likely also enter its 70th year while still in a state of emergency.

No less than 62 MKs signed a bill proposed by MK Limor Livnat (Likud) to cancel the income test covering compensation for bereaved parents. Deputy Knesset Speaker Majali Wahabi (Kadima) also submitted a similar bill. On the eve of Memorial Day, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert even announced his support for canceling the income test. Nevertheless, when Wahabi and Livnat presented their bills for discussion on Wednesday, the cabinet opposed them.

In the end a compromise was reached. The bills will be presented for discussion in two weeks to the ministerial committee on legislation, approved there and sent to the plenum for a preliminary reading. Then they will wait for another month or so in the committee until the approval of a similar cabinet bill. In other words: In a Knesset, where coalition discipline is so weak, and in a state where bereavement is still a sacred cow, the bill's chances of passing appear not bad. Now the only thing left to do is to check whether the amendment is completely justified.

Some 22,500 Israel Defense Forces soldiers were killed over the years, but only 12,500 bereaved parents are still alive according to data from the Yad Labanim organization. The cost of canceling the income ceiling is estimated at around NIS 80 million. However, the rights of victims of terrorist actions are the same as the rights of IDF fallen and therefore an additional cost is expected. The reason for the relatively low cost of the bill is that 70 percent of the bereaved parents are already receiving the maximum sum because their income is very low. Therefore, the bill will increase the compensation of only 30 percent of them.

Why is the income of bereaved parents so low? Because 85 percent of the bereaved parents are aged 65 and over. For example, bereaved parents from the Six-Day War are today around 80-90, and bereaved parents from the Yom Kippur War are around 75-80 and so on.

Every set of bereaved parents receives minimum compensation of NIS 1,060 a month. The sum can reach as high as NIS 5,600 based on the income test. But those who want to receive a larger sum must go through a lot of bureaucratic red tape, which for the elderly is very difficult and exhausting. Avner Badihi, a bereaved parent who is active in the struggle to cancel the income test, says that if the same child had been killed in a car accident, the parents could have sued for and won a sum that is five times greater. According to him, "the state has to budget the war and that includes munitions, fuel and human lives. It's inconceivable to say people are worth nothing."

Livnat feels the income test is unnecessary, especially after it was canceled with regard to widows. "There is no value to the death of a son," she says. She notes that a committee headed by Yaakov Neeman determined in 2005 that the income test should be canceled but the state did not implement the recommendation. "Bereaved families met now and again with Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Prime Minister Olmert, and nothing happened."

Even well-to-do parents who suffer such a loss, says Livnat, are sometimes no longer able to work because of the tragedy that befell them and may even require treatment.

Yad Labanim is leading the fight to equalize the allowances. The information sheet of the association Justice for the Families of the Fallen attacks this fight and argues that it is being waged on the backs of bereaved parents who lack an income and are elderly. Instead of quintupling the allowances for financially solid bereaved parents, the association says, the aid to the elderly should be increased, inter alia, in the areas of care. The association argues that canceling the income test will not create equality; rather it will increase the gap between the comfortable bereaved families and those who are poor. "Don't be a party to the oppression of the weak bereaved families," they wrote.

Badihi says in response that even the elderly bereaved parents of little means once had an income. According to him, canceling the income test will enable bereaved parents with an income to save and not face financial distress in the future.