Magazine article Herizons

Israeli Godiva Mounts Protest

Magazine article Herizons

Israeli Godiva Mounts Protest

Article excerpt

(ISRAEL) In July 2003, Viki Knafo mounted a 200-km march to protest a government decision to cut single mothers' welfare benefits from $US 450 to $US 200 a month.

The divorced single mother of three left her home in Mizpe-Ramon-a small southern town known for its mass unemployment-and headed for the Israeli capital, Jerusalem. Along the way, Knafo was joined by other single mothers who marched on foot to join her protest camp. Feminist organizations accompanied her march, while they provided legal advice and funds.

The march ended with a demonstration near the office of Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who asked to meet with her. He proposed a plan based on incentives encouraging employers to employ single mothers-a suggestion Knafo called humiliating. Her demand for an increase in welfare benefits was firmly rejected. And so she continued to camp next to his office with the hundreds of women, social activists and feminists who had joined her fight.

Three years of intifada has nearly ruined the Israeli economy and the government has made drastic cuts to education, health and welfare to compensate. The cuts are seen as a cruel punishment to women. Mothers head up 90 percent of the 110,000 single-parent households in Israel. According to the National Insurance Institute, 87,000 single-parent mothers with children up to age 17 live in Israel.

The Ministry of Finance began a massive counter-campaign that portrayed single mothers as idle and greedy. The media began to lose interest and public sympathy eventually declined. Knafo, 44, returned home in December 2003 after occupying the protest camp for six months.

"The heat was unbearable," she recalled, "and we were dependent on food that charity groups provided. hotels in Jerusalem volunteered and offered us a place for washing."

Not one to give up easily, Knafo decided to up the ante last fall. …

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