After Celebrating the Heroes….What Then?
Good Samaritans, heroes in fact, are in the news for about a week. After the celebrations of their heroism die down, they and their families are forgotten. Journalist Liat Ron of Radio Tsafon kept in touch with the family left behind by Moti Ben Shabbat of Nahariya after he perished in the flood waters saving strangers he refused to abandon to their fate.
When she discovered how his family, however, was abandoned by the State, she decided to explore what happened to other heroes and their families. I bring you here the stories of three heroes from January this year, in chronological order, translated and summarized from her article in Globes. The last story is amazing and I bet you never heard about. For some reason, the press did not tell us about him.
The result of Ron’s work is a new amendment to the Duty-to-Report Law, quietly working its way to a first reading in the Knesset even as members of the Knesset are on their summer break. I will write about this bill in Part II of this article. First, let us see what it is based on. Prepared to have your heart-strings pulled.
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On Friday afternoon, July 3, 2020, Cheli and Michael Ben Zikri left the house in Ashkelon and headed out to Lake Zikim. They had separated two weeks earlier and that morning decided to get back together again. The lake trip, a pool of water in the middle of a pastoral desert oasis, felt like the ultimate romantic excursion. They set up a place on the beach and entered the shallow waters to refresh themselves.
A few minutes later, their moment of happiness turned into a wild nightmare. “The site was teeming with families with children, and suddenly shouts were heard,” Cheli recalls. “I saw them rescuing an older man from drowning right in front of us and after that children’s hands were waving just above the surface of the water. The father began screaming ‘my children’, and Michael immediately ran in. I tried to go back to the beach and fell into a hold that opened up beneath me and pulled me under in a kind of vacuum. When I felt like I had no more strength left, someone pulled me out.”
“I sat on the sand without understanding what had happened. … I looked for Michael. I was on the beach for an hour and a-half looking for him. I understood that they forgot him. When I saw the diving team I knew that was it. It was over. They told me they found him dead after 20 minutes.”
With his last bit of strength in the water, Michael had rescued a woman and three children. Members of the Al-Karem family from Hura… They were taken to Barzilai Hospital in mild condition. Michael Ben Zikri, 45 years old at his death, sacrificed himself in order to save others.
Heroes like Ben Zikri are few and far between. But each one of them “threw themselves on the grenade” without hesitating for a moment. As if there was no other choice.
Just like Moti Ben Shabbat, who acted in a similar manner on January 8 this year, when the flood waters raged in Nahariya.
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Liat describes how Moti (38) and his father, Danny, were watching the powerful forces of nature below the window of their apartment that night when saw that a number of cars were caught up in the flood. They heard screams and immediately ran outside.
After they had managed to help a woman and three children reach safety, they saw an older couple up to their necks in water in their car. A pick-up truck and fire truck went by without stopping to help. Moti and Danny saved their lives just in time. As they were going back to their apartment, they heard more screams. Moti jumped in to help the three people trapped and then Danny lost sight of him. The next time he saw him was in the morgue.
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The self-sacrifice exhibited by Ben Zikri and Ben Shabbat moved the entire nation. Elisaf Peretz, who lost two brothers in the army, wrote after Ben Shabbat’s death: “There are heroes without uniforms and without weapons, with no identification tag around their necks, without an official position. There are heroes among us, ordinary people who in a moment turn the whole world into a better place.” It is impossible to remain indifferent in face of the heroic acts of the regular citizens who risk their lives for people they do not know. The President announced that he would award Michael Ben Zikri with a citizen citation and the Minister of the Interior recommended.. giving Ben Shabbat a Civilian Medal of Heroism.
It appears that the state highly values Ben Zikri and Ben Shabbat. But what is infuriating and incomprehensible is the fact that they lack a legal status that provides their families with the financial and psychological aid that would help them cope with the tragic loss. According to the State of Israel, these heroes were injured in a work accident, as if they fell from scaffolding or a ladder, in spite of the extraordinary courage they demonstrated; their sacrifice would more aptly fit the category of casualties of terrorism.
But the families of citizens who gave their lives do not receive anything in comparison with families of terror victims. The latter receive expenses for burial, mourning and memorial, psychotherapy, support groups and other benefits such as discounts in certain taxes, rental assistance, and more. Which of these do work accident casualties receive? None. [And what is more…they have to prove to Bituach Leumi (National Security Agency) that they merit any assistance at all.]
Not only are the families of the deceased deprived. Those civilian heroes who survived have to live with the trauma and the injuries, some of them in serious condition, and here as well there is a huge gap between what would they would receive from the state, in a perfect world, and what they get in fact.
Servat Maaruf Tarkmaan (25) is one of these.
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Tarkmaan’s amazing and tragic story did not find its way into the public eye anywhere except in Ron’s article:
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On January 23 this year, a fire broke out on the first floor of a home in Jizr-a-Zarqa, the village in which he lives. A grandmother and three of her grandchildren were on the second floor called out vainly for help for many long minutes. Tarkmaan heard their screams and ran to rescue them. After he pulled them away from the dangerous site, the grandmother told him that another relative, who in retrospect is suspected of having set the fire, was still inside the house. Tarkmaan entered the flames at the exact moment when one of the electric appliances exploded. He was [seemingly] mortally wounded.
He apparently fell on his head and lost consciousness inside the burning house. Nobody knew he was even there, a relative says. Because the police blocked off the street, the ambulance parked at a distance. His uncle was frantic and shouted out that Tarkmaan was inside and the police did not let him enter. Another villager poured water over himself and went in, successfully pulling him out. Some men carried him, burned, to the ambulance. They put him into an induced coma and after 17 days he underwent a difficult operation. He was in intensive care because his heart had stopped pumping. A month and a-half later, he opened his eyes, his body bandaged and unable to talk because his vocal cords were damaged. He could only move his hands and his head.
“It hurts that nobody comes and nobody takes an interest. They said that the head of regional council came to intensive care, but we did not see him, and the social services agency did not send anyone at all. We are totally alone. We needed to fight for them to give us parking at the hospital because parking is so expensive.
…They simply forgot us. Servat is a hero. Nobody else would have done what he did.”
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Classified as a work accident, Servat does not get reimbursed for medical expenses and has no help with psychological treatment, all of which depends upon the decision of a medical committee and dealing with a bureaucracy he does not feel he can handle.
In contrast, victims of terrorist attacks, like injured IDF soldiers, have no need to face committees of any kind. In fact, Bituach Leumi initiates the contact and provides them with wide ranging financial assistance.
In responding to Ron’s article, Bituach Leumi claimed that they provide these heroes with the full compensation to which they are, by law, entitled, and confirmed that they are classified as work accident victims.
This is just the lacuna that the new bill, an amendment to the Duty-to-Report Law, seeks to correct. What is remarkable about this new bill, initiated by MK Michael Malchieli (Shas) is that it was endorsed by 40 MKs from across the entire political spectrum. Now, how often does that happen?
Feature Image Credit: screenshot from the FB post in the article.