When Kay Wilson crawled out of the woods near Beit Shemesh after a terror attack on December 18, 2010 after two Palestinians stabbed her friend to death and left Wilson to die, she thought the worst of the terror was behind her. Thankful to be alive, though crushed by the death of her friend Kristine Luken, who was killed in the attack, Wilson knew the road to recovery would not be easy.
But she never expected that one of the biggest challenges in her recover would be the humiliation and daily struggle with the authorities meant to help her at National Insurance Institute (NII). Seven months after the attack, Wilson found herself shirtless in front of a medical committee as they callously measured the scars from the 12 stab wounds. Every centimeter, she noted sarcastically, meant she’d get another few shekels per month.
“It was heartless and so shocking - what kind of trauma does a person have to go through in order for them to find it really traumatic?” she asked.
The recent spate of self-immolations, starting with Moshe Silman on July 14, has brought renewed awareness on the fate of people struggling to live with dignity on National Insurance benefits, and the hopelessness they feel as they struggle with the uncaring bureaucracy and mountains of paperwork. Wilson said while she does not think she would ever take those drastic measures, she can certainly understand where they’re coming from. “The manner in which these people kill themselves, it’s such a desperate manner, their agony is so huge that even their suicide is proportional to their pain,” she said.
In Wilson’s case, it took a seven-minute hearing, during which the examining doctor “did not even get out of his chair,” for her to be pronounced 20% disabled and given a stipend of NIS 800 per month. After she appealed, they raised her disability to 29%.
“When you take a tape measure and measure someone’s wounds because it’s about square centimeters, it shows how the system has been corrupted,” said Wilson on Monday. “You want to believe the country is for you. People say ‘you’re such a hero!’ I don’t need that, I need help with my day to day life.”
Wilson is adamant that she’s not looking for a handout. The illustrator/musician/tour guide wants to go back to work and is slowly easing back into guiding, a job that she loves. But the terror attack has made her wary of taking tourists into Arab areas, and she has trouble sleeping at night so can’t keep a regular schedule. It’s difficult for her to find work with a company, who try to be understanding but need more reliable tour guides. Just recently, Wilson started playing the piano again for charity events. But her unemployment check of NIS 3,600 plus her disability check of NIS 800 means that Wilson is constantly struggling and falling deeper and deeper into debt.
Hundreds of people have protested outside of the National Insurance Institutes in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem following Silman’s self-immolation and death, and seven people have set themselves on fire or threatened to do so in the past week as a result of economic woes.
“Medical committees in the National Insurance are very complicated with expert doctors in their fields, but they are autonomous from the National Insurance Institute and we have influence or connection to their decisions,” said the spokesman for the National Insurance Institute on Monday. He added that anyone with a specific complaint should turn to the NII.
“We distribute 70 billion shekel to millions of citizens every year,” he said. “We acknowledge that there are issues, but we are always improving our policies and services. The amount of complaints compared to the number of people served, in spite of everything, is small,” the spokesman added. He said there were no specific reforms planned in the wake of widespread public disapproval but the organization is “always in the process of improving,” he said.
But for Wilson, the entire system needs an overhaul, from the medical committees to the insensitive paperwork.
“Even when I get a letter from NII and it says ‘Dear Terror Victim,’ I look at that and I think good grief, I’m a terror victim -- its almost unbelievable,” she said. “They don’t understand what it is to get a plastic card that says ‘terror victim.’ They have no idea that they’re dealing with people whose life has been shattered, for them it’s just another letter in the mail.”
Wilson said her struggles to get the support she needs from the NII are almost worse than facing the terrorists in court. “The battle with [NII] is another kind of battle, they’re like Rottweiler’s they do not let go,” she said.
“With the court trial its horrible, but I knew that the trial is going to end and you can close the door and never have to see them again [the two terrorists were sentenced to 120 years and 55 years]. With National Insurance it just keeps going, it’s so difficult, it just never ends. I have to exert my energies in just trying to live. It’s another kind of terrorism to be honest, its emotional terrorism, and I know what terror is a lot deeper is than a lot of people.”