Dep. minister: Social protests shift focus to weak,

July 24, 2012 03:06

Two southern residents attempt self-immolation. Police, guards prevent both men from harming themselves.

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Magen David Adom ambulances [file]

Magen David Adom ambulances 311. (photo credit: Reuters)

The social justice protests, which were sparked last year by university students angry over the exorbitant rent prices in Tel Aviv, are moving in a new direction by taking up the cause of the weak and struggling, Gila Gamliel, deputy minister for the advancement of young people, students and women, told The Jerusalem Post Monday.

Gamliel, who spent last summer meeting with student protest leaders and has followed up on some of their demands, said that several key steps taken by the government have eased the burden on students – allowing them to focus their energies on helping those facing deeper social and economic problems.

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“We addressed many of their [the students’] problems this year,” said Gamliel, highlighting steps to create affordable student housing and provide discounts on public transport, paid maternity leave for those in higher education and other financial aid.

“Now they have more time to fight for the weaker people and get involved in influencing the decisions of the state,” she observed, adding that it is time for the government to create new public housing and disperse existing impoverished neighborhoods.

The Likud MK also said that it was time for the government to “think outside the box” to find a solution to all the social problems highlighted over the past year and especially over the past few weeks, after two individuals set themselves on fire in protest and several others attempted to do the same.

“It is time for the government to respond,” she stated, adding that there needs to be a way to create hope for those who are desperate enough to commit suicide in this way.

On Monday, two men reportedly attempted to set themselves alight to draw attention to their financial struggles.

While neither of the men – a 47-year-old from Netivot and a 65-year-old from Ofakim – succeeded in striking the match, the acts follow in the footsteps of social justice activist Moshe Silman, who set himself aflame during a social justice protest just over a week ago.

Silman died of his wounds on Friday.

Since the story of Silman – a 57-year-old Haifa resident whose debts to the National Insurance Institute (NII) left him desperate and nearly homeless – gained attention, a growing number of people in similar situations have threatened to duplicate his act.

On Sunday, 45-year-old Akiva Mapiai succeeded in setting himself on fire in Yehud.

He is currently being treated at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer for burns on over 90 percent of his body.

Immediately after Mapiai’s case was made public, Labor chairwoman Shelly Yechimovich warned against the act of setting oneself alight becoming an accepted way to protest.

“[Silman’s] suicide cannot be allowed to become a legitimate act of protest,” she said. “Taking one’s own life is an extreme and awful act and it cannot be idealized.”

Meanwhile, the Welfare and Social Services Ministry and the NII announced Monday that a new helpline aimed at providing emergency assistance to those who can no longer cope with their economic situation is now up and running.

The helpline (02-646-3333) will be operated during the daytime and will allow callers to leave a message at night. The goal is to find a more immediate solution for those facing housing problems or financial distress, or caught up in impossible bureaucracy.

Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.

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