Rafi Eitan 88 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Assailants who attack the helpless elderly are a scourge on society and must be weeded out, President Shimon Peres said on Monday. "They are not human. They are wild animals more dangerous than vipers or wolves. They have no place in Israeli society," he declared.
Angry and "ashamed" after having watched television interviews with victims of such predators, Peres gave his wholehearted support to a program to fight the phenomenon on all levels, presented to him by Rafi Eitan, the minister for Pensioners' Affairs and Dr. Avi Bitzur, the director-general of the Pensioners' Affairs Ministry.
Referring to what he had seen on the news, Peres said he was shocked that anyone would attack an elderly woman unable to defend herself.
"We were always taught to protect the weak," he said. "We cannot allow this to continue. This is an issue that affects the whole nation."
Bitzur, in outlining the program, said the ministry would not allow seniors to become punching bags.
In recent years, he noted, there has been a 30 percent increase in acts of violence against the elderly.
The elderly are victims not only of attacks perpetrated by strangers, but also of domestic violence.
"These are our parents, and we'll be in the same position in a few years," said Bitzur, adding that "'forsake me not in my old age' must become more than a line from Psalms. "It has to be our mantra."
The plan presented to Peres includes a host of proposals, tackling the problem from the community level to the justice system.
For example, it includes calls for more severe penalties to be imposed on anyone who attacks a senior citizen and the establishment of a network of pro-bono lawyers who will represent elderly victims of assault in court.
To address the more local aspects of the issue, the plan calls for the deployment of social workers throughout the country to deal with the specific issue of protecting the elderly, and for a public information campaign to alleviate the fears of the elderly and heighten public awareness of the issue.
One of the more innovative ideas proposed was the establishment of a Seniors for Seniors Civil Guard, alongside a security service for seniors to be serviced by Hashomer Hatzair, the Scouts, Bnei Akiva and young women doing national service.
Bitzur underscored that it was especially important for strong young people to be around the elderly on the 28th day of the month when they receive their pension payments, because that is the day when they are most likely to be attacked.
In addition, the ministry wants to explore the source of this surge of violence, and will organize a conference at the Kiryat Ono Academic College to discuss ways to prevent violence against the elderly and to enhance their sense of personal safety and security.
The conference will be attended by Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Eitan, Bitzur and officials representing other government ministries, alongside academics, social welfare authorities, police, the Union of Local Authorities, student organizations and senior citizens organizations.
Another, more public event, will be a gala concert of Artists for the Elderly at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv, to be headed by veteran prize-winning thespians Leah Koenig and Chaim Topol - both senior citizens themselves.
Eitan, a former Mossad intelligence officer and later Shin-Bet Chief of Operations, placed special emphasis on the Seniors for Seniors Civil Guard, saying that there were many seniors who, like him, were still capable of using a gun.
There have been approximately 2000 reported attacks against seniors over the past year, he said, and those who are potential victims of attack need to be defended. "We want to recruit as many seniors as possible who can still use firearms."
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