Anti-poverty activist, Yisrael Twito, dies at 41

"A human shield for people who have lost their livelihood."

"We are fighting to return some humanity to Israeli society. We don't want any favors. People here want to work. People here sleep in buses and in the tents that you see. "The distribution of the country's resources is unfair, and we are here to act as a human shield for people who have lost their livelihood and their homes. We all have to unite and stand together to help our society, because it is crumbling from within. "The biggest threat isn't Iraq, it's the growing gap between rich and poor." These are the words of Yisrael Twito, the 41-year-old champion of the needy who died of a heart attack in Givat Shmuel on Friday afternoon in the bus he called home. Twito, who was laid to rest Sunday at the Segula cemetery in Petah Tikva, was found dead by his daughters Meital, 19, Shani, 16, and Zohar, 14, according to Ha'aretz. Twito became known to the public in 2002 when he set up an ongoing protest against poverty in north Tel Aviv's posh Kikar Hamedina. Twito renamed the square Kikar Halechem (Bread Square) and united many homeless and poverty stricken individuals and families under canvas. In a 2003 interview with The Jerusalem Post, Twito said, "Kikar Hamedina symbolizes what's happening in this country. There are unfortunates who struggle to survive on a monthly pittance that totals what a single ladies' handbag costs in one of these shops." Twito was born in Givat Shmuel, the youngest of four children to a Holocaust survivor mother and a father from Tunisia. He served in an elite Golani infantry unit, but following two training mishaps and a near-fatal car accident, Twito was released from the army without being recognized as disabled. He married and tried to support his wife and three daughters with a series of blue-collar jobs, but was fired several times due to medical problems. Twito's life as an activist began in the late 1990s, when the public housing authorities in Givat Shmuel refused to switch him from a fifth- to a first-floor apartment. As a result, Twito found himself and his daughters out on the street. "That was the worst moment of my life," Twito told the Post back in 2003. "I found myself thrown out in the street, broken, torn to bits, humiliated, all our things ruined, and with the realization that my daughters and I had no place to go. "I held on by my fingernails, realizing that if I fell apart the girls would be separated and they would never forgive me. I swore I would keep my daughters together. I also swore I would no longer serve as cannon fodder for the system." Twito moved his family into an abandoned bus, from which he sold pita sandwiches during the day. He began a series of protests, setting up a tent across from the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, and joined the disabled in their struggle in front of the Knesset. He also organized protests at the home of then-finance minister Silvan Shalom, and four times in front of prime minister Ariel Sharon's Negev ranch, even holding a Pessah Seder there. He regularly attended meetings of the Knesset's inquiry committee on poverty. According to the National Insurance Institute's annual poverty report, released on August 30, 20.6 percent of Israeli families live under the poverty line, including 35.2% of the nation's children.