Army widows decry state insurance policy as unfair

Although she is approaching retirement, nurse Sara Baharav, 62, is working harder than ever to make ends meet. She often offers to work the night shift, even though she finds it tiring, and she even works exhausting 24-hour shifts to earn much needed overtime pay. A widow since her husband fell in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Baharav told The Jerusalem Post Sunday that 33 years ago, she never thought she would be spending her golden years struggling with mounting bills. Much of her difficulties, she said, stem from the fact that unlike most army widows, she never received a life insurance payment from the army after her husband was killed in action. Ever since 1950, army widows had been paid a monthly pension, but it is not enough to support them or their children. "The army came to our door and asked him to go with them. He went in good faith and fought to protect the country, but the country still has not given him anything back," said Baharav. She said she had to sell her apartment and rent a cheaper one to provide for her children. Baharav is one of approximately 900 widows of reservists who have been denied life insurance payments by the Defense Ministry. Since 1950, every soldier killed in battle has received financial compensation from the state. However, while professional soldiers are provided special life insurance policies because the army is their career, reserve soldiers are expected to take out life insurance on their own. "I questioned his civilian life insurance policy after he died but they said I should have read the fine print, which stated that those who die in the army are not entitled to a payout," said Baharav. "I did not have time to deal with it then, I was taking care of two small children and working round the clock to make ends meet." In 1980, a question arose as to why the families of career pilots and navigators who are killed should receive more compensation than those of reservists. Then-defense minister Ezer Weizman, himself a former IAF commander, decided to initiate a one-time payout of NIS 300,000 for families of reserve pilots, retroactive to 1954. He said that reserve pilots serve many days a year and that their mission is more dangerous than that of other soldiers. This imbalance was partly addressed by a 2002 law, but that one-time payout to widows of ground force reservists was only retroactive to 1999. Widows such as Baharav together with the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization have been fighting to have that law changed in include all army widows. The High Court of Justice rejected a petition on the subject January 2005. The court said that while the job of IAF reservists was no more important than that of other reservists, the state could not afford such a large retroactive payout. Dr. Sara Shalev, an army widow whose husband was killed in 1969, disputed that decision. "The judge ruled against us saying it was a question of money, but it is not up to the judge to decide how much money the state can afford. There is no justice here, it is not simply not fair." Now retired, Shalev spends much of her time writing to Knesset members, judges and other figures of authority in an attempt to have the decision overturned. "To think that a High Court judge in Israel sees the death of one soldier in the defense of the state as less worthy than the death of another soldier is difficult to believe," wrote Shalev in a letter sent to President Moshe Katsav and others immediately following the court ruling on January 25, 2005. Rahel Goldman, whose husband was killed in the battle for Jerusalem during the Six Day War, said that for her this inequality was an "open wound." "I have worked hard to come to terms with his death, but the fact that widows of Air Force reservists do receive compensation and we don't leaves a very bad feeling within me. Was my husband, who fought to free Jerusalem, less worthy than a pilot?" said Goldman. "My husband went into battle with one thought, 'to save this country.' If he knew that the state was not treating his wife and child the same way as other soldiers who fell, I am not sure that he would have done what he did." The Ministry of Defense said Sunday that despite the High Court ruling, together with the Finance Ministry it was willing to pay NIS 85,000 in compensation, in installments over the next ten years, to all the army widows in question. However, Shlomo Turgeman, legal adviser to the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization, said paying the money in installments would not help many of the widows, who are now quite elderly. "Ten of the women have already passed away since the High Court hearing in January," said Turgeman. "One women is dying of cancer and needs money to pay for medicine now." "Could it be that there are first and second class army widows? Widows of those killed in the Air Force are worth more than those who died in the tanks or in parachute units?" " asked Baharav. "I am not crying. I am proud of what I have achieved. I just think that we should receive the same that other army widows receive."