Woman threatens suicide at Knesset

Ashkelon mother of 2 is convinced to enter Knesset; protests gov't's neglect of her disabled children.

Knesset 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Knesset 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Knesset Director-General Avi Balashnikov succeeded where trained police negotiators failed when he convinced a distraught mother of two severely disabled children to end a three-hour long standoff outside of the Knesset building Sunday afternoon. Sima Revah, a windowed single mother from Ashkelon, arrived at the Knesset in the early afternoon, with her teenaged daughter in the back seat of her wheelchair-accessible van, and demanded entry to the building in a last-ditch effort to secure replacement wheelchairs for her children. But at the entrance, the situation unraveled, and Revah held a box cutter to her own throat and a gas balloon between her legs, threatening to kill herself and her daughter if she were not allowed in. Shimon Yair, from Activists for Rights of the Disabled, who arrived at the scene shortly after hearing of the standoff, said the woman had appealed to the Health Ministry over a number of years to secure special motorized wheelchairs for her children, both of whom are in their early teens. Yair described the case as "very severe" and said that at one point, the distraught mother tried to meet with Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri [Gil Pensioners' Party], but tensions mounted when he refused to meet her and she allegedly uttered an expletive against him. Following the incident, Yair said Ben-Yizri refused to have any further dealings with the woman. Yair also said that the reason that Revah had come to the Knesset Sunday was that her son had fallen out of his current wheelchair earlier in the day, breaking all of his teeth - an incident that Yair said happened because the wheelchairs provided for Revah's children were not the correct type. Revah remained in the green van at the Knesset checkpoint for over an hour after the standoff began, refusing to open the vehicle's windows to communicate with police negotiators. But at one point, she backed her vehicle out of the Knesset compound. After a second attempt at negotiation failed, she drove around the traffic circle in front of Israel's legislature, at one point cracking open the van's window to talk to journalists who were gathered at the scene. "They don't want to hear my name or relate to my children," she screamed from the window of her vehicle, the knife and a cigarette lighter clearly visible in her hands. But when she attempted to re-enter the Knesset driveway, she found a police car blocking her way, and rammed it with the van in an attempt to push it out of the road. Knesset director-general Balashnikov tried to plead with the woman to get out of her car. "Come with me, I'll help you," he said. "This time they won't disappoint you." Earlier, Balashnikov told reporters that Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik said any material requests from the woman would be answered. Among those working with Balashnikov to bring an end to the standoff were Religious Affairs Minister Yitzhak Levy and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai (Shas). Ultimately, Balashnikov's pleas won out, and Revah agreed to be escorted by the director-general out of the van and into the Knesset building, where she was provided with food and beverages. After some 90 minutes inside the building, she was driven back to Ashkelon in a Knesset vehicle, with a second Knesset employee driving the van, with her daughter following. Welfare and Social Services Ministry spokesman Nahum Ido said that Asheklon social workers were familiar with the Revah case and had described her as "provocative." Ido said that Revah received an estimated NIS 15,000 a month in special benefits because of her children's condition. He said that Revah had ordered two different automated wheelchairs which had been specially outfitted for her children, but that after receiving the imported wheelchairs, she rejected them as unsuitable. Ido said that Revah was receiving a number of special services and that her children, aged 17 and 19, were transported every day to a special school in Jerusalem at which their mother insisted they study. Ido added that after the recent Grad missile attack on Ashkelon, he had demanded that their house receive reinforcements against the rockets and that Revah had even met with a Home Front Command representative. The Health Ministry said Sunday that it regretted the "extreme step" taken by Revah. Ben-Yizri's spokesman, Tal Harel, said the minister and medical branch head Dr. Chezi Levy had both gone out of their way to help the mother. Two new wheelchairs were provided for her children, said Harel, but she trashed them, just as she had discarded a previous set of new wheelchairs. The mother claimed she wanted motor-powered vehicles for them, but the ministry said that after careful examination, experts had found that her children were unable to maneuver the wheelchairs and that such vehicles would have been "dangerous" for the children. The ministry, he said, "will continue to do all it can to find suitable solutions to ease the children's suffering." Judy Siegel contributed to this report.