Israel is OCCUPIED

Well, not precisely. But I did want to introduce you to one of the most interesting and provocative Israeli English-language bloggers: Yudit Ilany of OCCUPIED. The images accompanying this post are from her terrific slice-of-life photo blog, occupiedimage. But before … Read More

By / August 1, 2007

Well, not precisely. But I did want to introduce you to one of the most interesting and provocative Israeli English-language bloggers: Yudit Ilany of OCCUPIED. The images accompanying this post are from her terrific slice-of-life photo blog, occupiedimage. But before I do, a word on Jewish blogging. There are a lot of us out there. And while some blogs are very popular very few get the respect they deserve.

The Jewish media pretty much ignore blogs entirely as a social phenomenon or news source. And they do this to their peril because many of us are both covering important stories and breaking news that no one else is. I regularly encourage news outlets like Haaretz, JTA and The Forward to do more to include Jewish blogs in their coverage of the Jewish world–with decidedly mixed results. And it's a shame. Because you won't find Yudit Litany's Israel on any UJA or Birthright Israel mission. You'll hardly find her in the pages of any of the Israeli dailies and especially not in the American Jewish publications I mentioned above.

If we want to truly see Israel as it IS, both its strengths and weaknesses, we must peer into the dark alleyways of places like Ajami and Yaffo. Otherwise, we'll only be seeing the economic miracle, the "only democracy in the Middle East." Not that there anything wrong with seeing Israel's virtues. That's part of the picture too. But not the whole thing. That's where OCCUPIED comes in. One of the things I appreciate most about it is that she focuses on Israel writ small–the everyday joys and injustices that make Israel such a fascinating and distressing place to live.

Yudit was once a social worker and focuses with laser-like intensity on issues of social injustice and inequality within Israeli society. Her blog is a treasure for anyone who cares about making Israel a better place for all its citizens. Sometimes Yudit's posts just break your heart. Life is so unfair and things can be so unjust in Israel especially for its children. Read The Jaffa Heiress and try not to weep:

Intissar is seventeen, bright, funny, streetwise, the youngest of 10 children and until yesterday, full of hopes and dreams.

A knock on the door of the small apartment where she lives ended those dreams. Her sister's little 3 year old boy opened the door and several police men entered with arrest warrants for Intissar, her elderly disabled mother and all of her nine sisters and brothers (2 of them disabled as well). That's 11 arrest warrants in one go. Why? Because of debts, not even theirs. Debts they inherited. The story goes back a long time.

Intissar's mum developed a mental disease, when Intissar was very young, a tiny toddler, and became unable to care for her children. Intissar's father was addicted to to drugs and alcohol. The welfare department removed all children from the home and placed them in boarding schools. Intissar was only 2 years old when they took her from her parents' care and placed her in a home, in order to give her a chance… Intissar's father died about 4 years ago. Junkies with alcohol problems don't live long. After his death, all minor children were returned home by the welfare department. Their mum is still suffering from the same severe psychiatric disorder she's had for many years, and not really able to care for her daughters.

But Intissar is strong and in spite of many difficulties, she copes, somehow. But how can a 17 year old girl cope with her "heritage of debts"? Because that's the problem here. In Israel, when a person dies, and he or she leaves behind money or other possessions, these are shared by the inheritors according the the person's last will or, if there is no will, according to the law on inheritance. BUT, if the person died owing money, his or her survivors inherit [the] debt. If the person owned a house, usually the house can be sold, the debts covered and the remainder shared among the family, the cat or dog or whoever else.

Yet, in Intissar's case there is no home to be sold, there are no possessions. Her large family lives in a tiny public housing apartment in one of the worst slums in Jaffa. …Their father was interested in one thing: getting high before cold turkey sets in. Over the years he made incredible debts. How exactly is only partially clear. Each time the water, electricity or phone were cut, he renewed the connection not by paying the bills, but by putting the new bill in the name of the next child of his 10 children. Thus, all of the 10 kids, while they never lived at home and were minors, ran huge debts at the various utility companies without knowing anything about it. I do not exactly understand how the utility companies accept contracts made by minors who are not present at all. Minors who have been made "wards of the state" and are under the responsibility of the welfare department…There is an "inheritance" of over a million NIS shared by all of the family members, and arrest warrants against all, including minor Intissar (which is illegal, by the way) because of those debts.

This story reminds me of Bleak House and the family living together in debtors prison until one of them can work off the debt. But of course, Dickens story takes place in 'backward' Victorian England. While this is the 21st century, right?

The Torah says that the sins of the fathers must not be visited upon the children. How in heaven's name can such injustice exist? Who protects the children? Anyone?

Here's some backgrouind on Yudit by way of self-description:

Photographer educated at Hebrew U and Hadassah College of Technology, both in Jerusalem, Israel. Worked as documentary photographer in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and Europe, specializing in "the story behind the news" and portraits. Works as art photographer using of combinations of digital and ancient techniques such as cyanotype, van dyke browns etc, printing on various media, including stone, cloth and metal. Occasional graffiti maker (when I'm extremely pissed off at what's happening in society). Does graphic design and photography for various NGO's and non profit orgs. Also for many people in the 'hood. Usually for free. Teaches photography and cinema as a tool of empowerment, especially with young women. Participates in different community art projects. Participated in a number of group and solo exhibitions and about to open another one (if all goes well) this september

Likes: art in all forms, shapes and smells, reading, hiking and espresso

Hates: meeting jellyfish & cheese

Distrusts: house-owners & lawyers.

I hope you'll be able to spend some time getting to know, if you don't already, how the "other half" of Israel lives.

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