Single parents march for bread and dignity

TEL AVIV – On the highways leading to Jerusalem one can see women, and occasionally a few men, walking on the roadside. They are not pilgrims coming to pray in the “Holy City.” They are single parents marching to confront Benjamin Netanyahu, the state treasurer (and former prime minister).

Netanyahu is the architect of the economic austerity program that has drastically cut social welfare benefits and guaranteed minimum income subsidies for single parents.

The march started as a spontaneous action by Vicky Kanfo. Kanfo left her three kids with neighbors and friends, and walked the 130 miles from the southern-most, impoverished “development town” Mitzpeh-Ramon in the Negeb desert. Wrapped in an Israeli flag and carrying a sign protesting Netanyahu’s robbery of her kids’ bread, Kanfo became the symbol for the fight. Hundreds joined in, at first one by one, then small groups, from towns and villages across Israel. When they arrived in Jerusalem they established a tent encampment across the street from the Finance Ministry. There are many still marching. Azulai Sharon, a single mom from the town of Arad in the Judean desert mountain range, pushed her 17-year-old son in his wheelchair the 80 miles.

The moms, who were also joined by some single fathers, will face a 30 percent cut in their already meager income. Their stories and movement have won much public support – 78 percent of the public back their cause.

The government’s drastic cuts are only one side of the coin. Subsidies, bank state guarantees, and five to ten years of tax-free profits for private and corporate investors are the other side. The government’s argument for this austerity program is to “encourage investment” and “create jobs.”

Netanyahu announced at a televised press conference that “the only realistic solution for the single women’s plight was that they should go working instead of living on handouts by the government.”

“What chutzpah,” was the single parents’ unanimous reply. Kanfo told reporters that most of the income from her part-time job had to go to pay for daycare. The jobless rate in her home town is nearly 20 percent. Similarly, at almost all of the “development towns” the unemployment rate stands at 20 percent. In the Arab communities, the rate is higher, around 22 to 25 percent. Kanfo stressed that single parents are in no way lazy or spoiled.

But a big eye-opener in all of this was while the government is cutting from the most poverty-stricken, the state will increase the subsidies to the Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands.

In spite of peace talks, Prime Minister Sharon’s policies of occupation and war against the Palestinian people are costing the Israelis dearly.

Israelis remember the anti-Lebanon occupation movement, initiated by four mothers of Israeli soldiers stationed in southern Lebanon. That movement, which gathered public support, helped force the then-Barak Labor government to withdraw from Lebanese territory.

Then there was the 77-day sit-in and hunger strike of hundreds of disabled persons, most of them in their wheelchairs. Thanks to the vast public support the disabled persons protest forced the previous Sharon government to rescind the drastic cuts.

If the current movement remains united and militant and succeeds in forcing the hand of the government (which acts in the interests of big capital and chauvinist “Greater-Israel” territorial expansion policy), it will have a positive impact for the forces of peace and democracy.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org