South African man held hostage and left begging for food by Israel’s merciless system
Marianne Azizi writes:
Eyal Russel Harris, 51, is trapped in Israel. He cannot work, leave the country, or have a bank account or credit card. He is reduced to begging for food, and relying on the kindness of people who give him leftovers.
Russel immigrated to Israel in January 2004. He quickly found work but lost his job five years later. Unable to pay rent and having nowhere to live, he left Israel and returned to South Africa. He had a loan with the Bank Hapoalim, which he paid monthly and on time, and the bank offered him more loans to pay his expenses, without suggesting he put the original debt on hold.
In April 2010, still in South Africa, Russel faxed his bank manager in Israel to get advice on how he could settle his account. He never received a reply but, unbeknown to him, the bank was preparing to take legal action against him. Russel travelled to Israel in July, totally unaware of the impending legal action or the nightmare he was about to enter.
Sadly, in October that year Russel’s mother died, so he returned to South Africa to attend her funeral. But he was unable to pay for the funeral, so his mother was buried in an unmarked grave, causing him untold grief.
For most people, this sounds like the part where there is a happy ending. Not so for Russel.
In 2011 Russel travelled back to Israel but found it very difficult to get work. By the end of the year he found a job and naively contacted his creditors to say he was ready to start repaying his debts. The only creditor who refused to accept his offer was the bank. When he tried to draw his first salary from the bank, Celcom, the local phone provider, had placed a stop on his account. He negotiated 1,000 shekels (USD 266) to settle but was not allowed to pay from his bank account! He was told “find the money from somewhere else”.
This was the beginning of Russel’s decline. He has been homeless, sleeping on couches and in basements. Still thinking with a “European” or South African mentality, he tried over and over to reach a settlement with the bank and the credit card company to reduce the interest.
Again, Russel found work, and was able to take a company loan of 60,000 shekels (USD 15,950). For most people, this sounds like the part where there is a happy ending. Not so for Russel. The bank responded by freezing his account and his pension.
Russel’s life began to degenerate, and the problem was taking up all his waking moments.
By the end of 2012, Russel was earning 2,070 shekels a month (USD 550), which enabled him to find a place to rent. But this didn’t leave him with enough money for food and, to his shame, he was reduced to stealing food.
A state-appointed Trustee of Bankruptcy was supposed to inform him of his actual debt… But, Anat Rom, the bankruptcy trustee… asked him to pay 12,000 shekels (USD 3,190) just to let him know how much he owes.
Finally, Russel’s bank account was unfrozen, but he quickly learned that the Bailiff’s Office had taken all the money in his account – 42,000 shekels (USD 11,166) without any notification. He couldn’t pay any debtor. Back at work, he was paying back 2,800 shekels (USD 744). However, due to the stress he was under, he lost his job in 2014.
With no options left, Russel was declared bankrupt. All his civil and human rights disappeared. The court ruled it was illegal for him to work as a freelancer any more. He learned far too late of a new rule to forgive debts for the destitute. Yet, he is still destitute to this day. A state-appointed Trustee of Bankruptcy was supposed to inform him of his actual debt. He still has a pension of over GBP 12,000 (USD15,560) which he wants to offer to settle his debts. But, Anat Rom, the bankruptcy trustee, has not given him the figure. Last week she asked him to pay 12,000 shekels (USD 3,190) just to let him know how much he owes. A ludicrous suggestion.
As a last resort, Russel sought to publicise his case. He was told this week that he would be sued for libel by Anat Rom. The writer asked her some questions in an email, which she declined to answer. Russel was told by his state lawyer to keep quiet. Here is the content of the email to Anat Rom:
Following our conversation, as agreed here is the question in an email:
I am a reporter from UK and reporting about situations of foreign/dual citizens trapped in Israel. I am now working on a story to be published and to be followed up with a complain to the UN regarding Eyal Russel Harris (Hirsch).
It is my understanding that you were appointed by the state of Israel as the fiduciary in charge of his bankruptcy and that your first job is to ascertain whether the debts included in the bankruptcy are authentic and to fix the amount of the debt for each claim of the creditor so the debtor knows the extent of his debts.
It is my understanding that you neglected to verify if his debts are authentic and/or payable and you neglected to make a report as to the final sum owed by Russell Harris in his bankruptcy. By doing so, you have deprived him of the ability to know what his debts are and how much money he needs in order to make an offer to be discharged from the bankruptcy.
It is my understanding that you violated your obligations to complete this within 6 months and instead you want Russell to pay money into the bankruptcy account and by doing so, it appears a vicious circle that a person with no funds and on the verge of suicide must come up with money for you in order to know how much he owes. Otherwise, because of your neglect he will lose his chance for a discharge in bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, it is my understanding that because of you, he is suicidal and in case this happens, the finger pointing is going to be made towards you.
That is his version of the events and that is how the complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee is going to be made against the state of Israel for failing to properly instruct you to perform the duties you undertook.
You are welcome to submit any comments about the situation and I will appreciate a picture that you approve for including in my article. This will be published worldwide, and therefore your response is required within 24 hours.
Many thanks and kind regards
Russel is unable to read or write in Hebrew, and his spoken Hebrew is very basic, so he asked for translators but ignored. He did not know where to turn to have documents explained to him. He was treated as an invisible man.
Reduced to only 1,600 shekels (USD 425) per month to live on, Russel is now trapped.
Israel has an archaic, medieval way of handling debtors, preferring to punish than to help.
Russel is by no means the only person to get caught in the debt cycle in Israel. No one is informed of the process, and if they reach the dreaded bailiff, debts can soar from a few shekels to hundreds of thousands in no time. At this point all civil rights are removed from a person, leaving them unable to find a way to pay their debts.
Israel has an archaic, medieval way of handling debtors, preferring to punish than to help. A scholarly review was written by Rafi Efrat, Professor of Business Law, California State University, shows how Israel finds ways to hurt its own people.
The bailiff known in Hebrew as Hatza Lapoal brings as much dread to the citizens as the word Revaha, the welfare authorities.
Now that Russel has decided to go public, he faces the possibility of a lawsuit for daring to speak out for his own human rights. He has met his state-appointed lawyer, an English speaker, who subjected him to even more degradation – shouting at him and not allowing him to even take notes in his meeting. He left the office, unable to handle any more humiliation. Clearly, the state lawyer will not have his best interests at heart. There are over 1 million Israelis who are prevented from leaving the country due to a debt. A giant prison, filled with countless people who have turned to petty crime just to eat and survive.
Russel’s own state lawyer has turned against him due to pressure from the bankruptcy trustee, Anat Rom, who like most other public officials in Israel is afraid of her unprofessionalism being exposed. Today, he sits in shock, afraid he will die in poverty and with no human value.
Russel’s only recourse is to overcome the threats not to publish his story, and to continue in his quest for his human rights by also complaining to the UM Human Rights Council..
In this video, which will be forwarded to as many international organisations as possible, Russel gives a flavour of his plight in Israel.