AKIM – The National Association for the Habilitation of the Intellectually Disabled was supposed be focused Monday on the launch of its new informational campaign and annual donation day.
Instead the organization was the subject of a horrifying act of violence.
Shots were fired at an AKIM residence for adults in the northeastern Tel Aviv neighborhood of Tzahala. A police forensic team determined the holes were probably caused by an air rifle and the force opened an investigation.
“We are in a very deep state of shock,” AKIM CEO Sigal Peretz Yahalomi told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, “In the 63 years of the State of Israel [in which Akim has operated] and among the dozens of hostels we have opened throughout the years, there has never been an event like this – parents are crying throughout Israel.”
Peretz Yahalomi explained that AKIM often encounters opposition to opening hostels in their community, but “it always ends with a lot of love” once locals get to know the residents.
Tel Aviv police said on Tuesday they are aware of a dispute with neighbors and are continuing their investigation but have made no arrests.
“This shook us deeply, because it brought us to an understanding that there are deep prejudices and preconceptions against the intellectually disabled,” said Peretz Yahalomi.
According to the CEO, young people tend to have a more positive attitude toward mentally retarded people, but among adults you will find deeper prejudices and misconceptions, as they are not exposed to the information now taught in schools.
“Every community that has accepted us has come out happier and improved, and as our saying goes, ‘An inclusive community is a stronger community,’” Peretz Yahalomi said.
President Shimon Peres lashed out on Tuesday against the perpetrators of what he termed a vile act of discrimination.
Even if this was just an isolated case of intolerance, it must be rooted out immediately, he said.
The president characterized the shooting as “a sick act” that should not be allowed to pass without action by legal and social welfare authorities.
“I could not believe that such a thing could happen in our midst,” he said. “It’s simply disgraceful.”
Peres was disgusted that neighbors of the Akim residents could behave in such a shameful fashion, but was simultaneously proud of the targets of the attack who took it in their stride.
“We are created in the same image,” he said, and no one should ever take advantage of someone else’s disabilities.
AKIM chairman Ami Ayalon, a former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), updated the president on the investigation.
Last week, Peres hosted AKIM adults and children and their families at his official residence in the capital and has done so at least once a year throughout his presidency.
AKIM operates a network with 64 branches managed by 300 professionals and 2,000 volunteers and active parents. The organization offers services ranging from advancing the rights of the mentally handicapped to kindergartens and nurseries, group housing as well as job training and recreational programs, according to its website.