In June of 2011, a group of Israelis created a Facebook group to boycott the
purchase of cottage cheese and dairy products due to their outrageous prices.
After witnessing the drop of dairy prices and the introduction of competition
into the market, the country became inspired to make a stand for social
The boulevards and parks of major Israeli cities were lined with
tents in protest for affordable housing. Israelis withdrew money from
their bank accounts in protest against high banking fees. Families turned off
their electricity for an hour to object to the electric company’s 10 percent
increase of the cost of electricity. With each week, the list seemed to
continue to grow, as, ultimately, 400,000 Israeli protesters rallied together
and took to the streets demanding social justice and a more affordable cost of
However, in a country which mandates military service and, as a
result, has many citizens who are injured and disabled in its defense, it
surprises me that disability rights were not at the forefront of the country’s
protests. How is it that the largest social justice movement in our country’s
history managed to disregard the injustices that the Israeli disabled community
Israel’s Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law went into
effect on January 1, 1999. Among other things, the law requires that public
services and transportation and places of public accommodations and services,
including private entities, must be accessible to people with disabilities.
Unfortunately, while this law was passed twelve years ago, Israel is still a
fairly inaccessible country to the disabled.
Three years ago, I made
aliya from the United States to fulfill my Zionist dreams of living in and
building the State of Israel. I made this daring move alone, and from the
confines of a wheelchair. However, unfortunately, from the outset I have been
confronted with the constant issue of inaccessibility.
immigrants, I was unable to rely on the security of housing provided by an
absorption center, because not one absorption center in the state of Israel is
wheelchair accessible. As a result, I was forced to search for an accessible
apartment, which is nearly impossible to find. Most apartment buildings in
Israel have steps leading to their entrance, no elevator and bathrooms which are
barely large enough for even an able-bodied person to use. In the end, I must
live in a luxury apartment, which I nevertheless had to modify to be accessible,
and I pay twice the rent of any of my friends.
For two-and-a-half years,
I worked in a Jerusalem office which did not have an accessible bathroom. For
each visit to the bathroom, I was required to go down 14 floors to a public
bathroom, which was often too dirty to use or lacked toilet paper, soap and hand
towels. On multiple occasions, I was forced to go across the street to the mall
to use the restroom, a trip which at times took 45 minutes.
most private entities providing public accommodations and services blatantly
disregard Israel’s disability rights law and thereby discriminate against people
with disabilities. Places of public accommodations and services include: places
of entertainment, retirement homes, public gatherings, hospitals and clinics,
accredited higher and adult education, museums, fields or locations designed for
sports events, stores, including supermarkets exceeding a certain size, air,
sea, train and bus terminals, post offices, religious centers, hotels, pools,
restaurants serving more than 25 guests, etc. The unfortunate majority of
restaurants, bars, hair and nail salons, coffee shops, synagogues and clothing
stores have one to multiple barriers to accessibility for the
They either have steps leading to their entrance, narrow
bathrooms or changing rooms, elevated seating, or too narrow an elevator (or no
Barriers such as these are tantamount to businesses posting a
sign which reads, “Disabled people are not welcome here.”
The presence of
inaccessibility regularly prevents me from attending events, prayer services and
classes. I cannot “walk” down Dizengoff and enter whichever clothing store
strikes me. In fact, I cannot enter most stores and restaurants in Tel Aviv,
Jerusalem or any other city in Israel. I must refrain from drinking anything
when outside my home, because, after living in Tel Aviv for nine months, I have
found one kosher restaurant with an accessible restroom and only one other
accessible restroom in the entire city, outside of the hospital and the
One third of Jerusalem buses, many Tel Aviv buses and
all intra-city buses are inaccessible to the disabled.
Of the buses which
are accessible, the drivers very often refuse to allow me to board because they
do not wish to spend the time and energy to pull close to the sidewalk and open
the ramp. Taxis are predominantly inaccessible, and the few private accessible
cab companies, which do exist, charge three times the cost of an average taxi
and require all reservations to be 24 hours in advance.
Ninety percent of
all public schools in Israel are inaccessible to children with disabilities.
Many public buildings are inaccessible, including the Ministry of the Absorption
in Jerusalem, which had to send an agent to my house after my aliya due to the
building’s inaccessibility. Sidewalks are often unequipped with curb cuts and
serve as illegal parking spots, thereby preventing anyone in a wheelchair (or
with a stroller for that matter) from passing. As a result, I am regularly
forced to traverse on the dangerous roadway.
In my opinion,
discrimination such as this is a social injustice far greater than expensive
cottage cheese or banking fees. Inaccessibility not only serves as a barrier to
entry for disabled individuals, but also serves to disregard their human dignity
As we dismantle the tents and celebrate the new affordable
housing grants and initiatives, we should now demand social justice for our
friends and family who have been injured defending our country or who were born
less physically privileged than we are. If we, the Israeli people, are brave
enough to live in tents for the sake of affordable living, we should be
courageous and selfless enough to unite and refuse to shop, dine or support, in
any way, places of public accommodations and services, which discriminate
against the disabled. Together, we should stand up for those who can’t.