People with disabilities protest next to Ben Gurion airport.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
A protest erupted on Highway 4 outside Ashdod on Sunday after the Knesset rejected a petition that sought to raise the monthly stipend for people with disabilities from NIS 2,342, to the standard minimum wage of NIS 5,000.
Between 40 to 50 people with disabilities gathered at the B’nei Darom junction, 15 of whom ascended onto the highway, blocking cars with spikes and provoking police while demanding a higher monthly allowance. Five protesters were arrested after clashing with the police.
The five were detained at an Ashdod police station and were released early Monday morning.
The protest was organized by two of the largest groups advocating for rights of people with disabilities: “Disabled is not a half-person” and “Headquarters of the struggle for disabled people.” It came in response to the Knesset rejection of the petition, and was timed to coincide with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Ashdod that day.
Alex Friedman, CEO of the NGO “Disabled is not a half-person” responded to Sundays events: “The police lost their humanity. They are suppressing our struggle for the basic right not to starve. It is clear to us that there is a direct connection between this demonstration and their [the police’s] support for the prime minister. His lack of attention to this matter only proves this.”
Despite the protesters’ provocation toward the police, Friedman insists: “A disabled person is not Arnold Schwarzenegger. I do not understand why it was necessary to wrestle disabled people to the ground, handcuff them and to hold them for long hours at the police station without medical treatment. First, they wanted us to die of starvation, now they are using full power.”
Last Wednesday, the Knesset requested that the Supreme Court reject the petition on the allowance raise, drawn up by groups representing the disabled. It stated that these groups must first prove that the current amount is below a subsistence level.
Justifying the events and stressing the urgency of the situation, founder and co-CEO of “Disabled is not a half-person,” Hanan Tal explained that “the only way for these people to get the attention of our elected officials is to go into the streets. From a legal standpoint, you cannot touch a person with disabilities, nor his or her equipment [such as a wheelchair] without a doctor present. The police know this, and for the first time since 2002, they ignored this and used physical force to detain the protesters. This is an outrage.”
Cobi Cohen, chairman of the Action Society of Disabled People does not agree with the effectiveness of Monday’s demonstration, but understands the anger that pushed these people to protest. “People are very angry. They don’t have enough money to buy food and they can’t work. You have to consider that a lot of them are also mentally disabled and the chances of finding work are very low and this is the major group that is suffering.
“We are receiving the same amount for the past 16 years and we have been fighting for the past three years, and the government should decide if they want to help or not.”
Cohen adds that the issue isn’t limited to people confined to wheelchairs. “We are talking about people suffering from strokes, heart conditions, cancer and many other ailments that render them unable to work. It’s a joke, you know. It’s funny to say that NIS 2,342 is enough to live on; nobody can do it.”
Cohen believes the most effective way to implement change is to do things legally and work within the framework of the law and “not in the streets with violence.”
“You don’t do things by getting media attention; you get things done by changing the law, not blocking the roads. The fight is going on for three years and nothing has changed, so people get impatient.”
This issue is on hold for another two weeks until MKs return from summer recess.