Disabled person with wheelchair.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities could be left with no protection or guidelines for action if Israel finds itself in a war in the near future, the country’s commissioner for equal rights of persons with disabilities declared Tuesday.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Ahiya Kamara, whose role is to oversee the creation and implementation of equality laws for people with disabilities, said that despite continuing requests for the Defense Ministry to provide clear regulations for assisting the special-needs population during times of emergency, no plan has yet been outlined.
“There is a big fear that more than 298,000 people with disabilities who have no friends or family to rely on for help will be in real danger if there is a war,” said Kamara.
“For those people there is no one to help them get their sealed rooms prepared or assist them in reaching bomb shelters or even check up on them to make sure they are okay during an emergency situation.”
According to Kamara, while steps have been taken to improve the situation for people with disabilities who live in government institutions and other group homes, guidelines to other disabled people during wartime or other emergencies have yet to be approved or even drafted by the government.
Data provided by the Commission for Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities, which is under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry, shows that there are roughly 600,000 people with severe physical, mental or cognitive disabilities in Israel, some 22 percent of the overall population.
Roughly one-third of those people say they live alone, with no close friend or relative to assist them in times of emergency.
“In most cases, there is no way of even knowing who these people are,” said Kamara.
“While in normal times they are self-sufficient, in times of emergencies they will need someone who they can count on to help them.”
However, while a change to the 2005 Equal Rights for People with Disabilities Law demands that each government ministry submit guidelines for emergency protocol for people with disabilities, even with war talk now in the air, Kamara claims that no comprehensive document has materialized. He said that it was the responsibility of the Defense Ministry to prepare these guidelines for approval by the Knesset.
“We have been pushing them to write these guidelines, we have even offered to help them but we are powerless to do anything legally until the Knesset has the regulations to approve,” he said.
Meretz MK Ilan Gilon, chairman of the Knesset Accessibility Committee, said “This is the reality of everyday life in Israel and, of course, in wartime it will get much worse.”
“We already saw this lack of preparedness during the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead; if there is another war people with disabilities will only be able to pray that they stay safe.”
Gilon said that he has already turned to recently appointed Home Front Command Minister Avi Dichter to request his assistance in pushing through guidelines and regulations that will ensure the relevant authorities provide help for people with disabilities if war does break out.
“I will continue to pressure him until something changes,” Gilon said Tuesday.
Yuval Wagner, director and founder of Access Israel, a nonprofit organization lobbying for greater accessibility for disabled persons, commented that the issue of accessibility to bomb shelters and sealed rooms is of great urgency today as talk of war with Iran continues.
“When the government talks about attacking or defending the population, then it really needs to keep in mind that there are 1.5 million people with disabilities or who are elderly that do not have a way to stay safe,” said Wagner.
He said that this involved more than just ensuring access to bomb shelters or sealed rooms, it also required protection for foreign workers who provide home help, as well as home delivery of food and medicine in case of a crisis.
“This is a big problem and we urge all government ministries to take care of it now,” pointed out Wagner. “If missiles do end up flying around then they will be the first ones to die.”
In response, a Defense Ministry spokesman said the office had already finished writing the official regulations some six months ago and that it was the Knesset holding up final approval of the procedures.
“Preparing the regulations relating to emergency services for people with disabilities also involves other government offices and we hope it will be finally complete and ready for approval before December,” said the spokesman.
He emphasized that it was also the responsibility of other government offices – health, welfare and social affairs and more – to ensure the safety of people with disabilities.