(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post))
A legal victory for people with disabilities this week has highlighted the need
for more awareness and social change, according to representatives of Bizchut,
the Israel Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities.
On Sunday, a
Haifa District Court judge dismissed a case where a group of neighbors from
Haifa’s Denya neighborhood had sought to prevent the opening of a group home for
youths with various disabilities.
In his ruling on the case, Judge
Yehoshua Ratner said that the goal of Israeli society was to encourage inclusion
in the community for all people with disabilities. He reminded the plaintiffs
that there are a wide range of laws and policies to change what has been the
accepted norm until recently – to keep people with disabilities on the sidelines
of society – and bring them into the mainstream.
“It is a welcome trend,”
said the judge in his ruling. “It is part of enlightenment that people should
look to embrace those who are different to them.” He also pointed out that
community inclusion for people with disabilities is an important part of the
treatment and rehabilitation process for them.
According the legal file,
the complaint came from home owners on Abu Hushi Street in Haifa’s Denya
neighborhood, after plans were drawn up to allow six young people with different
disabilities – including eating disorders and other emotional issues – to rent
one of the homes on the street.
Ratner pointed out that often when such
homes are set to open, neighbors and other locals express concerns that are
“natural and understandable.”
“This results from fear of the unknown or
from those who are different,” wrote Ratner in his ruling, adding that people
become concerned that such group homes might be a disruption to their routine,
could be harmful to the image of the area where they live or could reduce the
value of their property.
He referred to a trend coined in the US as
“NIMBY,” or “not in my backyard,” where neighbors welcome the concept of
community living for people with disabilities but refuse to accept those people
in their own proximity.
In his conclusion, Ratner said that he could not
prevent the group home from opening and he encouraged the two parties to
undertake mediation, which he said would help to “alleviate fears from the
plaintiffs on the one hand, and help the defendants to consider the needs of the
plaintiffs on the other.”
“This is not the first case of this kind, where
neighbors brought complaints against opening a group house and the court is
often supportive of people with disabilities,” commented Naama Lerner, director
of community outreach for Bizchut.
Lerner said, however, that while the
law was on the side of people with disabilities, much more work needs to be done
to help people understand and not fear the concept of community
“We need to do more work with the government offices, such as
the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs, so that these type of cases do not
reach the courts at all,” she pointed out, adding that programs should be
created in society and in the education system to teach people not to fear
people with disabilities.