'Five on Wheels' embark on cross-country wheelchair trip to raise awareness about the plight of disabled

Two months of demonstrating day and night in front of the Welfare and Social Affairs Ministry in Jerusalem failed to draw the attention of either the public or the ministry to the financial distress of the 80,000 people with disabilities living in Israel. Therefore on Sunday, five of the demonstrators left their tent in front of the ministry and, under the name of the "Five on Wheels" embarked on a cross-country journey from Kiryat Shmona to Jerusalem in another attempt to end the dispute and to raise public awareness. "We fight for our rights. We don't ask to become rich, only to live in dignity, to be able to pay our bills, to buy our food and not to be dependent on anyone to take us to wherever we need to go," said Chezi Yitzhak, 56, a father of four from Kiryat Shmona. Yitzhak has been confined to a wheelchair for as far back as he can remember, having been left paralyzed by polio when he was just a year old. The Five want disability pensions to be raised from NIS 2,200 to the minimum wage. They also want either a reduction in fuel prices to NIS 3.5 (the same price the state pays per liter) or an increase in their mobility pension from NIS 1,963 a month to NIS 3,500. They are also fighting against the government's decision to reduce the special budgets that allow persons with 100 percent disability ratings to hire the services of professional caretakers at minimum wage, NIS 3,850. The Five on Wheels were in Netanya on Tuesday, and 10 other disabled demonstrators have joined their voyage. "It doesn't make sense the way that we are treated. We are citizens of this country and we love it and our children serve in the army just like any other Israeli youth, but our distress is overlooked by the people in this government," Yitzhak said. He added that their pensions have not been updated since 2000. "The people we meet on the way encourage us and support us but the people who sit in the government don't seem to care about us." Several organizations have joined the struggle including the Kibbutzim Movement, which supplies the demonstrators with night accommodation and meals along the way, the Shatil organization for Social change in Israel, HaShomer Hatzair youth movement, PR & MORE and others. Yoel Marshak, head of the assignments department at the Kibbutzim Movement and the organizer of this journey, told the Post Tuesday: "We always have been and we always will be where weak social groups that get weaker are. This is the essence of our existence, to help and to give." The Five plan to pass through Ra'anana, Herzliya and Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Petah Tikva and Ramle on Thursday and then stop for the weekend at Kibbutz Na'an on Friday. They are scheduled to reach Jerusalem on Monday. Haim Pitussi, a spokesman for the National Insurance Institute, said in response that the National Insurance Institute had been negotiating with representatives for the disabled for weeks, but that the problem was that "their demands are too high, totalling NIS 300 million a year, an unrealistic figure. We will work together to find an acceptable agreement for both sides."