Police brutality alleged at handicapped protest

Demonstrators outside Welfare and Social Services Ministry decry failure to raise benefits since 2000.

handicap protest 224 88 (photo credit: Abe Selig)
handicap protest 224 88
(photo credit: Abe Selig)
Alleging police brutality by officers on the scene, and lamenting a lack of much-needed aid from the state, a dozen wheelchair-bound citizens continued their protest in the sweltering heat outside the Welfare Ministry in Jerusalem on Sunday, telling reporters they will not leave until their demand for help is answered. "From the year 2000 until today, the government has failed to upgrade the benefits allotted to us as disabled citizens of this country," said Doron Yehuda, a handicapped participant in the protest. "We get the same amount of money now that we did six years ago, and prices have gone up. It's not enough." Yehuda explained that the aid he received from the state to pay for gasoline, for example, was simply inadequate to meet his needs. "Some people can take the train or the bus," he said as he motioned at his motorized wheelchair. "But I can't, I have to use my van - it's the only way I can get around. I can't afford the fuel, though, because while prices have gone up, I still receive the same amount of money I did before 2000." Yehuda also said that with the NIS 3,000 a month he is allotted to survive on, he can't keep up with his bills. "My electric bill is through the roof because of the special needs I have, which require a large amount of electricity. Furthermore, I can't afford a special bathroom, which is something that really cries out to the heavens, because it's necessary for me and my dignity." But the most troubling complaints from protesters were that police officers had abused them physically, throwing them out of their wheelchairs and preventing them from using the bathroom. A man with fresh gashes on his head told The Jerusalem Post he was hurt when he fell out of his wheelchair as police tried to force him from the entrance to the Welfare Ministry on Saturday night. "We were originally near the entrance," another man said, "and after Shabbat, a decision was made by the police to clear us out. About 40 of them came up, not in the blue uniforms, but in the black ones [of the Yasam elite anti-terror unit], as if we were Hamas, and they just started lifting us up and tossed us out into the street. People were hurt. We asked them to stop, but they kept going. It's forbidden to touch someone in a wheelchair at all - who knows what kind of problems they may be suffering from." Police denied the allegations, saying the protesters were there illegally, and gave them no choice but to remove them. "The disabled persons were in a place, in violation of the law, and we asked them to clear the area, which they refused to do," said a police spokesman. "From there, we took them out, one by one, because they were blocking the entrance to the Welfare Ministry, and workers needed to arrive in the morning. There was no force, no abuse, we simply wheeled them off the premises and into the street." "Furthermore, the one who said he fell out of his wheelchair and cut open his head, I will tell you that I know he hit his head up against the fence and told police that he was going to say they did it to him," the spokesman continued. Nonetheless, protesters said that the incident had only galvanized their will to keep fighting for their rights. "I will stay out here as long as it takes," Yehuda said, chiming back in as his companions listed their grievances. But their will was later put to the test, as one of the protesters collapsed from exhaustion. Magen David Adom medics were on the scene within minutes and revived the man, who one medic said was suffering from "all types of problems" and should not be out in the heat. Police looked on as the protesters and medics rushed to the man's aid, eliciting cries of objection from onlookers, baffled at their lack of response. "The fact that the police are ignoring a man who is suffering is a crime," said one woman who preferred to remain anonymous. "It's unbelievable. We told one of the officers to help, and he just ignored us." Afterward, protesters said they were not fazed by the incident or the heat, and would remain in front of the building regardless. Yair Farjun, head of the Ashkelon Beach Regional Council, was in the area for a meeting at one of the government offices and stopped to express solidarity with the protesters. "We are a country that can handle these things," Farjun said. "We have the money, we have the means, and as a Jewish state, we have a duty to handle social problems within our country. We fight wars outside and everyone rushes to our aid, but when we fight wars internally, social wars, nobody cares. Every single one of us could be in their position tomorrow. I could walk out in the street and get hit by a car, and then who would take care of me? We need to help these people, period."