Disabled protesters block highway during morning rush hour
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Disabled protesters block highway during morning rush hour

Demonstration comes hours before court deadline for government to respond to petition on raising disability benefits

Illustrative: Disabled protesters demonstrate on a main road outside Kibbutz Yakum in central Israel on  August 14, 2017. (Flash90)
Illustrative: Disabled protesters demonstrate on a main road outside Kibbutz Yakum in central Israel on August 14, 2017. (Flash90)

Disability activists blocked traffic on a major highway near Tel Aviv on Thursday as part of their campaign for disability benefits to be raised to the same level as the minimum wage.

Police said the demonstration on Route 4, which took place during the morning rush hour, did not have a permit.

The section of Route 4 between the Geha Interchange and the Givat Shmuel Junction shut down briefly, but was reopened to traffic after police removed the protesters.

The demonstration came hours ahead of a deadline set by the High Court of Justice for the government to respond to a petition brought by disability rights organizations on raising disability benefits.

The protest was the latest in a series of escalating actions disabled citizens have taken to push for an increase in state benefits. In June, demonstrators tried setting themselves on fire outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem, but were stopped by police officers who grabbed the gasoline containers.

Protest leaders have said the best way to bring public attention to their demands is through disrupting traffic.

“Disabled people are not integrated into the labor market, the Histadrut [labor union federation] does not support them, they have no other way to express their protest except to block roads,” Tal Hanan, head of the disability rights group A Disabled Person is not Half a Person, told the Ynet news site.

“The police have a lot of problems evacuating a person with disabilities from a legal perspective. The disabled are blocking roads because this is their only option, this is what they have,” he added.

In June, lawmakers from across the political spectrum urged the government to accept the new plan, which would raise the monthly stipend from NIS 2,342 ($660) to NIS 4,000 ($1,130).

The new stipend level would be linked to the minimum wage, which is raised periodically through Knesset legislation. The current stipend level is linked to the consumer price index, which rises more slowly than the minimum wage.

The proposal is a compromise between the demands of disability activists, including MK Ilan Gilon of Meretz, to set the stipend at the minimum wage, or NIS 5,000 ($1,400) per month, and those of a committee appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that recommended a more modest increase to NIS 3,200 ($900), and would limit the stipend to those with very severe disabilities and no family.

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