Disabled rights protesters block roads, vow to continue campaign

Demonstrators rejecting stipend-boosting deal with government fined after causing havoc at Ashdod port and major arteries south of Tel Aviv

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Disabled, handicapped and activists block the entrance to Jerusalem as they attend a protest calling for better health care, September 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Disabled, handicapped and activists block the entrance to Jerusalem as they attend a protest calling for better health care, September 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police fined several disabled protesters Tuesday after they blocked a major highway as part of a continuing campaign to increase government stipends they receive.

The protesters have rejected a deal agreed between other disabled activists and the government last week to increase stipends and end months of sporadic traffic-halting demonstrations.

Ten protesters were given NIS 250 ($70) fines for disrupting traffic after they blocked the northbound Ayalon highway near the city of Rishon Lezion south of Tel Aviv.

Earlier in the day they caused jams when they blocked the Yavneh Interchange on Route 4, another major road artery nearby.

During the morning, demonstrators blocked entrances to Ashdod’s port, one of the country’s two main sea terminals. Trucks were prevented from entering or leaving the facility, causing major traffic jams and hampering activities at the facility.

Police fined 10 protesters and towed their cars away, the Hebrew media Ynet website reported. The protesters eventually agreed to leave after police assured them that the fines would be cancelled, as would any court hearings.

Under the deal reached on Friday, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others called “historic,” benefits for some 244,000 disabled Israelis will rise from NIS 700-1,800 ($198 to $509) per month in four stages, from January 2018 to January 2021, at a total cost of NIS 4.2 billion ($1.19 billion).

The maximum of NIS 4,500 a month for the most severely disabled falls short of the disabled organizations’ demand for the maximum benefit to equal the minimum wage of NIS 5,300 ($1,500) and for the rise to be made all at once, but the government pledged to consider raising the maximum to this figure at the end of the four years.

Alex Friedman, head of the “Disabled, not half a person” campaign that had led demonstrations, called on the protesters to stop their actions.

“This is the time to work together and with responsibility against entities that would be happy to not give disabled people anything as it was for the past 16 years,” Friedman said.

Friedman said he respects the demonstrators and that he hopes for continued cooperation from them, Ynet reported.

Traffic-blocking protests by the disabled began in March after a Knesset committee rejected for the third time a bill aimed at bringing disabled benefits up to the level of the minimum wage.

They continued throughout the summer while the Knesset was in recess and had ramped up in recent weeks, pushing the issue to the top of the national agenda with protests causing major traffic jams daily.

Protesters say they are planning to demonstrate at the opening of the Haifa Film Festival that is scheduled to begin on Thursday.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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