Disabled protesters fined for blocking Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway
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Disabled protesters fined for blocking Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway

Demonstrators continue to agitate for higher disability benefits, a day after police warn they will no longer tolerate road closures

Illustrative photo of disabled protesters blocking a highway outside the town of Yekum on August 14, 2017, as part of demonstrations for higher monthly disability benefits. (Flash90)
Illustrative photo of disabled protesters blocking a highway outside the town of Yekum on August 14, 2017, as part of demonstrations for higher monthly disability benefits. (Flash90)

Police on Monday morning ticketed disabled people obstructing traffic on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway during a demonstration for more generous disability benefits.

The decision to hand out fines came a day after police said they would no longer tolerate the blocking of roads as part of the ongoing protests to match the monthly stipend to the minimum wage.

The NIS 500 ($140) fines, were handed out to protesters blocking Jerusalem-bound traffic on Route 1 near Latrun for “disturbing the peace,” Channel 10 reported.

Police redirected traffic to Route 3 during the protest before reopening Route 1.

Despite the police’s new approach to the demonstrations, which they said they had informed protest leaders of on Sunday, one of the organizers said the protesters would continue to block main roads.

“We decided to intensify the roadblocks and to carry out more severe measures than the ones we used so far,” Channel 2 quoted Ofer Sofer as saying.

Sofer said that if police then decide to arrest demonstrators, “we will block the police stations and it will be impossible for the patrol cars to go and carry out these arrests.”

Monday’s demonstration on Route 1, one of Israel’s main thoroughfares, came after disabled protesters on Sunday blocked an intersection of the Ayalon freeway, the main artery running through Tel Aviv.

The protesters have said the demonstrations, which have led to major traffic jams during morning rush hour, are the only way to draw attention to their campaign for higher government benefits.

The Knesset interrupted its summer recess last week for a special plenum session on disability stipends, following weeks of nationwide protests against the slim government payouts.

In June, lawmakers from across the political spectrum urged the government to accept a new plan that 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 was 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 increase to those with very severe disabilities and no family.

Opposition lawmakers who had sought to link the disability payments to the minimum wage slammed Netanyahu for opposing such a plan. Gilon, himself disabled, told the plenum that all the lawmakers across the political spectrum favored an increase in the disability payments — except for the prime minister.

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