Protesters for disability rights again block highways near Tel Aviv
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Protesters for disability rights again block highways near Tel Aviv

Activists threaten to continue to disrupt traffic until the government agrees to find ‘a proper and dignified solution’ for their plight

Illustrative image of disabled, handicapped and activists attend a protest calling for better health care, on a main road outside the town of Yekum, causing major traffic jams,  August 14, 2017. (Flash90)
Illustrative image of disabled, handicapped and activists attend a protest calling for better health care, on a main road outside the town of Yekum, causing major traffic jams, August 14, 2017. (Flash90)

Disability activists blocked traffic on major highways north of Tel Aviv on Tuesday as part of an ongoing campaign to have government disability benefits raised to the same level as minimum wage.

Police were diverting traffic and removing activists after the Ayalon Highway southbound was blocked by protesters in Herzliya near Shivat HaKochavim Junction and Highway 5 was blocked in both directions at the Glilot interchange, Hebrew media reported.

These are two of the busiest intersections in the area and the move caused widespread traffic jams all around the region.

Alex Friedman, who initiated the recent series of protests, said such disruptions will continue until the government agrees to their demands.

“We continue to wait for the promised direct discussions [with the government] in the hope of ending the road closures and finding a proper and dignified solution as soon as possible for the suffering of the disabled,” he said. “The hurricane in the US is nothing compared to the tornado that the government of Israel is causing for the disabled,” he told Channel 2 news.

On Sunday the group “Disabled, Not Half a Person,” headed by Friedman, launched a week-long campaign to raise awareness of the plight of the disabled. On its Hebrew Facebook page the group called for supporters to temporarily change their profile picture to show support.

Friedman described it as, “an easy, simple way to express support in our battle for the right to live in dignity.” He also said that the group intends to continue to block roads until its demands are met.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he would advance legislation to raise disability benefits in the near future. However, the prime minister said last week he endorsed only a partial version of the proposal, which will limit the increased stipend to those with very severe disabilities and no family.

A report in Haaretz newspaper said the modest increase will leave 100,000 people, or 45 percent of those on disability stipends, without any increase.

Tuesday’s 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 to set themselves on fire outside Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem, but were stopped by police officers who grabbed the gasoline containers.

Illustrative image of disabled activists blocking a road as they attend a protest calling for an increase in disability stipends, on a main road at the entrance to Caesarea, August 28, 2017. (Flash90)

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 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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