Protesters for disability rights block 2 highways at rush hour
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Protesters for disability rights block 2 highways at rush hour

Routes 2 and 4 closed by activists continuing campaign for increase to match disability payments to minimum wage

Disabled activists block Ibn Gvirol street in Tel Aviv as part of a protest calling for an increase in government stipends, August 31, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Disabled activists block Ibn Gvirol street in Tel Aviv as part of a protest calling for an increase in government stipends, August 31, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Disability activists temporarily blocked traffic on two major highways near Tel Aviv on Monday as part of a campaign to match government benefits to minimum wage.

Traffic flow was temporarily halted by wheelchair-bound protesters at the Em Hamoshavot Interchange on Route 4 near Bnei Brak and Route 2 at the Glilot Interchange near Ramat Aviv. Lanes reopened less than an hour later.

The closure hit two of the country’s busiest highways during one of the heaviest commuting times, when roads are normally jam-packed with people heading to work and soldiers returning to base.

Traffic snarls continued to be reported long after the protesters were removed from the highways.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he would advance legislation to raise disability benefits in the near future. However, the prime minister said, 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.

Monday’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 triedsto 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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