Monday, June 27, 2022

Progress on one front - regress on another

Last week, a significant new appointment was announced after its year long vacancy: Chairman of the Jewish Agency.

The Agency's selection committee voted for IDF Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Doron Almog. Its decision still must be approved by its board of directors which will convene on July 10 in Jerusalem.

Image Source: A 2015 promotional campaign on Facebook

Anyone who reads this blog will understand why the choice left me devastated.

Almog founded and operates large, closed, isolated institutions for hundreds of children and young adults with disabilities. Nevertheless, for the Israeli public he is an icon who can do no wrong. The kudos after the announcement have been streaming in on every mainstream and social media platform.

On a WhatsApp group in which i take part - made up of disability activists for people with disabilities and for their families - I saw a "share" of a Facebook post by Sivan Rahav Meir, a well known Israeli journalist, praising him to the sky. 

So I wrote the following to my co-activists (in Hebrew):

It's sad and infuriating to learn that Doron Almog won the nomination for chairman of the Jewish Agency. This man has acted tirelessly and for decades to entrench the institutionalization of children and adults with disabilities.

Where is the progress in the fight for in-the-community living for every citizen, when a person with this background is presented as a hero as Sivan Rahav Meir has done?!

Naama Lerner, a lawyer, formerly an official with Bizchut and now one of the founders of Hatnua L'atzma'utalso known as Movement for Independenceresponded with this (again translated by me from the Hebrew source):

I agree with you entirely, Frimet. But it's really not politically correct to say that. He has wall-to-wall support. Not just from Sivan Rahav Meir. He is presented as someone who has set up a marvelous life's enterprise.

It's a place that has cut off tens of people with disabilities from their families, people whose parents live in the north and they were placed in Aleh Negev [in the south]. It's a place that boasts of its connection to the community but is located in "nowhere".

And its connection to the community is expressed by groups of soldiers visiting to "make the pathetic children living there happy". It's a place that looks good physically but is emotionally very barren, isolated and remote. Truly sad.

And when another member jumped to Almog's defense, Naama added:

I am not judging him [Doron Almog] at all. I am judging the Ministry of Welfare that followed him blindly and didn't point out to him the error of his ways. Aleh Negev was founded at a stage when the Ministry of Welfare had decided not to establish any more new institutions (but to proceed with founding hostels).  But nobody could stand up to Doron Almog. So he established it and that's entirely not to the credit of the welfare system. It's a place [now operating under the name ADI Negev] that suffers from all of the usual maladies of all institutions. I have received complaints against it, I have been there, it's an institution in every sense of the word. And are the residents satisfied?  Who knows? They've never seen another life and aren't aware of alternative options. Ask the residents of Neve Ha'irus* and they too will say they are satisfied."

*To understand the reference to Neve Ha'Irus, click here to see several of my previous blog posts dealing with that disgraced institution.

Alongside the comments about Almog's appointment, there is another Israel-centric topic garnering far more interest. Sometime this week, a new, long-awaited law for people with disabilities is expected to be enacted by Israel's lawmakers. The draft was pushed through the preliminary readings stages in recent days to ensure its passage before the Knesset disbands this week.

It is being hailed as "historic legislation" on the WhatsApp group I frequent. The hope is it will advance the right of people with disabilities and their families to choose life within the community and will hasten country-wide de-institutionalization.

While it isn't perfect, for now this appears to be the best law attainable.  

Meanwhile on the home front, click here to view another "major" achievement, this one by my daughter Haya as captured on YouTube.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Texas, Jerusalem and innocents

Image Sources: Getty (Brandon Ball) - Uvalde and Getty (Staff) - Jerusalem

It has been difficult and painful to watch coverage of the Uvalde tragedy. Most trying has been listening to accounts of victims and their families.

Additionally upsetting for my husband and me has been the outrage expressed by some politicians. Their resolute vows to act to prevent further such horrific deaths are difficult for us to hear. That's because some of those very same people have ignored and rebuffed our pleas for action from them.

Our child was murdered too. But the perpetrator is alive, well and free

Furthermore everything is in place for her to be tried and convicted in a US court and imprisoned for life in a US jail. While Malki resided in Israel and was an Israeli citizen, she also had American citizenship just as I do. I was born and raised in Queens, NY.  The law under which Tamimi has been indicted applies in this case because Malki was an American.

What is lacking is the will to make that happen. The will to force the intransigent king of Jordan to extradite that mass murderer in accordance with the valid treaty his father's government signed and ratified in 1995.

Ahlam Tamimi, my child's murderer, who also killed fourteen others including 7 children, is one of the most wanted terrorists in the world.

Not one of those congressmen who are, justifiably, incensed by the Uvalde massacre, seems interested in ruffling the feathers of Jordan's dictator. As the darling of US politicians on both sides of the aisle, he has managed to evade the effect of the indictment filed by the US Department of Justice for more than five years. And with it, the extradition request under the treaty.

And he has accomplished that with no consequences, no sanctions and no reduction in his annual multi-billion dollar gift from US taxpayers' pockets. 

I implore anyone who values justice to join our fight. 

Please circulate this post and the accompanying tweets far and wide. And, if you are acquainted with any politicians, please urge them to ask the government of the US to pressure Jordan to comply with the US demand for extradition. We have a petition for that here.

He may be glib, speak an impeccable English with an impressive British accent, have a beautiful wife and be extremely wealthy ["While foreign aid poured in, Jordan’s King Abdullah funnelled $100m through secret companies to buy luxury homes"]. 

But none of those attributes should entitle Jordan's King Abdullah II to ignore his chief benefactor, the United States. 

Monday, May 30, 2022

New rule: It's alright to restrain if the victim is disabled

Doron Almog may have won the 2016 Israel Prize and amassed a horde of friends in high places. But I have photos of the bedrooms in the Jerusalem branch of ADI, a large, closed institution for children and young adults with disabilities in which he plays a lead role. They are damning.

A notice was circulated last week by the Director General of Israel's Ministry of Welfare. It's entitled (my translation from the source Hebrew) "Tools and procedures for identification, prevention and response/remedy for challenging, dangerous behavioral situations in facilities of the Disabilities Administration

Dated May 23, 2022 and downloadable (in Hebrew) from here, the circular formally declares the use of the "crib-beds" in which Almog's people have been been enclosing ADI's institutionalized residents to be banned.

I made an unannounced visit to ADI Jerusalem (then known as Aleh Jerusalem) in 2018. See "Making history: After the raid". During that visit, we were shown beds, one of them occupied, that are best described as "cages". The person in the bed below was photographed at 12:30 pm, the middle of the day. 

2018: Bed-cages in use at the ADI Jerusalem institutional residence

This is not to say that the Ministry of Welfare's other regulations were welcomed by defenders of the human rights of people with disabilities. In fact those with whom I was in touch were infuriated. Disturbingly wide discretion is granted to staff members in institutions to restrain the movement of residents. The regulations say they may do so "only in unusual instances, and only to prevent actual, immediate danger to a person or to another and only to the extent that is required for that purpose."

Included specifically in that carte blanche is the use of hand splints for 45 minutes; fastening to chairs during meals; and locking up and isolating residents in a "protection room" for up to an hour at a time. 

These measures may be used on anyone with disabilities aged 6 years or more, who engages in "challenging, dangerous behavior" (again my translation of the Hebrew).

The new regulations will go into effect in six months from now. Among other reasons, this is to enable institutions to prepare for their implementation.

Here's what Adv. Naama Lerner of the Movement for Independence (a group I mentioned in this earlier post a week ago) wrote in reaction to the new regulations (again my translation from the source Hebrew):
"I urge you to read this circular with great interest. It permits harsh restrictions on people in institutions with "challenging behavior". It permits fastening to a chair, isolation, tying up, in very pretty words and with 'professionalism'. For now, this is for your information. In the future we intend to act forcefully against these regulations."
Too bad all those well intentioned donors to ADI institutions have never seen these bed-cages.

Friday, May 27, 2022

The shootings in Texas

May 26, 2022: Uvalde, Texas (NY Times)
The harrowing nightmare tormenting parents of the massacred Uvalde children stirs up painful memories.
That frantic search for our daughter Malki in the local hospitals. The rage on learning that her death might have been prevented by authorities who gave petty concerns priority over decisive actions to halt the two terrorists heading for their target - a Sbarro pizzeria.

These facts reached us via a parliamentarian, MK Meir Shitreet, who revealed them to the public with no compunction. Here, however, no heads rolled afterwards. 

Nobody was excoriated for warn Jerusalemites that two terrorists traversed the the city's streets. 

Nor for their failure to order Jerusalemites to shelter in place. 

No "powers that be" were ever criticized for pleading with their "buddy" Yasser Arafat to help prevent the impending disaster. To nobody's surprise, he refused. 

Our hearts are broken with those of the Uvalde parents whom we heard pleading with the police to be admitted into the school to rescue their children. 

Shame on all those who conduct themselves incompetently in the face of evildoers. None of these mass-murderers deserves to live free and protected the way our child's murderer does as I write this.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Are we seeing a sea change?

The front gate of Neve Ram
Over the past month or so, the disability sector of Israel's population has been rocked by several cases of neglect and abuse. Tragically, a few were fatal. 

One at the start of this month involved three deaths of residents from food poisoning

And the most recent one - two nights ago - involved the food poisoning and hospitalization of four institutionalized people with disabilities at Neve Ram in Rechasim (near Haifa).

In the past, such events elicited some media attention, a few interviews with activists and then a return to "business as usual". But there is a sense that a sea change has finally been triggered. Protest demonstrations are growing common. Activists are being interviewed on mainstream TV and radio news programs more frequently. Some have gained access to senior politicians including the prime minister.
Hatnua's logo [source]
One of them, Noa Kfir Dohav, mother of a child with disabilities and founding member of HaTnua L'Atzma'ut, (in Hebrew: התנועה לעצמאות) also known as the Movement for Independence, wrote about her meeting with prime minister Naftali Bennett along with several other activists (my translation from the Hebrew source):
For an hour he was with us. Entirely interested in the personal accounts, giving respect to the youth with their disabilities and special needs. Riveted to the story Chezi tells about his brother and to the possibilities that Roni presents to him when she tells about her sister. He asks questions, conducts discussions, and delves into the most sensitive point - money - and then returns very quickly to the understanding that the current situation is bad. 'I can't imagine living even one day like this', he says when he's told about the institutions. 'And I wouldn't wish this on my children and so not on any other person", he adds at one point. He understands what we're talking about... that change must come.
A key sign of progress is the now oft-repeated demand for the closure of all institutions

Previously, few uttered that drastic word "closure". Criticism focused on the dire conditions in those institutions, on the need for tighter supervision, more frequent surprise inspections, higher salaries for staff and stricter vetting of potential employees.

But now, most go further. Here is what Adv Na'ama Lerner, one of the founders of Hatnua L'atzma'ut, also known as Movement for Independence, insisted after that meeting with the prime minister in which she too participated (my translation again):
"I have been in the field for 35 years and don't recall an accumulation of so many incidents that reveal the rot/decay in Israel's institutions. We need deeds. Actions. Funding that will bring the total closure of institutions and that will enable thousands of people to live with respect and independence."
The text of the Hebrew poster on the right, taken from the group's Facebook page, in my English translation: 
People with Disabilities Exit to Freedom: From Institutions to the Community
Again Food Poisoning in an Institution for People with Disabilities
This Time in Neve Ram
Only Miraculously Did it not End in Death
The Next Disaster is Written on The Wall
What Else Must Happen for the State of Israel to Close the Institutions?
It's the right question. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Remembrance Day - and remembering Malki

Malki's tiny handwriting in the diary she left behind
I was called last week by a young woman who asked me to speak about Malki to a group of teenage students who are on the verge of dropping out of school. She is doing her internship in education with these girls.

My knee jerk response was "No, that would be too difficult", even though she noted that her older sister had been a friend of Malki's. 

But then she added "Malki and Michal [the friend who was murdered with her] had decorated her sister's bedroom to welcome her home from an overseas trip on that day."

So I did a 180. Because on their last morning alive, Malki and Michal stood at my bedroom door to let me know about the room-decoration plan. I was in bed nursing one of my whopping migraines. I didn't even open my eyes to look at them - but it was the last time we spoke in person. 

But to this day, I can't forgive myself for passing up on that last chance to see my Malki's face.

And so I spoke about her earlier this week to six 15 year olds - the same age as Malki was when Ahlam Tamimi decided that she, Michal and 13 other Jews must die. 

I told them what a gifted flautist she was; how her music brought tears to my eyes at every concert of hers that I attended; about her devotion to her profoundly disabled younger sister and to other children with disabilities with whom she volunteered. 

I told them that often, as her sister was and remains, they were not only non-verbal but barely responsive at all. Few adults are capable of doing the work she did. 
I remembered how uplifted she was as she described the smile she had brought to a neighbor's child, dying of Canavan's Disease, when she sang him a song. She spent one summer helping out his single mother.

I told the six girls that Malki cherished her friendships, both at school and in her youth group, Ezra.  And mentioned the children there for whom she was a counselor in her last year of life and with whom she spent every other Shabbat in Ma'ale Adumim during her last year on earth. 

The mostly shredded new diary in Malki's bag
I showed them her diaries - the last one she wrote, kept in her microscopic handwriting to enable her to pack in the maximum text. And the new one which was found in her back-pack. It was void of entries and pummeled by the 10 kg bomb's nails.

I showed them photos of Malki and concluded with a very brief mention of our struggle to get Tamimi extradited from Jordan to the US. It isn't an issue I felt I could delve into for this audience. 

Afterwards, it was question time. They only asked one - which I couldn't really answer. "What have you learned, taken with you, from Malki?

After a pause I told them: "As her mother, I haven't learned from her. She was my child. What I am left with is only pain and grief. As I'm sure you have heard, the loss of a child is incomparable to any other.  But Malki's friends have told me that they did learn lessons from her. In particular, they carry with them her joy of living, her passion for life."

Thus began for me the difficult week of Yom Hazikaron - Remembrance Day.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Politicians, justice and missing the point

Shai visits Aleh Jerusalem 2018
I was first introduced to Knesset member Dr Nachman Shai when Bizchut (“Promoting the rights of people who have disabilities in Israel”) paired me up with him to pay a joint surprise visit to a large, closed Jerusalem institution for children and adults with disabilities.

Across the country on that same day, other such facilities were similarly inspected. The reason for having activists accompanied by Knesset members was that the latter can legally insist on admittance to those institutions. Civilians, like me, are almost always denied entry.

I certainly was, anytime I previously tried.

After the tours, each Knesset member's impressions were recorded on video. Shai astounded me with his praise for the institution. He was well aware that Bizchut and other activists, some with disabilities themselves, were intent on replacing institutionalization with in-community living for everyone.

Nevertheless he emerged with this reaction: 

"I believe I am leaving with a good impression, a positive impression... We toured from top to bottom, the institution was open... We were not prevented from viewing anything, everything we requested we received and I leave as much as possible with a good feeling." (My translation of his Hebrew as recorded at the time.)

Shai had entirely missed the point.

People with disabilities are often locked up in “gilded prisons.  Their human rights are denied, the love of family and home stolen from them. Funding which our government could and should channel to parents and children with disabilities is lavished on institution operators.

The rest of the Western world has, as a universally agreed matter of strategy, abandoned the institutionalization of people with disabilities over the past two decades. But Israel persists in supporting, funding and promoting it for its population with disabilities.

Standing outside that institution on the day of that visit, Shai briefly related to that "debate", as he called it, and said he intended to leave it at that.

On April 20, 2022, a demonstration will be held at Tel Aviv's Kikar Habima at 16:00. In the Passover spirit, it is being called "Our Exodus to Freedom - From Institutions into the Community".  

Nachman Shai just didn't get it.

Last week, he missed another crucial point again. And just as egregiously. 

Here is how he is quoted by Michael Freund in an opinion piece [source: The Jerusalem Post]:

In an interview on Army Radio on March 30, he asserted that “hungry people turn to terrorism. Without food and water, they will disrupt our lives... this contention simply does not stand up under further scrutiny. To begin with, consider the fact that according to the World Bank, there are approximately 700 million people on the planet living in what is described as “extreme poverty,” which is defined as earning less than $1.90 a day. That is nearly 10% of the world’s population...

If the simple equation that suggests that poverty directly gives rise to terrorism were true, one would expect to find millions of people, if not more, taking up arms worldwide and launching terrorist attacks. But that is clearly not the case.

Simply put, most hungry people are not violent nor are they terrorists. They might be desperate, embittered or dissatisfied, but that is a far cry from joining the ranks of terrorists...

Numerous academic studies over the years clearly demonstrate this to be the case. As MIT Prof. Alberto Abadie concluded in a groundbreaking 2006 study titled “Poverty, Political Freedom and the Roots of Terrorism,” published in American Economic Review, there is “no significant association between terrorism and economic variables, such as income, once the effect of other country characteristics is taken into account.”

The same holds true vis-à-vis Palestinian terrorism. Studies have repeatedly found that those who engage in it are generally better off economically than most Palestinians…
The resulting evidence on the individual level suggests that both higher standards of living and higher levels of education are positively associated” with the likelihood of a Palestinian joining Hamas or Islamic Jihad, Hebrew University's Professor Berrebi wrote in 2003...

Indeed, Berrebi discovered that Palestinian suicide bombers “tend to be of higher economic status and higher educational attainment than their counterparts in the population.

My child's murderer, Ahlam Tamimi, reinforces the above findings. Neither poor nor uneducated, she was a middle-class student of journalism working as a TV news anchor who thirsted for Jewish blood. Released in the tragically lopsided Shalit Deal in 2011 along with several hundred other convicted murderers, she maintains her previous comfortable standard of living today in her city of refuge, Amman.

She continues to boast of her "successful operation" in which fifteen Jews perished and urges others to emulate her.  

It may be ignorance that lies behind Dr Shai’s recent responses - or rather, non-responses - to me. As we parted after that visit to the Jerusalem institution, he handed me his card inviting me to contact him if I ever needed his help.

My husband and I have been eager to take him up on that offer. Our quest for justice for our daughter is blocked by many, including Israeli politicians. The U.S. Department of Justice indicted Tamimi in 2017 and has asked Jordan to extradite her to Washington where she faces terrorism charges. But King Abdullah's regime has rejected those requests and she remains free, sheltered by the Hashemite kingdom.

The State Department has throughout all our years of effort been uncooperative. So have U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle. We have learned that the Israeli government has signaled American Jewish leaders know they would prefer our requests for their support to be ignored

We approached Dr Shai in the naïve hope that he would speak up in support of our quest for justice. But he has never responded to my emails and his spokesperson has repeatedly advised me to direct my pleas elsewhere.

Here’s how she framed the brush-off:

While I understand that this response is not satisfactory for you, I will keep you posted if something more concrete develops. I am deeply sorry that I cannot help you further at this moment in time… I will continue to explore how we can be of support - particularly through other diplomatic means."

It’s been months and the exploring is presumably still underway.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised. Public figures who don’t respond when the massive problems of institutionalization of the disabled are under discussion are probably not that tuned in to justice either.