Friday, January 22, 2016

Let’s take a page from America’s angst

Source: CNN screenshot
It is always difficult for me to read or hear about a shiva call that our prime minister has paid to a newly bereaved family of a terror victim.

This past week, when he visited the Otniel home of the young wife, mother and nurse, Dafna Meir, stabbed to death in front of her children, I knew what an insincere gesture it was. Netanyahu reaches out to terror victims when it furthers his ulterior, political motives.

Those are harsh words, of course. But I write them from personal experience. I know that when a terror victim's family dares to confront him or to simply plead for his compassion - as we did - they will be ignored.

We sent letters beseeching him to delete our child's murderer - who perpetrated  a full scale massacre of 16 victims - from the list of prisoners to be released in the Shalit Deal, We never received even a one-word response.

Another event this week brought back memories of those awful days.

The prisoner swap between the United States and Iran aroused much debate. While there was elation over the return of  five US citizens, many have criticized the price paid. Seven Iranians who were either serving time or awaiting trial for alleged sanctions violations were freed. In addition, the U.S. State Department dropped an international request to detain 14 Iranians on trade violations saying the extradition requests were unlikely to be successful. So, as critics note, it was, in effect, 21 for five who were actually imprisoned unjustly.

Now this swap should not even be mentioned in the same breath as the Shalit Deal. That 2011 terrorist windfall saw Israel free hundreds of convicted, unrepentant murderers and mass murderers included in the total price tag of 1,027 terrorists for a single Israeli hostage.

Conclusion of the Shalit Deal [Image Source]
And as for angst, debate, criticism?  In the weeks and days leading up to it, although everyone knew it was imminent, there was none. Isolated pundits were scathing - but only after it was a fait accompli.

Ari Shavit's day-after op ed in Haaretz was entitled: "In Wake of Shalit Deal, Israel Must Return to Sanity"
This is an important morning for the Shalit family and for the State of Israel. A first morning after the insanity. A first morning after the hysteria. A first morning after the loss of judgment and the loss of our senses. [Haaretz, October 19, 2011]
Avi Issacharoff also of Haaretz wrote in his day-after piece, entitled “Shalit deal throws Hamas a lifeline”, that the deal was
“the first significant achievement since the Hamas government in Gaza was established in January 2006”.
He added:
“Tuesday [the day of the first tranche] showed that after nearly four years, Hamas has reared its head in the West Bank. It's doing so with Israel's help… It was a sad day… Hamas celebrating in the streets of the West Bank, masses of people vowing to kidnap Israelis, songs of praise of Hamas’ military wing…”
But the pervading mood was one of unadulterated rejoicing. Period. And for a long time.

Months later, when releasees began appearing in the headlines as perpetrators of fresh terror attacks, there were some rumblings about the wisdom of that deal. But still nothing akin to the angst of last week's American deal.

Here is some background information regarding the Shalit Deal which I first published in an Israeli newspaper in 2012 [source] but which has remained swept under the carpet. Had it been more widely circulated, it is doubtful that we would have been subjected to the eight-year reign of Netanyahu which now seems set to endure even longer.

Starting the day after Gilad Shalit returned to Israeli soil, a succession of journalists, IDF officers and Netanyahu confidantes have publicized damning information hidden from the public throughout Shalit’s captivity.

First, we learned that, contrary to our prime minister’s insistence, the release of murderers was not the only way to rescue Shalit. Intelligence and military options existed for locating and saving him but were never pursued. [See "Why Did Netanyahu Free My Daughter's Killer? Mother Blasts Prisoner Exchange To Free Gilad Shalit", published in FORWARD December 09, 2011 [source]

In July 2012, David Meidan, who served for many months as Netanyahu’s envoy to the Shalit negotiations, delivered a lecture at Tel Aviv University. Contradicting Netanyahu’s strident assertions, Meidan disclosed [source] that politics, and not only security and diplomacy, were a factor in the prime minister’s decision to sign the deal. 

According to Haaretz [source], Netanyahu also recently conceded to the German newspaper Bild that his decision to sign the deal was in part due to pressure from his wife, Sara.

The ramifications of Netanyahu’s selfish gambit have proven dire.

Six months after the deal, the IDF website [source] posted the following: 
“Several of the terrorists recently released from captivity as part of the deal… have returned to terrorist activity… with ten terrorists arrested so far.”
In July 2012, Army Radio interviewed Col. Saar Tzur, the outgoing commander of the Binyamin division. Tzur said that the Shalit deal triggered a steady and noticeable rise in the number of attempted terror attacks in Judea and Samaria and inside the Green Line [source]. "It doesn't matter whether they were released to Gaza, the West Bank or abroad,” Tzur said. “We see a return to terrorism.”

We still have a lot to learn when it comes to dealing with terrorists. And, like it or not, this time the United States can be our teacher.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Aleh 101

Not Aleh
The CEO of Lumos, Georgette Mulheir, announced today that the non-profit, founded by J.K. Rowling in 2005, was the 2015 overall winner of the Civil Society’s Media Charity Awards. This is wonderful news for anybody who cares about children with disabilities. That’s because Lumos is dedicated to eradicating institutionalization of children throughout the world.

Most children who currently live without their families in institutions actually have parents but are not living with them because they are disabled or their families are too impoverished to care for them or both.

Israel is the last bastion of institutionalization of children with disabilities in the developed world with over 700 residents. Because of this country’s anachronistic approach to care of children with disabilities, we are in the same class as countries such as Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Moldova, Serbia, Ukraine and Haiti.

But with this one crucial distinction: in those countries Lumos is operating programmes that will direct them toward de-institutionalization. Israel, on the other hand, fosters institutions for its children with disabilities.

Just look at the sums of the grants that our government lavishes on its largest chain of institutions, Aleh.

The largest of Aleh’s four facilities is plonked square in the middle of the desert, isolated from the children’s families and from any community. This is about as remote as you can get from the current goal for people with disabilities everywhere: inclusion.

But thanks to Aleh’s concerted efforts to inundate potential donors and supporters, most of Israel’s public is utterly clueless as to the injustice and even illegality of Aleh’s existence.

It publishes high profile, mawkish verbiage that disguises the true nature of its operation. For instance, the isolation of Aleh Negev and its residents from family and community becomes:
ALEH Negev, a modern village — built with the money of Diaspora Jews — that gleams like a spaceship in the middle of the southern desert city of Ofakim.
Ofakim is sand-choked and barren, an expanse of flat, brown vistas spilling southward toward the Negev and east all the way to Beersheba. Driving down here in the heat of summer can feel like pulling up to an abandoned planet, a tough, impoverished place where hopes run as dry as the dirt around you. While the border with Gaza is practically within arm’s reach, not much else is.
And the fact that residents are cut off from their families becomes:
Rachma hasn’t seen her parents in several months, a fact that her caretakers at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, a rehabilitative village for Israeli citizens with severe disabilities, say is sadly mundane... [Source]
With egregious disingenuousness, Aleh’s PR team churn out material that insinuates that the children there are incapable of living with their families or of achieving progress in a community based environment. So we read:
She can’t really walk or talk on her own, but she is alert, sitting up and offering a gurgle of incoherent conversation. Her hands, which curl in the trademark mangle of a child suffering from serious developmental disabilities, can these days wrap themselves around a spoon so she can feed herself. This is progress. [Source]
My daughter Chaya feeding
herself at home
My own daughter, Chaya, is equally impaired and has also learned to wrap her hand around a spoon so can feed herself. But her teacher was her mother who taught her in her own home. There was no need to lock her away in an institution for it to happen.

If the gargantuan sums of money pumped into the Aleh chain of institutions were diverted to help families care for their children in the warmth of a loving home – whether their own or adoptive – those children would benefit enormously and our society would be.

The lion's share of government funding in Israel goes to institutions, according to a major 2014 study by the Joint Distribution Committee [link]. Aleh, the largest institutional residence in Israel, alone receives $24 million annually. Meanwhile there is a serious shortage of services to people with disabilities who live within the community. (Aleh Negev was built at a cost of $42 million. No kidding.)
One last detail: Aleh boasts of a program it runs whereby prisoners are bussed from their cells straight to its desert branch to spend several hours one on one with residents. In order to “boost the staff ratio”, to quote Aleh, several times a week men who have not finished serving time for their crimes (whatever they may be) are permitted to be alone with the most vulnerable of our citizens.

And if they are totally risk-free, then I wonder why Aleh concedes that they are not permitted to work with minors or women.

As far as I can tell, there is no such program in existence anywhere else in the world (and I have searched long and hard). Hmmm. Could there be a good reason for that?

When I questioned the Ministry of Welfare, I received this reply (which I translated from Hebrew):
The ministry of welfare believes in the approach that contact and assistance to people with disabilities turns us into better people. This statement is applicable particularly to people who were convicted of crimes who have an opportunity to do something good. The ministry of welfare takes precautions in that anybody who will come in direct contact with the residents of the facility will not have the potential for harming them. This is what happens in "Aleh Negev" too. 
Hmmm. No mention of its impact on the residents.

I would love to hear your view of this program.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The deadly deal that won’t disappear

Ziad Abu Hadoan, Amer Rajabi and Maher Qasame, three members
of a Hamas cell caught planning to kidnap and murder an Israeli
[Image Source: Shin Bet]
Last week we were reminded that the repercussions of the Shalit Deal are far-reaching - even beyond the families of the victims who suffer from it every minute of every day. 

On January 7th, we learned that last month, Shin Bet, IDF and police forces arrested six members of a Hamas terror cell planning to kidnap and murder an Israeli. They intended to demand the release of Palestinian prisoners in return for the victim's body and already dug a grave for the body.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to draw the line connecting the Shalit Deal to plots like this one. After that phenomenal terrorist success, the release of over 1,000 terrorists including hundreds of convicted murderers, it would be folly for our enemies not to attempt a repeat performance. 

Many Israelis would like to put the Shalit Deal far behind them. This is clear from PM Netanyahu's studious avoidance of any mention of it from the moment he perpetrated it. There were no apologies to victims families, no reference to it subsequently. Ever.

And as anybody who's tried to elicit official information about those released murderers knows, our government is complicit in the cover up.

Say you'd like to know the what the conditions of the releases were? That, we now know, is off limits to the public. After a delay of many months, our lawyer was notified by the Prime Minister's Office that our request for information under the Freedom of Information Law was denied.

He was told that some of the information we requested regarding the Shalit releasees resides with the General Security Service (the "Shabak") and as such is exempt from the above law.

Shalit Deal prisoners heading for freedom, October 2011
Our lawyer responded with a logical question: Which information is thus protected and which isn't? And since you concede that some of it isn't, why haven't you provided the information that isn't? Our lawyer reminded that PMO official that there is a specific appointee in that office who deals with freedom of information matters and shouldn’t he be dealing with this matter?

That was in September 2015. There was no further response from the PMO's office.

One of the statistics that we would like to know is the precise number of Shalit releasees that has been re-arrested for resumed terrorist activity. Some have actually been charged with post-release murder. The Palestinians themselves claim some 70 share that distinction. .

But, as the above letter makes clear, the precise number is kept closely under wraps; our government does not believe we deserve to know it.

So if anyone is sitting back on the couch, relieved that the after-shocks of the Shalit Deal are somebody else's worry, wake up. This is a travesty that is haunting every one of us even four years later. Last week’s revelation of Hamas’ foiled plot makes that clear.

That deal with the Devil will continue to threaten us until our leader stands up, acknowledges that he committed a grave injustice and vows never to repeat it.

Pigs will fly first.