Monday, April 4, 2016

Israel is in love with institutions

Published by Lumos [Source]
Israel just can't seem to shake its infatuation with institutionalization.

Throughout the developed world, this cruel and archaic approach to caring for people with disabilities is being totally eradicated. Instead, those citizens are either being returned to their biological families, to adoptive families or to small group homes within the community. Including those with severe disabilities.

But Israel marches to its own tune. It generously enables that behemoth of institutionalization  - Aleh - to expand and tighten its grip on the population with disabilities. New sources of funding, support and accolades pour in incessantly. Starting with our prime minister and continuing on to our Ministry of Welfare, to the JNF and on to NGOs that nominally champion the rights of people with disabilities such as the Ruderman Foundation.

Let's face it: Israel's embrace of institutionalization has been tight for years. .

But this month, a red line was crossed when the Ministry of Education announced that one of the recipients of its Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and exceptional contribution to the nation of 2016 will be Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog. He will receive the prestigious prize for "the enormous contribution of the village Aleh Negev - Nahalat Eran, a rehabilitation village for the brain-damaged which he founded" as a residence for his son, Eran, born brain-damaged.

Shortly after the village's completion. Eran died.

The Ministry asserts that 

"Aleh Negev-Nahalat Eran has become a groundbreaking setting for children and adults with mental and developmental limitations." [Ynet]
The adjective "groundbreaking" is used repeatedly by Aleh's PR machine because it impresses the uninformed public. Of course, the reason that Aleh is "groundbreaking" is that nobody in the first world is doing what it does, nor attempting to follow its lead. And for irrefutable, professional reasons. Life in an Aleh "facility" or "residential village" as they are euphemistically referred to, is a sad, detrimental and sub-standard one as is life in any institution for any person. [See this recent post of mine: "Perhaps you *can* fool everyone all of the time", March 18, 2016]

Where is the objecting voice of the Ruderman Foundation? That NGO purports to spearhead a campaign for inclusion of people with disabilities in the general community. Just two months ago, Mr. Ruderman wrote that Israel must confront many challenges in this area:
"And what are those challenges? First and foremost, living independently. Today, there are 10,000 Israeli with disabilities living in institutions and if you’re an Israeli with disabilities, you have few choices for independent living. You live with your parents for your lifetime with no adequate support or in a segregated setting, typically in severe poverty." [The Jewish Advocate, February 19, 2016]
And where is the voice of Bizchut ("The Israel Human Rights Center for People With Disabilities?) Back in 2008, Bizchut published a scathing attack on institutionalization entitled "Land of the Limited Possibilities - the Right of People with Cognitive Disabilities to Live Within the Community". The book recounted the horrific history of institutionalization, citing reliable professional condemnations of it along with profiles of residents who have suffered in Israeli institutions.

About "Aleh Negev", Bizchut wrote:
"...before the Shavuot holiday, Liat [a 31 year old resident] went home with her mother [who traveled six hours to bring her]. When her mother tried to shower her, Liat refused to remove her blouse, although she usually enjoyed showers. After she had finally undressed, her mother was shocked: Liat's entire back and stomach were covered in scratches, bruises, and hematomas while her left arm showed a strong bite mark. The severity of the injury prompted the family to lodge a complaint with the police after the holiday. Since the incident Liat shows signs of trepidation whenever she leaves the house and is fearful of showers and the toilet which has necessitated her return to the use of diapers. As a result of the report to the police, Aleh Negev conducted an internal investigation and several staff members were fired."
There is no reason to be shocked by this anecdote. Such occurrences are common in large institutions (Aleh Negev alone boasts nearly 200 residents; Aleh's four institutions house a total of nearly 1,000) and are central to the campaign to eradicate institutions.

Lumos is an organization dedicated to seeing that become a global reality by 2050. Founded by renowned author, JK Rowling, in 2004, its stated credo is:
"No child should be denied a family life because they are poor, disabled or from an ethnic minority. Lumos works to support the 8 million children in institutions worldwide to regain their right to a family life and to end the institutionalisation of children." [Lumos website]
And while we in Israel glorify our champions of institutionalization, Lumos was the overall winner of the UK's 2015 Charity of the Year Award. Will the vision Lumos disseminates ever reach our shores? Or will we proceed, alone, on our slide back into the dark ages?

Sadly, this Ministry of Education award seems to augur the latter.

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