Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Fifteen years later, a mother's graveside words to a murdered daughter

My daughter Malki z"l and I,
April 2001
Today, the 20th day of Av according to the Hebrew calendar, is the anniversary of the day in 2001 when Hamas launched an assault on Jerusalem's Sbarro pizzeria. The text below is the English translation of my brief tribute given at the graveside today.

After a decade and a half of memorials, of suffering, of longing for Malki and Michal and of fury over the travesty of justice inflicted by our government - there is nothing new.

Just an intensification...

Now it is even harder to approach you, Malki, to remember you and your beauty both internal and external.

Sometimes when I recall images of you, I must immediately flee them; the pain is so unbearable.

Today would have been the 92nd birthday of your grandmother from Australia whom you always loved and honored. Sadly she passed away this past Shabbat.

Like you, she was persecuted and pursued by haters of Jews. Like you, she suffered at their hands. But unlike you, she survived and was blessed with a wonderful "bayit ne'eman b'Yisrael" - a Jewish family.

She was so impacted by your murder that, despite her frailty, she made the grueling trip to attend the memorial held here in your memory 30 days after you were murdered. That was her last visit to us. But, as Daddy just wrote me, he found that she subsequently filled her room with photos of you. They are still there.

As I have done each year, I opened your diary - the last gift you gave us, a window into your innermost thoughts. I was impressed anew by your maturity, your innocent faith, your modesty and your devotion to your job as a leader in the religious youth movement, Ezra.

All the admirable traits you demonstrated there - empathy, striving for perfect relations with all of your friends and the children you led and deep love for family - it is clear that had you lived as you should have, those same traits would have stood you in good stead in your career, your relationship with a husband and in raising a family of your own - challenges you never enjoyed.

על אלה אני בוכיה עיני עיני ירדה מים כי רחק ממני מנחם
איכה א טז
"This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit." [Lamentations 1:16]

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

For our children with special-needs, nothing is ever enough

On the firstday of her new post-school chapter,
Chaya has a new braid
Today we began a new chapter: the start of my daughter Chaya's post-school life.

In the lead up to this, we have been inundated  - by staff members at her school, by friends, by acquaintances - with the suggestion that we put Chaya in Aleh. And I have been baffled every time anew.

Each "adviser" is aware of the sacrifices my husband and I have made for the past 21 years to care for Chaya at home. Why do they imagine we'd wake up the day Misrad Hachinuch (the government of Israel's ministry of education) evicts her and follow their lead by declaring "enough is enough": We've loved her enough, we've invested enough time and energy in her, we've tackled her complex medical issues enough, we've struggled enough to develop her limited capabilities. It is time to retire as parents.

Yes, those well-intentioned folks touting Aleh are a conundrum. Sometimes we respond with our lecture about the iniquities of institutional life for everyone, even people as disabled as Chaya. But it's usually clear we can't make a dent in their preconceptions.

We had the opportunity to share our frustrations last week with the executive director of Bizchut. He listened attentively and sympathetically and explained the current focus of Bizchut's activities. Briefly, it is endeavoring to advance legislation that will enable more people with disabilities to leave institutions and live within the community. It is still staunchly opposed to institutionalization but does not expend as much of its resources to attacking specific institutions or to changing societal conceptions about them as it once did.

C. brought home this
final report
He encouraged us to join a committee of activist parents of children with disabilities and to create a video clip on the topic of institutions (and made some good suggestions about which professionals to use). He suggested that the video should profile families raising a disabled child at home and that it contrast the progress that has been made in other Western countries with the stagnation that plagues Israel in this area.

He cautioned us that progress will probably maintain its current snail's pace for many years to come. Nevertheless we left the meeting uplifted. It was great to hear another person echoing our unpopular views - in Israel, that is - about people with disabilities, their needs and their rights.

Last night, I listened to an interview with Anne Marie Slaughter on the Bloomberg channel in which she admiringly quoted a Finnish CEO: "Nowadays," he said "when a job applicant says he didn't use his paternity leave after the birth of his baby, I question his character." Slaughter was contrasting that Scandinavian outlook - a product of the narrowed  gender gap there - with the American one which often doesn't even offer paternity leave at all.

I dream of the day when, here in Israel, we react to a parent's revelation that he has institutionalized his child with disabilities the same way as that Finnish CEO: by questioning his character.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fifteen years on, there's no relief from the grief

Sbarro pizzeria Jerusalem: August 9, 2016 [Image Source]
The photo on the right depicts the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem taken shortly after the bombing that resulted in the massacre of fifteen men, women and children on August 9, 2001. It captures some of what occurred in its wake -  the horror, the shock, the fear, the urgency to rescue.

No wonder it is many editors' choice to illustrate articles about that terror attack.                          .

But, unlike editors, I scrutinize that photo and similar ones for signs of my child's body. I know it is there somewhere amidst the ashes, water, smoke and bedlam.  Because, inexplicably, it languished at that site for some six hours before being transferred to the forensic lab at Abu Kabir. I have no clue why that happened. But it left me and my family in limbo all those hours with no evidence of our Malki's death.

It is but one of the many outrages that intensify the never-ending nightmare that we endure.

Another is the revelation that our government was aware on the morning of that August 9 that a terrorist had infiltrated the city center - but reacted only by dispatching a few extra police officers to patrol the streets and alerting hospital emergency rooms. We, the potential victims, were never privy to that information. We only learned about this from the Minister of  Justice at the time, Meir Shitreet, in an interview he gave several days after the attack.

Another outrage is the release of our Malki's convicted murderer, Ahlam Tamimi, in the Shalit Deal of 2011 - despite her publicized pride in the deed and despite our protests.

Another is the permission granted her cousin and fiance, Nizar Tamimi, also himself a convicted murderer, to exit the West Bank and join her in Amman, Jordan. Mr. Netanyahu authorized that reunion in contravention of the explicit conditions of Nazir's release also in that Shalit Deal.

Our government misinformed us about the authorization of his exit in order to delay the hearing of a High Court of Justice application my husband and I filed – delayed until he had actually crossed the Allenby Bridge. By then, of course, the court’s intervention had been rendered pointless.

Also compounding our grief is the freedom our child's murderer enjoys to continue her vile, murderous activities. In a string of public appearances, she boasts to adulatory audiences of her "success" and incites them to emulate her. She does this by travelling the length and breadth of the Muslim Arab world and via her weekly TV program  beamed by satellite to millions of viewers around the globe. And not only around the globe but to terrorists currently imprisoned in Israel.

This week, a fresh outrage: we learned (Haaretz, August 7, 2016) that hunger-striking Hamas prisoners had - after two days - won several concessions including the cessation of "humiliating searches" by Israeli prison wardens. The prison authority
said it took the moves in the wake of intelligence indicating that prisoners... were communicating with each other using go-betweens and smuggled cellphones.The IPS said searches of the prison disclosed a number of phones as well as written material suggesting collusion among the inmates. 
This may sound to some like a trivial victory. But it is actually huge. It ensures that at least one type of lethal weapon will be smuggled into Israeli prisons with greater ease that they have been until now. That weapon is the smartphone.

Ahlam Tamimi's incitement to further massacres like Sbarro reaches millions of viewers not only via Hamas' TV station Al Quds but via dozens of websites accessible by smartphone. We have information that, even prior to this victorious hunger strike, smartphones were penetrating prison security: as the spokesperson for the prison service readily conceded to me some months ago: "We just can't detect them all."

Can't, or, perhaps, won't, I wonder.

With the cessation of those "humiliating" searches, we can be assured that smartphones will now be freely circulating. Evil, determined and popular mass murderers, including Ahlam Tamimi, will be enabled to incite and inspire budding terrorists through the web in our own prisons.

And so, fifteen years after our fifteen year old precious, loving and gifted daughter was snatched from us, the grief remains raw. The fresh outrages continue to emerge.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Cultivating the Negev on the backs of the most vulnerable Israelis

The prime minister and his wife pay a visit to Aleh Negev, July 28, 2016
[Image Source]
Uh oh. Aleh's slick PR machine bungled.

Touting their large closed institutions for people with severe disabilities, they emphasized their business' profitability and societal benefits. The welfare of  the individuals living there -  which experts in the field insist suffers - is cited as a secondary concern.

The context was a visit by Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife Sara to Aleh Negev, the chain's flagship institution, last week to pay tribute to Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, recipient of the 2016 Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and for contributions to society and the state.

According to Yisrael Hayom, Mr Netanyahu said there
Through its work with our most severely disabled citizens... ALEH exemplifies the very essence of both Judaism and humanity... [Yisrael Hayom, July 29, 2016]
Say what? Taking our most vulnerable children away from their parents and siblings is an example of the "very essence of Judaism and humanity"? Hasn't our prime minister gotten it back to front? Isn't the loving embrace of these children by their families what we mean when we refer to "the very essence of Judaism and humanity"?

The First Lady also weighed in the virtues of Aleh's large, closed institutions.
 "When children of all abilities and backgrounds are brought together in this way, cared for by individuals who value nationalism and volunteerism, and are taught to focus on their similarities and capabilities, rather than their differences and disabilities, they will grow up to be kinder, gentler and more complete adults, and our society will reap the benefits," she noted. [Yisrael Hayom, July 29, 2016]
Excuse me? They will be kinder, gentler and more complete adults? We are speaking about individuals who are severely impaired and  incapable of harming a fly or of being anything but gentle. They have been taken away from their families and deposited in a closed institution remote from the rest of Israeli society. And this, Mrs. Netanyahu would like us to believe, will teach them "to focus on their similarities"?

With all due respect to her license in child psychology - which Yisrael Hayom emphasizes - she is no expert in the field of disabilities. Those who are beg to differ with her assessment of Aleh's living solution. For instance, "Institutions are poor substitutes for a nurturing home life, even if they are well run and monitored," UNICEF writes in its annual State of the World’s Children report for 2013.

The harm to children from institutionalized care has been widely documented and, according to a 2009 study by the world’s leading independent children’s rights NGO, Save the Children, "several successful models of family and community-based care have already been developed."

It would appear that Israel supports keeping people with disabilities in their homes or communities rather than institutions. The Equal Rights of Persons With Disabilities Law (1998) mandates equality for the disabled person and the his/her right to make decisions about his/her own life. A 2000 amendment to Israel's Welfare (Care of Retarded Persons) Law, 5729-1969 [noted here] requires that preference be given to residences within the community when placing individuals outside their homes.

Furthermore, in 2012 Israel ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities. As I noted in a 2015 article in Haaretz, this guarantees their right to live within the community and to be accorded
“access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services... to prevent isolation or segregation from the community.”
Mr Almog himself had this to say about the Prime Minister's tribute visit:
[It] is a powerful message indicating the Israeli government's commitment to both developing the Negev and providing the best possible support and care for the weakest members of our society... [Yisrael Hayom, July 29, 2016]
Again, it's the development of the Negev that is the focus. And it's achieved on the backs of "the weakest members of our society."

A laudable venture it is indeed, but using these children and young adults to provide  employment for "close to 300 local residents" is nothing short of abhorrent.

So to Sara I would say: Stick to your own field!

And to her husband: Is it not time you paid tribute to the care of children and adults with disabilities by their families! And isn't it time you redirected government largesse away from Aleh's institutions to at-home care and therapies and to day schools that enable this population to remain with their loved ones?

To Doron Almog, I would say: Many of us want to keep our children with severe disabilities at home with us. Why not  devote some of your time and energy to promoting that option?