Saturday, December 30, 2017

A glimmer of hope through the thick smoke

From the Aleh website
The smoke is blowing fast and thick from Aleh's PR whizzes.

In the hope of blinding us to the truth - that Aleh warehouses and locks up people with disabilities in large, isolated facilities - they inundate the public with faux-uplifting stories.

From motorcycle demos to soldier visits to lipstick sessions, their residents are being trotted out for inane photo ops that mask the sad reality of their existence isolated from family and community.

Now some of that smoke is being directed my way to my Jerusalem neighborhood. We are being treated [here] to a series of free lectures on various child-care topics. Free cake and coffee is thrown in to maximize the appeal. The lecturers will, for the most part, be employees of Aleh.

These tactics are thoroughly duping Israel's politicians and government agencies. Our Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett, regularly trots off to Aleh Negev to inundate it with worshipful words: "You at Aleh are the torchbearers; you cast light on us all..."

Our Ministry of Welfare honors Aleh with awards [here] and its own hyperbolic praise of Aleh's
"world view in which the child remains an integral part of the family, and even more – ALEH is an example of a community-integrated residence..." (emphasis mine)
The greedy tentacles of this ever-expanding monster have nearly extinguished all hope for change in the lives of Israel's citizens with disabilities. But they will not succeed if we continue the struggle for genuine inclusion and equality.
As I typed the above rant, I received the following notification from Bizchut about a grass-roots campaign now underway on social media (translated by me from Hebrew to English):
"'I too deserve to be able to roam around and mess around in the big city. I want to be like you and not like a patient in a special village for people with disabilities. I want to do National Service, I want to take a trip to the Philippines or Thailand. I want a dream job. I want a relationship. That's me.' Tommy Berchanko, a youth [in Israel] with disabilities and a social activist." 
In the last month, tens of similar posts have circulated; posts relating the stories of youths with disabilities and their parents. In a short time, hundreds of people joined the struggle. People with disabilities, their parents, friends and relatives who have decided to shout out their dream, the dream of a full life within the community, with personal assistance for every individual with disabilities. All this is in accordance with the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Israel signed in 2007 and ratified in 2012. We at Bizchut bless and support all the activists and invite you to join them."
 And the group that Bizchut mentioned posted the following on its Facebook page:
"We are a group working to advance legislation that will enable people with disabilities (without distinction between types of disability) to realize their right to independent and supported lives with equality and dignity within the community in accordance with their needs and wishes and with the necessary support to achieve that."
You can read the full manifesto here.

I was particularly heartened by the phrase "without distinction between types of disability". 

Which means, Aleh, your repeated use of "complex disabilities" to denote the children locked up in your institutions just won't cut it. Even they are entitled to live within the community, with their families enjoying true inclusion. Not visits from dignitaries, donors or volunteers - the crumbs of inclusion doled out to Aleh's residents.

So, dear readers, you can now do something concrete to help Israelis with severe disabilities, particularly those consigned to live out their lives in large, closed institutions like Aleh. Join this nascent campaign to propel Israel into the ranks of other enlightened countries throughout the world.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Seeing through the institutions and the smoke-screens

From the manufacturer's website
Today I chatted with somebody possessing inside information about Aleh Jerusalem. I contacted that person regarding Aleh's recent announcement of its launch of a project to equip its residents with Wizzybugs. There's a photo of one over on the right. It comes from the company that developed them.

This is an expensive wheelchair and, as I learned from my source, requires a protracted period of training before a child can operate it. My source told me that several children at the institution have been undergoing such training using a substitute device and that one family had purchased a Wizzybug for their child. And that, dear readers, constitutes the sum total of Wizzybugs at Aleh.

Now here is what Aleh's PR whizzes did with those Wizzybug facts:
  • "At the beginning of November, ALEH, Israel’s network of care for children with severe complex disabilities, launched a new empowerment project at its residential facility in Jerusalem that provides toddlers with specially-designed motorized wheelchairs, allowing them to take control of their own mobility from the age of one year-old...
  • “We at ALEH believe that every person has a natural right to dignity, the highest quality of life and to reach their fullest potentials. That’s why these brilliant Wizzybug chairs were a natural fit for us,” added Grayevsky. “We are thrilled for all of our amazing ALEH kids who are now benefitting from this exciting project, and we enjoy watching them use this new tool to move their lives ever forward.”. 
Notwithstanding those assertions, I had a strong feeling after reading the PR release and looking past the smoke-screen that Aleh has no more than one Wizzybug on its premises. After all, the photos accompanying the article only showed one. If there were a fleet of them, wouldn't we have been shown it? My source confirmed my suspicions.

I realize this deception is trivial and that harping on it, even as briefly as I have, could be construed as obsessive. But it is emblematic of Aleh's wider attitude towards the truth about children with disabilities.

For instance, their incessant insertion of the word "inclusion" into every item they disseminate. Aleh's approach toward these children and adults is the antithesis of inclusion. Their claims otherwise - as found here - are nothing but "alternative facts".  Likewise their irrational insistence that their large, closed institutions are "home" and their staff "family" to the residents could not be further from the truth. 

Occasionally, their slick PR whizzes slip up as they did here where they concede that the children in Aleh Jerusalem do have real biological families who visited them on Hanukka last week. This just confirms the claims of Lumos that over 80% of all children who have been handed over to institutions throughout the world are not orphans:
"Eight million children live in orphanages and other institutions globally. More than 80% are not orphans but have been separated from their families because of poverty and discrimination." [Lumos]
Many of the these families would not have abandoned their children had they received the government assistance they need and deserve to care for their children. 

Somehow these facts elude the army of supporters that Aleh has enlisted, among them employees and volunteers - and including my source. They tell me that the residents had been neglected by their families and enjoy a higher quality of life in Aleh. They are clueless as to the de-insitutionalized systems of care now pursued in the rest of the developed world. They presume that Israel's choice between quality care and family love is the ideal and the only solution. 

When will enlightenment reach our shores?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The minister needs an education

The Aleh Negev facility: Home?
Recently, my husband met with a senior official in one of the government ministries to discuss matters relating to Keren Malki, the Malki Foundation, the non-profit we together founded in 2001 to memorialize our murdered daughter, Malki.

As the conversation drew to a close, the official praised the foundation's work subsidizing para-medical therapies for children with disabilities who live with their families. But she differed with Arnold on one point: she believes that raising such children is not just a privilege, as he had said to her, but an obligation.

While we do not state our views as dogmatically as she did, I do often wonder how parents who abandon their children with disabilities rationalize that step. What explanation do they give their other children for refusing to raise their sibling? Do they concede "Well, he didn't live up to our dreams and expectations so we decided to dump him in an institution?"

How do they reassure their other children who quite possibly lie awake at night wondering "Will I also be abandoned for getting lousy grades in school? Or for getting into fights with my classmates? Or for being punished by my principal?"

Such ponderings would only be natural.

Despite that senior official's encouraging words the Israeli government persists in entrenching institutionalization in Israel. Today we learned that Education Minister Naftali Bennett visited Aleh Negev on December 4th to laud the establishment there of the first Bnei Akiva branch for children with disabilities.

Please enough smoke in our eyes!

When will this government wake up and smell the coffee? It is alone in the developed world. Its regressive attitudes to children and adults with disabilities have been rejected by other enlightened states. In February 2016, Mr. Bennett visited Aleh Negev, and his praise for the institution matched his words this week. He has had plenty of time to learn of Lumos and its tireless efforts to end global institutionalization; to read the warnings of professionals against the physical and emotional harm that life in large, closed institutions inflicts on its inmates. But he clearly hasn't done so.

His continued  support for Aleh violates the civil rights of citizens with disabilities and is a blight on our society.  Mr Bennett, who clearly hasn't made any progress in the last two years said:
"You, at ALEH, are the torchbearers, and you cast light upon us all – light for the children who need it most, light for their parents, light for all of Israel, and a 'light unto the nations'.” ["Naftali Bennett visits ALEH", December 4, 2017]

Monday, November 27, 2017

Hate, hypocrisy, heartache: Marking my daughter's birthday

Malki and her friends celebrate a birthday party of one of the group on 
August 8, 2001. It's the last photo we have of her. She was murdered
the following day.
Today would have been our precious angel's 32nd birthday, but for the hate and bloodthirst of mass murderer Ahlam Tamimi.

Instead, our family lives with relentless pain and longing while that monster thrives in King Abdullah's terrorist-haven, Amman, Jordan.

Ironically, on this same day - November 27 - Abdullah begins a round of meetings with leaders and members of U.S. Congressional committees including military service, foreign relations and appropriations along with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and Vice President Mike Pence.

There is no excuse for this embrace of a terrorist protector, King Abdullah, who since March 2017 has stubbornly refused to extradite Tamimi, the self-confessed mastermind of the 2001 Sbarro massacre despite the official demands of the U.S. Department of Justice. A treaty of extradition was signed and ratified by both countries in 1995.

A state harboring the murderer of fifteen men, women, children and babies, a woman who is one of America's FBI Most Wanted Terrorists, must be punished by the Trump administration and not honored and rewarded.

Meanwhile the Trump White House is outraged over the release by Pakistan of another terrorist, the cleric Hafiz Saeed, and warned
it could damage US-Pakistan relations... [and that] it sends a deeply troubling message about its commitment to fighting terrorism. [Independent UK, November 25, 2017]
Saeed is 
allegedly the founder of a banned group linked to the 2008 Mumbai, India, attack that killed 168 people. He has been designated a terrorist by the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. has a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction. He was released before dawn on Friday after a three-judge panel in Pakistan ended his detention in the eastern city of Lahore. The move outraged both U.S. and Indian authorities.  ["White House condemns Pakistan’s release of militant suspect", Associated Press, November 25, 2017]
The White House called Pakistan's move a "step in the wrong direction" and warned it would damage bilateral ties and Pakistan's international reputation around the world. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders emphasized that Saeed's release "belies Pakistani claims that it will not provide sanctuary for for terrorists on its soil". 

Here, on the other hand, is what Trump had to say of Jordan's King Abdullah a few short weeks ago in a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly:
"It's a great honor to be with the King of Jordan, who has been our partner and ally for a long time. And I think never has the relationship been better than it is right now... I just want to thank you for everything you've done, in terms of the refugees and taking care of people that -- who knows what would have happened without you. So I want to thank you and I want to thank everybody involved with you, and you have done an amazing job. Thank you." [White House Media Release, September 20, 2017]
On Malki's birthday, please help us publicize this blatant hypocrisy, this infuriating double standard.

Monday, November 20, 2017

On status epilepticus and the status of institutions

With my daughter in hospital
We are currently ensconced in the hospital caring for Chaya, our youngest child.

Twelve days ago, we brought her to her neurologist after a seizure-packed week. By then, she was in true status epilepticus, the apex of epileptic states.

After several minutes in the doctor's office, we were hustled off to the ER where she was subjected to an avalanche of new drugs.

Now, with Chaya showing minimal improvement and barely responsive, we are nearing despair. 

It is telling that we are immersed in caring for Chaya in November – National Family Caregivers Month. Of course, it isn't known as such in Israel but then this is a country that in meaningful ways discourages parents from being caregivers for children with severe disabilities; children who will remain such their entire lives; children who will never be independent, productive adults.

It should surprise no one that we lack a month, or even a week, to salute parents who decide to embrace such children.

In the medical system, my husband and I are often asked "So where does your daughter live?" Our response: "With us at home" is invariably met with a degree of amazement.

That attitude should not be surprising in this institutionalization-friendly state. Generous government funding flows to institutions for each person with disabilities that is deposited there. On the other hand, a mere pittance is allotted to those who opt to care for their offspring with disabilities at home.

This is the way Israel rewards its precious resource of devoted parents. 

I can't think of a more effective means of dissuading parents from keeping their children than that financial policy. In fact, somebody ought to alert Aleh, our largest chain of closed institutions for people with disabilities, that it can hang on to its PR cash. The relentless ad campaign it wages worldwide is superfluous. Institutionalization is a deeply entrenched tradition.

Also coincidentally, the Ruderman Foundation is holding its Summit 2017 this month. Dedicated to the advancement of people with disabilities, the Foundation says the event is intended to:
"bring together 1,000 people from a variety of sectors including: tech, policy, human services, fashion, education, social justice, business, housing, advocacy and more to network and share best practices. Our goal is to inspire, motivate, and arm attendees with the know how to keep up the work of advancing full inclusion of people with disabilities in every aspect of life. These two days will be packed with over 15 panels and plenaries!"

We wonder how the Foundation reconciles this project with the fact that its website contains an article lauding the work of Aleh institutions (archived here in case it disappears). This baffling promotion of institutionalization has appeared there since 2013 and despite our queries about it of Ruderman officials two years ago, it has not been removed.

So what can you do to shake things up? 

Whenever you hear Aleh mentioned, speak up about the evils of institutionalization and the right of every child - regardless of his abilities - to live with his or another family within the community. 

Point out that all those mawkish tales we read of salvation by Aleh are smoke in our eyes. They are disseminated to shield us from the truth about Aleh's operations. 

More about that blinding smoke in an upcoming post...

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Are more terrorists about to be freed by Israel?

Yahya Sinwar, a committed jihadist with a bloody background, was recently appointed head of the Hamas terrorists in Gaza. He was sentenced to 4 life times for terror and murder when Israel released him in the 2011 Shalit Deal
[Image Source]
[A version of this post, under the title "This time, just say no to Netanyahu", was published by Times of Israel on October 30, 2017.]

With the scars of the 2011 Shalit Deal still fresh, we now discover Israel's prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu learned nothing from that fiasco.

Six years, almost to the day, after he freed 1,027 convicted terrorists, Netanyahu announced the appointment of Yaron Blum as negotiations coordinator with Hamas - man who as "a member of the small negotiations team" was instrumental in that earlier deal with the devil.

This time around, Blum's goal will be the return of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in 2014 along with two mentally ill hostages who crossed the border into Gaza, in exchange for another mass release of Palestinian terrorists.

As Blum put it (my translation of the Hebrew source):
"In my opinion, since this is a national mission, we are obliged to do everything to bring the boys home so I accepted the position with excitement."  
He was echoing Netanyahu who said upon publicizing the appointment:
“We understand our moral and humanitarian debt to do everything possible to bring them back”  
adding that he was sure Blum would make a “very important contribution to this sacred mission.”

Once again, no red lines. Just buckle to Hamas’ demands.

At that press conference, Netanyahu noted that he had called the families of the Israelis being held by Hamas in Gaza prior to making the appointment and stressed to them his commitment to returning them to Israel. This is reminiscent of Netanyahu and his wife’s two hostings of the Shalit parents prior to the deal’s signing. I don't know if he has or hasn't hosted one or two families whose loved ones had been killed by the prisoners he released. I do know that at the time he falsely asserted to the press - and his staff echoed this to me personally - that he had written to all of them to explain and to comfort. Neither my husband and I nor any one of the dozens of terror victim families whom we asked has ever gotten such a Netanyahu letter.

This chilling deja vu strikes while many of us still suffer from the carnage and injustice that Blum's previous government assignment wrought. (For instance: "11-Sep-14: Freeing terrorists: The price in human lives lost and in justice perverted keeps getting clearer")

A former senior official in the Shin Bet, he has served in recent years as a senior executive in the private sector. He seems to re-surface whenever Netanyahu feels his back against the wall and craves an image boost.

In 2011, prior to the Shalit Deal, it was the social protests that prompted that craving. We learned this from David Meidan, Netanyahu's special envoy to negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit ["Israeli Negotiator: Social Protest Affected Netanyahu's Decision on Shalit Deal", Haaretz, July 24, 2012]. In a closed lecture entitled "Secrets Behind the Shalit Deal" that he gave at Tel Aviv University in July 2012 [reported in "New Info on Shalit Deal Shows, Yet Again, That in the Mideast, Nothing Is as It Appears", Haaretz, July 24, 2012], Meidan admitted that the decision to close the deal was influenced by political considerations.

Netanyahu had been insisting that his approval of the swap was based solely on security and diplomacy factors. Anyone who accused him of harboring other considerations incurred Netanyahu’s anger or even the threat of a libel suit. One exception was his concession to the German newspaper, Bild, that his wife Sara had pressured him to proceed with the mass prisoner release.

(Anybody recall which official position Mrs Netanyahu held at the time??)
Now, of course, it is the threat of indictment that weighs on the beleaguered prime minister. What a god-send it would be for him to win kudos with the return of those MIA's and captives.

The Israeli habit of releasing prisoners in exchange for kidnapped soldiers and civilians has always been highly controversial. Intelligence sources (quoted in "‘PM ordered rearrests of dozens of prisoners freed in Shalit deal’", Times of Israel, June 24, 2014) estimate that 60% of those who have been freed in these lopsided deals over the decades have subsequently been imprisoned again for terrorism.

The Shalit releasees are no exception.

In April 2014, a few hours before the Passover Seder, Baruch Mizrachi was shot dead in a roadside attack near Hebron ("03-Oct-17: Released in Shalit Deal, a pious Pal Arab murderer is going back (too late) to life in an Israeli prison"). The 48-year-old Israel Police superintendent was killed by Ziad Awwad, a Hamas operative released in the prisoner swap. Mizrachi was the sixth Israeli to be killed in attacks carried out or planned by Shalit Deal releases. Estimates of how many Shalit releasees are now back in Israeli jails for having engaged in terrorist activities range from the seventies to 120 or more.

Many pundits who were silent prior to that release of 1,027 terrorists minced no words in condemning it after the fact. Here is what the former Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit wrote the day after the Shalit Deal was executed:
Image Source
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. After 1,941 days and 1,941 nights dominated by kitsch, this morning we are waking up to reality. Opening our eyes and rubbing them to see who we are and what has happened to us. This morning, when Gilad Shalit wakes up in his bed, we can already tell the truth: We went crazy. During the past 64 months, we simply went crazy. Because of the profound and justified guilt that we all felt for one boy and one family, we stopped acting in a reasonable manner. Because of the twisted awareness that we suffered in the era of Channel 2, we worked ourselves up into an emotional frenzy. We reached the point where we are willing to sacrifice hundreds whose names and faces we are not familiar with, in exchange for the one whose name and face have become a part of our lives. We reached the point where we conduct our national affairs like children - without wisdom, without morality and without mature responsibility... ["In wake of Shalit Deal, Israel must return to sanity", Haaretz, October 19, 2011]
Has the Shalit Deal taught us nothing? Are we doomed to awake to another bleak "morning after"? Will we again hand over our lives to Netanyahu to use as political currency?

We could direct Netanyahu to the following excerpt from “Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists” published after the 9/11 attacks in the U.S:
Freeze financial assets in the West of terrorist regimes and organizations; revise legislation, subject to periodic renewal, to enable better surveillance against organizations inciting violence; keep convicted terrorists behind bars; refuse to negotiate with terrorists; train special forces to fight terror; and, not least important, impose sanctions on suppliers of nuclear technology to terrorist states.
Netanyahu himself wrote that book. If he meant what he said there, he will stop rewarding Hamas for holding Israeli hostages and start punishing them instead.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Israel's Interior Minister vs. Accessibility

Bizchut calls for its petition to be signed
You may have thought that Israel is generally sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities. After all, this is a first-world country, advanced in most ways, with a disabled population of more than 1.6 million. Of that number, some 51,000 are IDF veterans injured in the line of duty, a revered group.

Israel's flourishing institutionalization enterprises (see this past post of mine for instance: "Even Chief Rabbis make mistakes")and its penchant for warehousing the disabled are surely just an anomaly. Right?

Well, not exactly. Israel is often tone-deaf to the needs of its citizens with disabilities in more ways than one.

Notwithstanding the enactment thirteen years ago of legislation requiring accessibility to all public buildings and services, many remain utterly inaccessible.

Instead of striving for progress in that area, Interior Minister, Aryeh Deri, is determined to roll back the clock.

Most local authorities (including the wealthy Tel Aviv and Rishon Lezion municipalities) are loathe to spend on accessibility renovations. Consequently the wheelchair-bound, the elderly and parents with strollers find many buildings like kindergartens, schools and libraries, out of bounds..

The Treasury has given 80 million shekels to the weaker local authorities to enable the necessary construction. Last year a total of only 8 million shekels of that grant were used.

Now local authorities have enlisted Deri's aid in amending the law to release them from its obligations. He will accomplish that by suspending the State's powers to enforce the law. Naturally, no enforcement means no further accessibility.

The people at Bizchut are urging all of us who care about accessibility for people with disabilities to voice our protest to Minister Deri by signing their petition here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Inclusion and institutionalization: Never the twain shall meet

Addie in Torrie Dunlap's outstanding TEDx presentation [YouTube]
You have to hand it to the PR team at Aleh. Everything it produces these days sports the terms "inclusion" and "complex disabilities", two very popular concepts in the disability arena.

With Rosh Hashana tonight, here is the introduction to an Aleh solicitation that potential donors received this holiday season:
For over 700 children with complex disabilities ALEH is a lifeline, helping them to develop far beyond their prognoses, and to be accepted and included within society.
Now, you might wonder, as I do, how inclusion and the Aleh enterprise can be mentioned in the same breath. I mean, isn't institutionalization the name of the Aleh game? And isn't institutionalization the antithesis of inclusion, the purist incarnation of exclusion that exists on earth?

So how can Israel's largest chain of warehouse-institutions for people with disabilities assert that it champions "inclusion"? [Click here for my previous posts about their work.]

Well, evidently, it can. And with ease. As long as nobody stops it. 

And droves of donors for whom Aleh is their only encounter with the world of disabilities flock to support it, unaware that they are being duped. They truly believe that Aleh embodies the lofty ideals of integration and inclusion that they so respect.

Sadly it seems they have never been exposed to speakers like Torrie Dunlap who can clearly and expertly define "inclusion" for them.

I am confident that a few minutes spent listening to this excellent speaker would straighten those well-intentioned people out. 

In this 2015 TEDx talk [the report is entitled "Why separating kids with disabilities from their peers hurts instead of helps"], for instance, she says
“I believe that a reason why, as a society, we have not embraced children with disabilities as full participants in our schools and communities is the limitation of our own mental models around disability, We have moved from hiding and institutionalizing children to a world where kids with disabilities are special and receive special services in special settings with special caregivers, and they - and their families - are disenfranchised from the community at large... ["Isn't it a pity? The real problem with special needs" via YouTube]
As you can see, even in the current post-institutionalization society of the United States and other developed countries, true inclusion is not yet a reality.
So it goes without saying that here in Israel, where such progress has not yet been achieved, inclusion for people with disabilities is a fantasy. Because, as Dunlap continues:
“When we create a separate, special place for children where their ‘special needs’ can be met, we are teaching them that their place is over there, with people like them and not in the full community.”
Dunlap related several anecdotes about children with disabilities and their treatment by teachers. She concluded her talk with this one:
I want to introduce you to my friend Addie. She’s 8 now, and in 3rd grade, but I want to tell you about her school music performances in 1st and 2nd grade. Addie uses a wheelchair and also does not use her voice to communicate. During the performance Addie sat 20 feet away from her peers, on the other side of a wall with her aide. The way she was made a part of it was by the decorations the class put on her wheelchair. So, there she is in her adorned chair far away from her peers. You can see which model is in play, right? Fast forward to 2nd grade and it’s time for a music performance. Addie has a teacher using a different mental model and this time she is on stage, next to her peers and she has a meaningful role to play in the show. They had used Addie’s recorder to capture her sister Emily’s voice saying “Thank you for coming to our performance” and after the few songs are over Addie hits a button that starts the recording. Huge beaming smile on her face. The teacher looked at the barriers and overcame them- and it wasn’t that difficult.
Dunlap is a superlative speaker and I urge you to listen to her entire talk. I have no doubt you will feel compelled as I am to convey to Aleh and its supporters this message:
"Separate is Not Equal"
"Institutionalization is Not Inclusion"
Shana Tova to you all!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Sixteen years after two massacres

The Pentagon on 9/11 [Image Source]
Imagine if Khalid al-Mihdhar or Nawaf al-Hazmi, the first of the 9/11 attackers to arrive in the United States in January 2000 and two of the five hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77 which they crashed into the Pentagon as part of the September 11 attacks, had survived.

Now imagine they had somehow escaped to Jordan where they live well and triumphant today.

Now (in our imaginations) add to that scenario a string of indictments and extradition demands by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice against the government which lets them dwell in peace within its borders. They would also most certainly be added to the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list.

Next, tack on a refusal by Jordan's supreme ruler, King Abdullah II, to abide by the extradition treaty his father and President Clinton signed in 1995. Because, it goes without saying, al-Midhar and al-Hazmi would be heroes in the eyes of the Jordanian people. So the King, betting that the US administration, a long-time ally, would acquiesce, might continue to grant those mass murderers refuge.

How, in your estimation, would the State Department react? Would it indeed back off and ignore the indictment of the Department of Justice which was eager to try those murderers? Would it accept the King's absurd excuses as to why he can't adhere to a treaty duly signed and ratified by Jordan?

You know the answers.

That fantasy scenario is reality for the mastermind of a massacre here in Israel, Ahlam Tamimi.

As she has confessed in court and boasted to the media, she murdered fifteen Israelis of whom two - including my teen-age daughter - were American citizens. (A sixteenth, also an American, also a woman, has languished in a vegetative state ever since.)

That number out of an Israeli population then totaling 6.4 million is the equivalent of 668 American victims out of the total US population of 2001.

Tamimi's reality is she is today free, married, a mother and a celebrity living in Amman.

The reactions of the State Department to King Abdullah's conduct towards mass murderer, Tamimi are bafflng and intolerable. (I am deliberately skipping some important details. My husband and I plan to reveal those soon.)

Why is King Abdullah persistently hailed as an ally of the U.S. in its fight against Islamist terrorism?For several frustrating months my husband and I have been pleading with several State Department officials for answers to specific questions. We have been ignored outright or given evasive answers.

It may be 16 years since our daughter Malki was taken from us but the urgent need for justice, for evil-doers to be punished according to law, never fades. It cries out for action as piercingly as it did on that awful, hot August day when our child innocently stepped in to Sbarro to have a slice of pizza.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Inclusion via institutionalization?!

A drawing of mine of a child with severe
disabilities who returns home every day after
school to the family home
I suppose for some the adage "Repeat a lie a thousand times and it becomes a truth" applies. But some are simply jolted by a lie anew each of those thousand times.

Count me in that crowd.

So every additional mendacious op ed, every PR release, every advertisement that Aleh spews out leaves me as livid as its first.

So it was with the recent opinion piece that the Jerusalem Post obligingly published [here] for Aleh, penned by the director of Aleh's Jerusalem institution, Shlomit Grayevsky.

It relates the timeline of Aleh's expansion over its twenty years of existence.
In 1988, Israel passed a law that focused on providing equal opportunities and experiences for all and creating integrated programming in educational settings. With the goal of promoting this ideal of equality in every aspect of life and creating a residence and treatment center that felt like a true home, ALEH... took this breakthrough and ran with it, utilizing this new legislation to pave the way for governmental participation, funding and support... ["Disability inclusion: The ultramarathon of social justice goals", Jerusalem Post, August 15, 2017]
Needless to say, living in large, closed institutions far away from their families does not afford people with disabilities anything remotely resembling "equality" with the non-disabled segment of society.

Israeli law has become much more explicit about the rights guaranteed to people with disabilities since 1988. It is now abundantly clear that the Aleh option and that of all the other institutions warehousing their residents are the antithesis of the options that Israeli law prefers.

The Equal Rights of Persons With Disabilities Law (1998) guarantees “equality to the disabled and the entitlement to make decisions relating to his life, according to his desires and priorities”.

The right to live in the community is specifically dealt with in a 2000 amendment to the Care of the Retarded Law which states that when placing individuals in facilities outside their homes, preference must be given to residences within the community.

That legislation was bolstered by the Lior Levy case (Lior Levy et al v. State of Israel et al. [2008]), in which Israel’s Supreme Court affirmed the right of even the severely disabled to be housed within community.

In 2012, Israel ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities which affirms the right of people with disabilities to live within the community, and to have ”access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services… and to prevent isolation or segregation from the community”.

It behooves the Jerusalem Post to vet its opinion pieces for accuracy and truthfulness. To claim - as Aleh does in this piece - that its staff  "have dedicated their lives to providing quality disability care and promoting inclusion" is the height of gall. Isolating babies, children and adults from the rest of society because of their disabilities - which is what Aleh's institutions do - is nothing short of exclusion and discrimination.

For anyone who has wondered whether Aleh's  "villages" or "facilities" or "just-like-home" enterprises are in fact institutions despite Aleh's obsessive avoidance of  that word, the definition below should clear up that confusion.

According to Lumos, the respected public organization founded by JK Rowling to advocate for the rights of institutionalized children throughout the world, institutional care is defined by certain characteristics:
 • Unrelated children live in the care of paid adults • Children are separated from their family and often their community • In many cases, they do not have the opportunity to bond with a caregiver • Institutions run according to workplace routines, instead of responding to individual children’s needs  • Although some institutions are well-resourced with dedicated staff, they cannot replace a family • Eighty years of research has shown the negative impact of institutionalisation on children’s health, development and life chances, as well as a high risk of abuse [Lumos Fact Sheets]
Particularly today, when Israeli children returned to school after two months of quality time with their parents and siblings, let's remember the children who through no fault of their own were denied that enjoyment.

Throughout the summer, as they do all year long, many children with disabilities had no outings or one-on-one time with their families. They languished in locked buildings, far from their families and from the rest of society, cared for by strangers.

Misrepresenting that existence as "disability inclusion" does not magically transform it into its antithesis. It is exclusion and discrimination pure and simple.

And that's the truth.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Words at the graveside

Malki in her last year: Always smiling
At the adjoining graves of my daughter Malki and her friend Michal, both murdered in the Sbarro pizzeria massacre in Jerusalem in August 2001, we marked the yahrzeit yesterday. I spoke in Hebrew to those assembled. Here is what I said, translated to English:

This is the first year we can say that Malki and Michal have been gone longer than they were in our lives. And difficult though it is to admit, there are memories of you, Malki, that have faded.

This was made evident to me recently when I found a birthday card in which the entire family wrote you personal wishes. I began mine with "Dear Mali" and added "Sorry to use that nickname - I know you don't like it". I had entirely forgotten that you didn't like that name.

And the words of the Eish Kodesh - Rabbi Kalonymous Kalamish Shapira, the Rebbe of Piaseczna and of the Warsaw Ghetto - which have accompanied me since Malki's murder, remain relevant after all this time.

On Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath following the fast of the 9th of Av, in 1941 when the Rebbe himself was already a bereaved father, he wrote:
"There is suffering for which one can be comforted. But for the loss of a person there is no comfort... because it is not only their absence which pains us, and not only our longing for them which tortures and oppresses but rather what pains us is what happened to them, their own loss. True, there in the heavenly world they are surely fine. But G-d created man so that he should live out his years - until he reaches seventy or eighty. And how many blessings are there in the Torah about long life... And that is why our hearts ache."
This was brought home to me when, as I do whenever her yahrzeit approaches, I opened one of Malki's diaries, the detailed and revealing one that she kept during her last year.

On the first page she answered the ID questionnaire. On the line "Partner", I read her heart-wrenching response. With utter trust, she had written: "Still unknown but he will arrive, G-d willing, with time."

For the loss of that life, filled with joy and satisfaction, that was so cruelly snatched from Malki, our hearts still ache.

And also for that additional layer of pain, the injustice which has tortured us since 2011 - I refer, of course, to the freedom enjoyed by the murderer of Malki and Michal. We persist in battling that infuriating reality so that at least that source of suffering will disappear.

May we win this battle soon.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

From many corners: Disdain for victims of terror

The sign is up: the bazaar is later today (Wednesday)
For the past fifteen years, we have been reminded that our Malki's yahrzeit (the Yiddish word for the anniversary of the day she was killed) is near when we see the sign announcing the Ezra charity bazaar in her and Michal's memory. It is strung over the street where the annual event is held several days prior to it.

(Ezra is the Religious Zionist youth group in which both girls were young group leaders. Michal was Malki’s closest friend, and was murdered together with her.)

But this year, the Ezra kids organizing the event notified us that the sign would not appear. Shortly after hanging it up, they were given word that a municipal inspector had ordered it removed, failing which they would have to pay a fine. Apparently some resident of Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood had complained. Technically, signs hung above roads are forbidden without prior authorization.

I was shaken up by that news. The knowledge that somebody in the neighborhood could be so grossly callous was incomprehensible. After all, we're talking about an innocuous cloth sign neither interfering with nor harming anybody.

Fortunately, the person who had printed the sign for Ezra is a neighbor and offered to solve the problem by contacting the local municipal representative who is a friend of hers. He granted official permission for the sign and it has been hanging lawfully for the last three days.

Prior to the permission being obtained, the Ezra kids had moved the sign to an alternative site in the neighborhood - not hung over a road but tied to a wall of stones. Shortly after placing it there, they found that the sign had been flipped over so it couldn't be read.

At the same time, we have been grappling with similar callousness towards victims of terror from American officials.

Malki ob"m, her very disabled little sister, and the terrorist who
destroyed our lives but still lives free as a bird in Jordan today
The gloating monster who murdered sixteen men, women and children at the Sbarro pizzeria, a woman called AhlamTamimi, is still free and safe in Amman, Jordan thanks to prime minister Netanyahu's 2011 Shalit Deal. King Abdullah II of Jordan, brazenly pretending for the world that he is a determined enemy of terrorism and defender of justice, refuses to extradite her despite the existence since 1995 of a signed extradition treaty between his country and the US.

Plainly, that treaty is not worth the paper it’s written on.

The king knows how his Palestinian Arab constituency would react to Tamimi's extradition to face justice in a US court. Nothing else matters to him - as long as the United States panders to him.

The US Department of Justice contends that it has done all it can. It has indicted Tamimi, it has demanded her extradition from Jordan and it has been refused. (See my earlier post A lesson in the politics of extradition”, June 15, 2017.)

The ball is now in the court of the US State Department which has been egregiously unhelpful in the matter.

While we await their response regarding steps State could but isn't taking, more details can't be divulged. But stay tuned for them in coming days.

Meanwhile, our prime minister – who is the prime reason our child's murderer is enjoying her life - is busy appeasing the king. The two recent conflagrations - security measures at the Temple Mount and the incident at the Israeli consulate in Amman - dominate his interactions with Jordan. Certainly no pressure on the Tamimi front has featured in Netanyahu's relations with that neighbor. Nor is it likely to ever do so.

After all, the Shalit Deal [“19-Oct-11: Haaretz: Shalit prisoner swap marks 'colossal failure' for mother of Israeli bombing victim”] was Netanyahu's "baby", one that he proudly brandishes regardless of the grief it has spawned.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Aleh's illusions

Image Source: Wikipedia
By now you are probably as apoplectic as I am over the number and rank of senior Israeli military and police officials, politicians and religious leaders who have demonstrated gross ignorance about the plight of Israelis with disabilities.

We saw the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, visit Aleh, our major chain of large, closed institutions for people with disabilities, and noted [here] the praise he lavished on that enterprise.

Before that, we heard the Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth extol the virtues of Aleh's institutionalization of babies and children ["Even Chief Rabbis make mistakes"]. 

And, of course, we have noted our Prime Minister's fulsome praise for what they do, and the 2 minute video clip [via YouTube] in which he sings the praises of "a national project that is revolutionizing special needs education in Israel".

But at long last, Aleh will receive the support of a celebrity who shares its skill at duping the public. It appears Aleh's next gala fundraiser will feature Nimrod Harel, the "leading mentalist and perception artist".

First, what does that mean?

According to Wikipedia, mentalism is 
"a performing art in which its practitioners, known as mentalists, appear to demonstrate highly developed mental or intuitive abilities. Performances may appear to include hypnosis, telepathy, clairvoyance, divination, precognition, psychokinesis, mediumship, mind control, memory feats, deduction, and rapid mathematics."
And here's how Harel's website describes his talents:
The methods used by Nimrod... run the entire range from the fields of psychology to the world of illusion. They are not something you are born with, but are learned - Nimrod doesn't claim to have "super powers". However, he does claim to have a deep understanding of human perception, and of the ways to manipulate and tamper with its delicacy. Nimrod closely guards the secrets of his specific techniques which he has developed over many years of study and training - techniques that leave psychologists, hypnotists and magicians alike with an awe-stricken open jaw.
I can't imagine a more appropriate field of expertise for an Aleh surrogate. After all, that is precisely what Aleh's PR stars do as well: they stage the "illusion" of ideal care for our most vulnerable children and young adults. They deceive their audience of donors and volunteers into the "perception" of institutions as paradise on earth.

And their success leaves psychologists, disability rights activists and parents like me with "awe-stricken open jaws".

Kudos to Aleh for selecting Nimrod Harel to represent them. I couldn't have made a better choice myself.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Israel, the world, disabilities and rights

Yotam Tolub [Image Source]
In June 2017, Yotam Tolub who is the director of Bizchut,  the Israel Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities, delivered a lecture at a Kiryat Ono conference about disabilities.

The full text is expected to be uploaded soon. But in the meantime, he shared with us this summary of that talk:
  • Basically, I spoke about the fact that in Israel, in contrast to the U.S. and Europe, in-community living is the last topic rather than the first in the promotion of the rights of people with disabilities. 
  • I pointed out the huge gap in this area between Israel and the rest of the world and related to the fact that academics are not active enough in this domain and do not inspire discussion about it. 
  • This results in minimal awareness of and information about the topic.
More to come.

Friday, July 14, 2017

A pair of discordant voices

Eisenkot [Image Source]
This week, Israel's Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, extolled institutionalization during his fanfare visit [link] to Aleh Negev.

His hyperbolic praise of Israel's largest chain of closed institutions for children and adults with disabilities included these words:
"It is an opportunity to experience the vision, the mission and the love of mankind evident here. This meeting teaches us about man’s spirit, and about the power of a society that is measured by its sensitivity and its efforts to benefit every person."
At about the same moment, another world-renowned figure sent the opposite message about institutionalization.

To mark the twentieth anniversary of Harry Potter, his creator J.K. Rowling gave a rare interview [link] to Christiane Amanpour on CNN during which she focused on the history and mission of her NGO, Lumos.
"Our ambition is to end the institutionalization of children throughout the world by 2050".
JK Rowling [Image Source]
She noted that 8 million children are currently warehoused in institutions globally, "But that might be a low guess".

She added that "90% of those children have at least one parent who overwhelmingly did not want to give the child up".

(In many cases, that is true of those living in Aleh facilities as well.)

She warned donors to
"be careful how you give because even if you're giving with the best of intentions, you may inadvertently be doing harm... propping up a system that we know, 100 years of research shows that even a well run institution, even an institution set up with the best possible intentions, will irrevocably harm the child".
Rowling also addressed potential volunteers:
"Volunteer differently... Volunteering is an amazing thing but volunteer in the right way. Unfortunately, little though you might want to believe it, one of the reasons institutions are set up is to bring into the country foreign money in the form of donations but also in the form of volunteers, wealthy Western volunteers who are also bringing currency."
The next time you see one of Aleh's invitations to volunteer and donate to its large, closed institutions, you may want to ask yourself: "Why do they want me?"

Friday, June 23, 2017

Even Chief Rabbis make mistakes

It has been a demoralizing season for people in Israel with disabilities.

On May 25th, we were subjected to yet another Flash-A-Celebrity episode courtesy of Aleh Jerusalem.

This time, it was the chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who was hosted by that institution's director, Shlomit Grayevsky. She told him:
"Thanks to ALEH’s professional staff and innovative programming, Israeli children with complex disabilities of every age are able to live much like their non-disabled peers, are accepted by a wider segment of the population and develop far beyond the boundaries of their initial prognoses...” ["UK Chief Rabbi Is Captivated by ALEH’s Disability Care", May 26, 2017, Jewish Link of NJ]
I fairly choked on those lies. So being locked in a large, closed institution constitutes living "much like their non-disabled peers"? Well,  it probably does in North Korea. But in Israel?

Aleh maintains that institutionalization of these children is in their own best interests. It affords them access to, as Aleh describes them, state-of-the-art services and therapies. To illustrate, in a profile of one of its residents, Aleh states:
Faced with this new reality [the child suffered devastating brain damage], his family decided that the best home for Yosef would be at ALEH, where he would receive the outstanding care and optimal rehabilitative opportunities to help him develop... ["Adopt Yosef | YOUR SUPPORT WILL HELP YOSEF CONTINUE TO DEVELOP HIS POTENTIAL AND KEEP SMILING!"]
Even if this were accurate, why should these unfortunate children be removed from their homes and families in order to receive the "outstanding" and "optimal" care they surely need and certainly deserve?

Just imagine being told by the government:
"Yes, your non-disabled child needs and deserves an education. She will definitely receive an outstanding one with one proviso: that you first transfer her out of your home."
Sadly, it appears Rabbi Mirvis was either unaware of or unconcerned by the injustices being promoted by his hosts. He also appears not to be sensitive to the disparity between the policies of his own home country toward children with disabilities and those of Israel.

Both the UK and Israel are signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 19 of that Convention states clearly that governments are obligated to
"...recognize the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others and take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and their full inclusion and participation in the community..."
The United Kingdom ratified that Convention in 2009 affording it the force of a national law. The starting dates for strategic change toward community services varied. During the past 2-3 decades, complete closure of the traditional large institutions for the mentally disabled has been achieved in several countries. In England for instance, this had been achieved by 2011.

Nevertheless the Chief Rabbi chose to "applaud" and "thank" Aleh for perpetuating the system that his own country has eradicated.

Perhaps he feels that Israeli children with disabilities don't deserve the quality of life that English children with disabilities enjoy?

He said:
"I am proud that in London we have so many generous people who are very supportive of ALEH. I will make it a priority to share what I have seen here today with our constituents across the UK so that this support only continues to grow.” ["CHIEF RABBI OF UK VISITS ALEH", May 5, 2017 - from the Aleh website]
He also mentioned the trendy term "disability inclusion". Never mind that, as we all know, inclusion is the diametrical opposite of what Aleh practices.

The icing on this tawdry cake was the announcement [here] that same month of the opening of a new educational and residential wing at Aleh's Jerusalem branch.

So while institutions like Aleh have been made obsolete in the rest of the world, in Israel they are flourishing and expanding. And they are doing so in contravention of the law.

At around the time that Aleh was boasting and expanding, another institution was in the news too.

Last week, a shocking undercover video clip from the Feuerstein Institute's hostel for disabled and cognitively challenged adults in the Ein Karem section of Jerusalem made waves in the world of disabilities. Residents come from locations throughout Israel and suffer from conditions including cognitive and developmental disabilities, behavioral and emotional impairments, Down Syndrome and more.

As a result of the exposure on Israeli TV news (via hidden-camera reporting), we now know that residents are horribly victimized verbally and physically.

Some excerpts I picked up from watching:
  • "Animal! Pig!" shouts one caregiver at a resident. "No more shouting! The only one allowed to shout here is me!"
  • A caregiver is asked by a young female resident: "Can I have another portion?" He replies: "You'll get a beating! What portion? You'll get a beating! Really a portion!"
  • A resident is warned: "Keep eating! If not, I'll come and hit you."
The news item said employees at the hostel told journalists they had reported the abusive behavior of their Feuerstein hostel colleagues to superiors but were threatened with retribution if they pursued the matter. The parents, they related, are also afraid to speak up because "there is a correlation between parents who complain about the situation and the residents who suffer."

That is surely a quandary facing parents of children in any closed institution.

Notwithstanding, two parents of children who were in Aleh institutions - one in a day program, the other in a residential one - have recently contacted me to share their bitter experiences. They paint a picture of life there that is a far cry from the one that the Chief Rabbi extolled.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A lesson in the politics of extradition

Image Source: The blog I co-write with my husband
This month, Israel proved yet again that re-arresting prisoners released in swap deals isn't such a big deal. The proviso, of course, is that the ex-prisoner violated a condition of release. But that's a lenient requirement. After all, we're dealing with a gang disinclined to repent their murders of Jews.

But this week's re-arrest was different from others. It was for a relatively mild infraction, unrelated to terrorist activity. And committed by a man in his seventies.

Notwithstanding, our government's reaction was swift and severe.

With no retrial, and relying only on a finding by a parole board, Yusuf Abu al-Hir was promptly re-imprisoned for the remainder of his original sentence, namely 15 life terms.

Originally from Acre, Abu al Hir was jailed in 1969 for a series of security offenses. He was found guilty of planting explosives in various places and facilities, causing the death of two people and wounding many others. A military court sentenced him to 15 life sentences plus 20 years in prison and another 10 years, set to be served concurrently.

In 1983, Abu al-Hir was released as part of the first Jibril Agreement under which Israel freed 4,765 security prisoners in exchange for six IDF Nahal soldiers captured during the First Lebanon War.

On May 25, 2017, Abu Al Hir re-entered Israel from Greece where he has lived since his deportation. The conditions of his release categorically prohibited him from doing so. 

But Israel's move begs the question: why is it thoroughly indifferent toward another, younger, far more dangerous terrorist? A woman who has repeatedly violated the conditions of her release? Namely, Ahlam Tamimi.

Tamimi has been brazenly and relentlessly inciting Muslims to the murder of more Jews ever since her release in 2011 as part of the Shalit Deal. She is a convicted, self-confessed mass murderer responsible for 16 deaths in the bombing of Jerusalem's Sbarro pizzeria of August 2001.

So why has Israel washed its hands of her? Why did our prime minister appease her in 2012 by allowing her fiance - also a Shalit Deal releasee - to join her in Jordan in order to marry her? Why did he deem that violation of release conditions irrelevant?

We are also left wondering about another decision Israel recently took. Based on our meeting with FBI and US Department of Justice officials, it is apparent that their request for assistance in winning Tamimi's extradition from Jordan was flatly denied by Israel. It is fairly safe to presume this response was approved - if not instigated - by our prime minister.

Israel's assistance is crucial to bringing Tamimi, an active, blood thirsty terrorist, to justice. U.S. efforts to have her extradited - as provided for by an extradition treaty between the U.S and Jordan -have struck a brick wall. Jordan's King Abdullah has trotted out every excuse he could dredge up - from the judicial to the parliamentary to the "constitutional" - to argue that extradition of Tamimi is impossible. Bear in mind the absurdity of all that: he heads a dictatorial monarchy!

Nevertheless, we were told by U.S. representatives that Israel's official statement was: "Our hands are tied behind our backs." Or in plain English: "Go jump in the lake."

There are probably several theories as to why our prime minister would approve that. His hypocrisy vis a vis terrorism is no secret. In speeches, he waxes bombastic about the topic. But when it comes to action: political profit is what guides him and when being soft with terrorists has empowered him, soft he has been.

So, to concede that the Shalit Deal releasees have resumed terrorism is political poison for the man who set them loose on us all to begin with. This explains our government's refusal to publicize updated statistics regarding those 1,027 prisoners.

We, and the public, know that since 2011, Israel has rearrested dozens of Palestinians freed in the Shalit Deal for terrorist activities. Also, that between 2014 and 2015, six Israelis were killed by Palestinian prisoners released in that deal.

Political calculations also explain why Israel has chosen to steer clear of Tamimi's extradition. Our prime minister cannot afford to have headlines reiterating the brutal massacre that Tamimi perpetrated on 15 men, women and children. Media rehashing of Tamimi's gloating over the large number of children - eight - she butchered could be disastrous for him. And, as we all know, nothing would be more disastrous than that.

Last year, on our behalf, our lawyer inquired of the Prime Minister's Office as to what guidelines the Israeli courts have for sentencing Shalit Deal prisoners who are re-arrested. A lawyer in the PMO responded to him saying the answers were subject to security censorship, were controlled by the government's security service, and that we were not entitled to an answer.

We are now preparing for another round of legal challenges against the Ministry of Justice, possibly through the Freedom of Information mechanism. We will keep you updated.