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"
and
"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

Source: https://aleh.org/donation/adopt-yosef/
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.

Source
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.

Friday, May 26, 2017

After Manchester: Media and politicians are moved by some terrorist attacks, not so much by others

AWhat would people say if
the child-seeking Manchester savages were freed,
honored and given refuge by a Western ally?
As my daughter's murderer was and is..
I originally published this article on the Times of Israel where I frequently write. It appeared under the title "Manchester, Jerusalem and a double standard".


The entire sane world is united in its condemnation of the Manchester terror bombing. It has been particularly shocked by the targeting of children and teens, describing it as barbaric, cruel and horrific [here and here for instance]. Undoubtedly the only appropriate reaction.

But it is also puzzling.

Because it contrasts so starkly with the world's recent response to another terrorist who targeted children and teens and murdered. I refer to the Hamas mastermind of the Sbarro massacre on August 9, 2001, Ahlam Tamimi.

My daughter, Malki, among the fifteen murdered then, was, like so many of the Manchester victims, fifteen years old when she died. 

What do you think these outraged news commentators and world leaders would say were the perpetrator of the Manchester attack freed, celebrated as a hero and given refuge by an ally of key Western powers?

Can you imagine them just blowing that off? Would they shrug their shoulders and yawn if that ally refused to extradite the terrorist to a state whose nationals were among the victims? Would they ho hum and stick to business-as-usual if that harboring ally had actually signed an extradition treaty with that state two decades ago?

Would they dare to welcome that terrorist protector as an honored guest and praise it as an enemy of terrorism?

Well, that is what has happened to the child murderer, Tamimi and to the state giving her refuge, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  

On March 14, 2017, the US Department of Justice unsealed a 2013 criminal complaint charging Tamimi with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against U. S. nationals outside the United States resulting in death. Two of Tamimi's victims were Americans. Malki was one of them.

The DOJ reported that it had requested Tamimi's extradition from Jordan at that time but that King Abdullah II and his regime had refused to comply despite the existence of an extradition treaty signed by the two countries in 1995.

Jordan's romance with Tamimi dates back to 2011 when it welcomed her back home after her release from Israeli prison in the now-infamous Shalit Deal.

Here is an Arabic media description of that event in October 2011:
Freed Jordanian captive Ahlam al-Tamimi arrived Tuesday night to a hero's welcome as hundreds of Palestinians and Jordanians waited for her arrival at Queen Alia Airport in Amman.As well as her family members, hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood activists and trade unionists as well as ordinary citizens gathered at Queen Alia Airport to welcome Tamimi. They raised Palestinian flags as well as Hamas banners and chanted in support of the resistance who achieved the exchange deal.Tamimi gave a short speech which was interrupted many times by applause and chants of support. [Al-Jazeerah, October 19, 2011]

Subsequently, she landed her own weekly TV talk show on the Hamas station, Al Quds. The program is beamed by satellite to viewers throughout the Arab world and is replete with brazen incitement to terror acts. 

Malki z"l
But Western media and leaders couldn't be less moved by this injustice if they tried. For them, Tamimi is somehow a different species of child killer than Manchester's Salman Abedi was. The travesty of justice she embodies doesn't warrant any airtime.

And Jordan's intimate relationship with its western allies has continued to thrive.  Its monarch, King Abdullah II, was an honored guest of the U.S. just a few weeks after the DOJ announced its indictment and demand for extradition.

Abdullah's embrace of Tamimi didn't impact President Trump in the slightest. He heralded the king as "a great warrior" who has been key in the fight against ISIS.

And Abdullah chimed in that the fight against terror "has no borders, no nationality, no religion". Adding: "We are very encouraged with the president's determination to support Arab and Muslim states in their fight against terrorism." 

By now you may be asking, as I am, why the murder of Jewish children in Jerusalem is not deemed as horrific and intolerable as that of the children in Manchester.

I have one explanation for the double standard and it starts with an "A".


What's yours?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Peeling the layers of grief

My daughter Malki Z"L, about eight
weeks before the end of her life
It’s the grief that keeps on taking.

That is, of course, the loss of a child, unique among other losses. Indeed, the murder of our precious fifteen year old daughter, Malki, in 2001 has been inflicting ever new and unexpected pain since we lost her.

First, there was the release of her murderer, Ahlam Tamimi, by the Netanyahu administration in the Shalit Deal of 2011. We are still reeling from that travesty of justice.

Then in 2012, our government freed another Shalit Deal releasee from West Bank "exile", causing a baffling sort of pain. A murderer too, he was Tamimi's cousin/fiance. The pass Israel gave him to cross the border into Jordan directly contravened the terms of the Shalit deal. 

Then why do it? Well, there had been press coverage in previous weeks of the “star crossed lovers” and Israel’s “cruel interference” in their romance. Apparently our leaders could not withstand the media heat.

Word reached us that Israel intended to allow the male Tamimi to enter Jordan. We immediately engaged a lawyer to petition the High Court for an injunction preventing that move. However we were urged by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Justice Department to delay proceeding while they “looked into the matter”. Naively, we acquiesced. The delay enabled Netanyahu’s government to secretly whisk the murderer through the Allenby Bridge checkpoint unimpeded.

On March 14, 2017, the US Department of Justice unsealed its 2013 criminal complaint charging Ahlam Tamimi with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against U. S. nationals outside the United States resulting in death. Both Malki and a second victim – a young, pregnant woman who was her parents’ only child – were US citizens. 

The US request for Tamimi’s extradition has been flatly refused by Jordan despite an extradition treaty signed by those two countries in 1995.

Observing the U.S. and Israel nurturing their warm relationships with Jordan’s King Abdullah while he harbors a mass murderer has added yet another facet to our grief. President Trump recently hosted him at the White House and fell all over himself praising him:
“In King Abdullah, America is blessed with a thoughtful and determined partner… The King has been a leader in calling for a plan to defeat ISIS once and for all. And I’m with you on that. We’re both leaders on that, believe me.”
At the same time, Israel has been exporting gas to Jordan from its Leviathan offshore field since March 2017. According to this source, it will maintain the current volume of gas throughout the 15-year contract with Jordan even if this means gas shortages for Israelis according to a secret letter signed by Mr Netanyahu and Israel’s energy minister. By comparison
“Egypt has reduced the amount of gas it supplies the Jordanians, after it emerged that Egypt needed to reserve gas for its own people.”
A generous contract, to say the least.

Neither leader has raised the Tamimi extradition matter with the Jordanian king.

So you'll forgive us our cynicism when Netanyahu dons expressions of gravitas and compassion, as he undoubtedly will on Yom Hazikaron – Israel’s Remembrance Day, to warn of the existential threat that terrorism poses to the Jewish people.

Here is what he said on Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day some years ago:
“As Prime Minister of Israel, I will never shy from speaking the truth before the world, no matter how uncomfortable it may seem to some. I speak the truth at the United Nations; I speak the truth in Washington DC, the capital of our great friend, the United States, and in other important capitals; And I speak the truth here in Jerusalem, on the grounds of Yad VaShem which are saturated with remembrance. I will continue to speak the truth to the world, but first and foremost I must speak it to my own people. I know that my people is strong enough to hear the truth.”
But Netanyahu did not speak the truth to his people when he told them in 2011 that he had written to every victim of terror's family to explain and apologize for the release of the murderers of their loved ones. The truth was he had written to none of them and never has to this day.

He never responded to our written pleas to him to delete the mass murderer, Ahlam Tamimi, from his list of Palestinian prisoners included in the Shalit Deal.

He never explained the bizarre release of Tamimi’s husband from the West Bank.

And now, he has not explained his silence about Jordan’s refusal to extradite Tamimi to the U.S.

We dream of the day when this hypocrisy will cease; when this mass murderer who widely disseminates her brand of evil and hatred will be returned to prison; and when we will be free to grieve for our Malki without the painful burden of these additional injustices.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Who was Władysław Szlengel?

Image Source
Władysław Szlengel (1914-1943), a victim of the Holocaust, is a poet of whom I first heard this weekend via the Haaretz Book Review section.

Szlengel and his wife fled to Bialystok after the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. They returned to their home in the Warsaw Ghetto after the Nazi incursion into USSR. Throughout that period, Szlengel published poems and articles in Polish in literary and political journals.

The literary Café Sztuka situated in the Ghetto was the venue for literary evenings and events. There Szlengel excelled in his prophetic poetry and satirical songs and skits which laughed at the Jewish society around him, at the good and the bad therein. He saw himself as "The Writer of the Chronicles of the Drowning".

He was extremely sensitive to all that happened in the world of the Ghetto. Thus, for instance, he wrote a poem about a Jew who had never seen an airplane and heard:
"That you can now get from Poland to Palestine in an airplane... So is the Holy Land so close?"
And most of all, his poems settle accounts with G-d as does the following (my translation into English):
They said: Pray
I prayed
They said - You must fast - I fasted...
They said: Don't steal
I didn't steal!
They said don't eat pig (which I love)
I didn't eat it
They said: don't commit adultery
I restrained myself...
For the L-rd...
Excuse me? I asked, for what?
I said, G-d will help
I said, G-d will deliver
I believed: G-d is with me...
How do You answer me today?
For all my deeds
Do You still expect me
In two days time, as in a will,
while I walk toward the Prussian gas
to say Amen?
Szlengel [Image Source]
In the Ghetto, Szlengel printed and secretly distributed a book of poetry entitled "Which I Read to the Dead" which has just been translated into Hebrew. That title is taken from this piece of his:
"I review and sort the poems I have written to those no longer alive. I once read these poems to living, warm people when I believed with all my heart that all this come to an end, that we will survive, that we will live to see tomorrow... This is our history. These are the poems I read to the dead."
And so we learn - on Holocaust Remembrance Day - of yet another precious, gifted Jewish soul, snuffed out by evil.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Respite care at Aleh: A mirage?

Respite care for disabled boy [Stock Image]
We parents caring for a child with severe disabilities all suffer from exhaustion and burn out sooner or later. A break from the grueling routine can not only energize us; it can literally rescue us.

Unfortunately, though, that salvation can be elusive. So it was with keen interest that I read the following in a post on Aleh's homepage.
As we toured ALEH, we all noticed the great love and care offered by the staff and volunteers. ALEH provides these special children with a quality of life that would not be possible otherwise, ensuring that their parents receive the support they so desperately need and a break from the 24/7 attention require to care for them appropriately. [Source: Aleh]
This was news to me. I had never heard or read that Aleh offers respite care. All their PR blather about Aleh being a "family" and a "home" appeared to indicate that Aleh only offered one residential option - for life.

But a dear friend of mine who also has a daughter with special-needs requiring round the clock care had been trying to locate a setting offering short term care to enable her and her husband to take a desperately needed vacation. So I told her about Aleh's apparent respite care program and she wrote them the following:
Dear Aleh,
I am the mother of a child with profound disabilities and a chronic illness. I have been caring for her at home for many years.(she's now 22).
I learned from your website that Aleh offers respite for caregivers like me.
What is the time range during which I can leave my child temporarily in your care?
Sincerely,
Mrs S [Surname omitted]
My friend received this response soon afterwards:
Dear [S],
Hi! I am so sorry for the delayed response.
Your email went into my junk mail by mistake.
I do not have an answer for you.
I suggest you call the Jerusalem office directly and see if they can help you 02.501.1000
Hatzlacha,

Dov Hirth
Marketing & Development
Office: +972-2-501-1116
USA: 1-866-717-0252
Canada: 888-824-5477
England: 0808-234-3782
ALEH provides over 700 children and young adults with severe disabilities in Israel with high-level medical and rehabilitative care in four residential facilities. ALEH is their home and their family – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  www.ALEH.org
This struck us as odd since Mr. Hirth appeared to be in a perfect position to answer my friend's straightforward query. She wrote him again.
Hello Mr. Hirth,
What I am interested to know is whether Aleh can care for my child for a few days to give me and my husband some respite. If that is a service that your facility offers I will definitely phone the Jerusalem office as you suggested.
Thank you.
Sincerely,
[S]
My friend's second email never received a response.

Clearly, Aleh implies that it offers respite care but does no such thing. And this should surprise nobody. No doubt they figure: why would we offer that service to aid and abet parents who reject institutionalization and keep their children at home? That would be at cross purposes with Aleh's goal.

But mentioning respite care on their website sure enhances Aleh's image.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Aleh takes the prize

Renowned musician Itzhak Perlman and friends at the Genesis Prize award
ceremony - June 23, 2017 [Image Source]
Once again, Aleh, Israel's largest chain of warehouse institutions for people with disabilities, has duped just about everyone. By that I mean the prime minister, world renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and the Israeli affiliate of United Way Worldwide.

Some rather esteemed "everybodies", I'm sure you'll agree.

Back on June 23, 2016, the annual Genesis Prize was presented in a glittering ceremony to celebrity violinist Itzhak Perlman. Established in 2013, it has been called by Time Magazine the “Jewish Nobel”.

The cash part of the Genesis Prize award is $1 million. This was doubled to $2 million via a contribution from a philanthropist, Roman Abramovich. And a third million would be raised through a matching funds program to be administered by Jewish Funders Network. Perlman himself announced he would apply the Genesis Prize cash to support two new initiatives. About 80% of the $3 million would go to "Breaking Barriers", a competition to select a handful of projects conceived by organizations Israel and North America 
that promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of Jewish communal life [Press release, September 12, 2016]
(The remaining 20% would be applied to advanced training for especially talented musicians in Israel.)

The winning Israeli projects were announced on April 2, 2017. Aleh Negev was one of the seventeen and it stuck out like a sore thumb. The winners included the IsraelMuseum, Beit Issie Shapiro, the Community Centers Company (החברה למתנ"סים), Rimon School of Music, the "PleaseTouch" Theatre, Hasadna Conservatory of Jerusalem, the Jordan RiverVillage, Milbat, the Gesher Theatre, the Vertigo Dance Troupe, the Central Library for the Blind and the Orna Porat Theatre for Children and Youth.

According to a spokeswoman for the prize I spoke with at Matan, the Israeli affiliate of United Way, all the winning projects were selected from a list of applicants who seek to culturally enrich people with disabilities. Some of those projects will only be realized the winners once the award money is handed to them. Aleh's winning project is one of those.

The spokeswoman, Tal, told me it will involve Aleh staff taking residents from its institution for babies, children and adults to the theatre, concerts and similar events. The Aleh website boasts that the grant will let it "empower children with disabilities and expose children of all abilities to the arts" and that the funds will go towards taking "residents to museums, musical performances and other cultural events".

Those excursions will give the residents a very rare opportunity to leave that large, closed institution isolated from the general population in the middle of Israel's Negev desert. We know that because, by Aleh's own admission, its residents spend most of their time confined to the institution. In its own words:
For most of us, traveling by train is a routine activity. Not so for the residents of ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, who recently went on the first train ride of their lives – a very exciting experience... During the train ride, the residents and staff sang songs and gazed, as if hypnotized, at the amazing Negev landscape passing by their windows... [Aleh website]
What is incomprehensible to me is that an institution which by its very existence promotes and entrenches the anathema of institutionalization and segregation of people with disabilities has been awarded this prize.

Several speakers at the award ceremony emphasized the concept of equal rights for people with disabilities and of their inclusion in the general society. Nobody could possibly argue that warehousing those with disabilities in large institutions, a practice eradicated from most other first world countries (see my January 2016 post: Aleh 101) constitutes inclusion.

“People with disabilities are citizens who deserve equal rights,” Perlman said at Sunday’s ceremony. “If we fight for their rights, expand their horizons and ensure maximum accessibility we will give them the tools to contribute to society – this is the Israel we all want to see for ourselves and our children.”

Hmmm. And locking them in institutions achieves that how?