Sunday, March 26, 2023

On family, flutes and fairness

Some of my murdered daughter's flutes
Perhaps it's our grandchildren's recent interest in her musical instruments - recorder, guitar, flute. 

Or perhaps it is this past Shabbat family reunion and the impending Pesach gatherings - all without her.

Whatever it is, Malki's absence from our lives has been particularly oppressive of late.

And recent news from Jordan has intensified that. 

Ahlam Tamimi, the arrogant, unrepentant and boastful murderer of the fifteen Sbarro innocents - including Malki - has just broken her year-long silence.

With Tamimi's husband exiled in 2020 to Qatar by Jordanian King Abdullah, and with the fear of arrest by US authorities preventing her from joining him there, she has decided that silence has failed her.

Last week, in an interview ["My media silence is at an end, she warns", March 16, 2023 hosted by Facebook] with a Hamas-aligned TV station, Al-Quds News Network, she expressed (in Arabic) her displeasure with the king's handling of her situation. 

She says she is through with "keeping silent" and "staying away from the media" as she has been since her husband's deportation. She complains that her "good faith initiative" has not borne fruit. In response to the question of why she doesn't leave for Qatar she says "I am wanted by the Americans in a case filed in Washington courts since 2013".

She wallows in self-pity:
"We [she and husband] have spent many years in prison. It is our natural right to have family reunification by now... Nizar is a Jordanian husband... [he] did not violate any order or any legal and natural mechanism on Jordanian territory. He would always go and renew his residence every six months... Why is he an unwanted person?"
She even appears to single out Arnold and me as one of the 
"families of the two dead Americans [who] work systematically. They are members of the Zionist lobby in America who went to associations and went to AIPAC... They worked intensively and systematically to rearrest me. They formed pressure to periodically send the [U.S.] ambassador."
She concludes with a direct demand of the King: 
"I only need a decision from His Majesty the king to the concerned authorities in order to live a normal life with my husband, especially since when I was released in the "Wafaa al-Ahrar deal" [meaning the Gilad Shalit Deal]. I entered Jordan with the will and consent of my king."
A promo for last week's Quds interview with the fugitive
In another interview in the past few days, again with a Hamas-affiliated TV station - Al Aqsa - headquartered in Gaza [and also hosted by Facebook] her grumbling segues to blatant terrorist incitement.

She references the recent wave of attacks against Israelis:
"In light of the recent success of individual Palestinian heroes in carrying out heroic operations against the Zionist entity..." 
and concludes: 
"There should be a volcano and an earthquake in Palestine that is a popular uprising to confront... the enemy face to face. I call on the Palestinian people not only to hold pickets and not only to establish permanent points in order to support prisoners but to confront the enemy. The general Palestinian atmosphere is now calling for confrontation. The emotional and poetic situation now calls for confrontation."
Arnold and I hope that Tamimi's airing of her displeasure with Jordan's ruler along with her outright incitement to violence will lead to the scenario we have awaited for so long: her extradition by Jordan under its signed, ratified treaty with the US.

And my request to readers. Your forwarding of Tamimi's words will deepen the king's embarrassment. It may also prompt the White House to cease pandering to King Abdullah and to seriously pressure him to abide by the treaty his father signed and praised. 

Please help our cause and publicize Tamimi's messages!

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

On my birthday, thoughts of justice

Tamimi in Jordan last week: proud and remorseless 
March 14th is my birthday. 

Six years ago to the day, Arnold and I were invited to a meeting in Jerusalem with visiting officials from the United States Department of Justice in Washington - the DOJ. 

They informed us that the charges against Ahlam Tamimi, our child's murderer, would be unsealed in a matter of hours. 

We had no idea that she had been indicted by the US and the news reduced me to tears of joy. I felt I'd been handed a birthday present.

With time, I realized my reaction was utterly inappropriate. 

The DOJ's action would bear no fruit. The Jordanian ruler's refusal to extradite Tamimi to face trial in a US court would block the pursuit of justice. The murderer of our fifteen year old Malki, would evade punishment thanks to "the King's" rejection of the extradition treaty his own father signed and ratified.

Instead of justice, we have witnessed the brazen flouting of justice. 

We have watched the powerful, the influential and the self righteous of the world embrace and honor a ruler who persists in protecting a self-confessed mass murderer. 

Somehow, her public boasting and gloating of murdering fifteen innocent men, women and children does not move any of them.

Mysteriously, King Abdullah has won the hearts and minds of them all, be they Democrats, Republicans, Americans, Israelis, Jews or Gentiles.

It has left us suffering a pain that exacerbates the interminable grief of longing for Malki.

We intend to continue our efforts to convince the US government to stand firm. It is high time that the no-strings-attached friendship and financial aid lavished on Jordan be withheld until this king relinquishes Tamimi. 

We need a clear-headed re-assessment of Jordan's relationship with the U.S. The former is dependent on the latter and hence cannot dictate terms.

A reminder: The treaty that Abdullah is trashing is one which the U.S. officially deems valid to this day. It is also one with which Jordan has complied in the past. But that only happened when the victims of the crime were - no surprise - not Jewish.
Jewish American victims - which Malki was - also deserve justice.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

February was Jewish Disability, Awareness and Inclusion Month

Source: ADI on Facebook
I know, I know. With disabilities in Israel at the forefront of my mind, I shouldn't be noting that February 2023 is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month - on its very last day. 

But, at this point, there's no alternative.

If anyone needs a push to fight for equal rights and true inclusion of those with disabilities, ADI , as usual, provided it. Here is a post on its Facebook page dated February 21, 2023:
OPENING HEARTS & MINDS IN THE O.C.! The celebration of #JDAIM (Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month) continues throughout February, and ADI's North American Director of Development Elie Klein kicked off the third week of his coast-to-coast tour of Jewish National Fund - USA communities with an incredible home hosted reception in Orange County, California. The venue was exquisite, the food was delicious and the company was exceptional, but ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran still stole the show, capturing hearts and imaginations while highlighting the beauty of true disability inclusion. All in attendance were blown away by the sheer size of the rehabilitation village and the scope of its vision, and they expressed a desire to learn more and support its continued growth and development. City after wonderful city, #JDAIM education is opening the door to year-round empowerment! 
ADI assiduously promulgates the notion that its frameworks constitute inclusion for people with disabilities. That alone elicits a flood of support and cash. 

Of course, as its accounts have shown in the past, the herculean portion of its funding still comes from the government of Israel, i.e. taxpayers'  money. 

But the generosity of Americans, like those in photograph featured prominently on their Facebook entry, should not be underestimated. 

Presumably, nobody in this audience asked Elie Klein how the institutionalization of over 220 babies, children and adults in two large, locked buildings could, by any stretch of the imagination, qualify as "inclusion". 

Regardless of the "sheer size" of the "village", or, rather because of its "sheer size", its continued existence in contemporary Israel is outrageous. For a reminder, "How Israel treats its disabled has been concealed for too long". 

Please remember that in case you too are approached by ADI's well-oiled solicitation machine during the upcoming holiday season.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

More on marching back to the Middle Ages

Attention all who are concerned to get a better understanding of the Ministry's March Back to the Middle Ages. I described the process a few days ago.

If you would like to learn about the new legislation which the Ministry of Welfare and Social Justice is proposing, head for this event. Adv. Naama Lerner, CEO of  Hatnuah L'Atzmaut - the Movement for Independence will deliver a zoom lecture. entitled Zero Restraints

It's scheduled for February 19, 2023 at 20:30 Israel time.

Adv Lerner will be addressing these topics::
  1. What is the Israeli reality today in the field of restraint of people with disabilities in frameworks supervised by the Ministry?
  2. What is a non-violent and effective alternative coping approach?
  3. A brief background to the ongoing struggle these days against the Ministry's memorandum of law intended to legalize and anchor the use of restraints.
Here is the link you need to register.

The lecture will be in Hebrew and will be recorded for posting on the organization's Facebook page.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

The Ministry's march back to the Middle Ages

Restraint bed: Illustration from a Disability Rights California guide 
This month, Israel's Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs (משרד הרווחה והביטחון ההחברתי) announced that it will be enacting a law which will regulate the use of "restrictive protective measures" in institutions for people with disabilities.

The mere phrase sounds alarm bells. 

That is, for anyone concerned about the welfare of our most vulnerable citizens and, of course, for those citizens themselves. 

But, somehow, these words are used acceptingly by most everyone else. That would explain why the infliction of such measures - which include restraint chairs, bed restraints and isolation - has thus far been dealt with only in the Ministry's internal procedures. 

The institutions have enjoyed extremely broad discretion in their use. According to the Ministry's recent memorandum, this practice has "increased the potential for harming the rights of people with disabilities and the staff working in the frameworks".

That new memorandum of the law states that a restrictive protective measure will be defined as one that 
"reduces the movement of a person in space, including the movement of his body, with the aim of maintaining the personal safety of the person or others from actual risk."
Beyond this, it does not specify the restrictive measures that will be regulated. Nor the duration and frequency of their use.

Moreover, once it is enacted, the use of such measures against a person will only be permitted after other options to prevent the danger have been examined and ruled out. The prior approval of professionals as will be stipulated in the regulations will also be required. 

And, finally, the use of these measures will be brought to a re-discussion once every period of time to be determined later.

However - and this creates a huge loophole - the amendment continues:
"In exceptional emergency cases that could not be foreseen in advance, it will be possible to take restrictive protective measures that were allowed to be used in the regulations in emergency cases without prior approval from the authorities, provided that their use is reported as soon as possible to the authority authorized to do so to be determined by the minister."
In other words, whenever the institution's employees deem a situation to be an "emergency" they are free to act as they please. Not surprisingly, advocates for the rights of people with disabilities are outraged by the Ministry's decision. 

Bizchut, The Center for the Human Rights of People with Disabilities, had already submitted a petition to the High Court protesting the use of such measures months prior to the memorandum.

The group's attorney, Vered Bar, now said of the impending amendment that it 
"reflects shocking perceptions regarding people with disabilities. We could not imagine a parallel procedure which allows restrictions regarding any other population."
She added that it 
"will allow the Minister to determine the use of restraints as he sees fit. Those staff members who have been exposed just this past year as having perpetrated violence, abuse and neglect will be the very ones to determine whether a person will be locked up or tied to a chair."
Naama Lerner from Hatnuah L'Atzmaut - the Movement for Independence, an organization working to promote "independent life with personal assistance for every person with a disability in Israel", warned that accepting the memorandum of the law would cast a "terrible stain on the State of Israel".

According to her, the "calming measures" that the Ministry will adopt include
"tying people to a heavy metal chair so that they cannot get up from it and move around or locking people in isolation rooms that have nothing but a thin mattress on the floor."
She explained that "These are means of intimidation, humiliation and abuse.". And noted that after receiving a permit, "it is unlikely that the caregiver in the institutions will comply with the usage restrictions that will be established."

This amendment is propelling us back to the middle ages.

But we may succeed in blocking its enactment by inundating the Ministry with our objections. Here is the link for lodging your complaint. The cutoff date is March 5, 2023

The following (translated by me from the Hebrew original) is an excerpt from the response of a person diagnosed with Autism to the proposed amendment: He is non-verbal and communicates only via his keyboard:
"The thin veil of civility that has covered society since dark times is crumbling. We are a society where there are laws against abuse of the helpless, like in advanced societies in the western world. A person is no longer put in a dungeon just because he looks different and behaves differently... And suddenly, someone in the Welfare Ministry woke up, scratched his scalp and enacted a law that means: the celebration is over. Enough, you've had enough. You are the disease, and we have a cure - punishment for "bad behavior"...  Someone in the Welfare office thinks we are very spoiled and need to be restrained. It was important to him to convey to us the message that life is not therapy but survival. A jungle!" [Source: Shavvim]
Let's not abandon him and others sharing his plight.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Don't we deserve better than this lamentable leadership?

A Jordanian news report from 2017 includes this photo of
American Jewish leaders meeting with King Abdullah II.
The report quotes the king, but not the Jews.
Et tu Brute?

Those words are uttered at a dramatic juncture in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar by the dying emperor at the moment he is assasssinated by his friend Marcus Junius Brutus.

They come to mind whenever I learn of a recent and deplorable Jewish practice that directly impacts on me in personal and unspeakably painful ways.

Here's how Jewish Insider reported a Washington gathering on February 2, 2023:
King Abdullah II of Jordan met with Jewish leaders in Washington, D.C., yesterday. Those in attendance included Rabbi Marc Schneier, Ted Deutch, Jeremy Ben-Ami, Jonathan Greenblatt, Susie Gelman, Hadar Susskind, Dana Gershon, Betty Ehrenberg, Jason Isaacson, John Hannah and Harriet Schleifer.
There's a Jordanian news report [here] as well. As usual, no Jews are named or quoted.

On February 3, 2023, Jordan's Royal Hashemite Court published
and disseminated this photo to illustrate its report under the headline
"King meets representatives of international,
US Jewish organisations"

It's become an annual tradition. Eexecutives of major Jewish organizations in the US solemnly file into a meeting room in some fancy hotel or embassy hall and pay their utmost respects to the visiting ruler of Jordan. he speaks, and his words are faithfully reported in Jordan's media. 

I don't personally know most of the people in the list. And since this hasn't been reported anywhere, I don't know what they said. Or whether they spoke at all.

I do however know something about what previous groups of Jewish leaders said and didn't say when they met the Jordanian. And what they have and have not said publicly to America's top political leaders. 

My husband and I [see This Ongoing War] have been outspoken for years about the abject failures of America's Jewish leadership in the Tamimi/Jordan/justice affair.

From a quick check on the web, I see all the distinguished Jewish people meeting King Abdullah this past Thursday hold leading positions in significant organizations (listed alphabetically) that include:

I know I should have grown used to it. But the pain these encounters inflict only intensifies with time.

My Malki's photos speak to me every day when I am in their presence in our living room. Her gentle eyes, sweet smile, modesty and love radiate from them. Since she was murdered in the Sbarro terror bombing in the summer of 2001, it's the only way she communicates with me.

As I peruse them tonight, I am reminded afresh that Jewish leaders promoting themselves in the Jewish media and mailed solicitations as staunch advocates of rights of the Jews evidently care not one bit about her or us.

Malki's murderer, Ahlam Tamimi, indicted in Washington in 2013 (though this was kept secret until; 2017) is protected and shielded from justice by King Abdullah II of Jordan. And, whatever the leaders say, this clearly doesn't matter one iota to them.

The facts are so clear to me and, as far as I can tell, so irrelevant to them.

The fact that Jordan and the United States have had a valid and active extradition treaty since the days of the Clinton administration and the late King Hussein - the father of today's monarch. 

The fact that the U.S. Department of Justice has demanded that Jordan extradite her under it, and hand her over to the FBI's waiting arms so she can be brought to criminal trial in Washington.

The fact that King Abdullah has authorized the rejection of that demand since Tamimi's indictment. 

The fact whenever he calls, they come running, as they did last week.

It is an incomprehensible exhibition of sycophancy toward a man who is brazenly using them to buttress his position as a close ally of the U.S. And, most important, as the world's largest recipient of U.S. financial aid - now running at some $1.5 billion a year.

Jordan's disdain for Israel is apparently not a factor for Jewish leaders when deciding whether to accept the vaunted invitation of His Majesty (as they usually refer to him).

In meetings, letters and phone calls with many of those leaders we have pleaded since 2017 for their assistance in pressuring the United States to get Jordan to comply with its treaty obligation. All produced nothing more than demeaning, dismissive responses.

What a pathetic show of spinelessness.

Remember this when these organizations next solicit your donation.

Monday, January 30, 2023

How Israel treats its disabled has been concealed for too long

A version of my opinion piuece below was published by Jewish News Syndicate on January 22, 2023 under the title "Life for Israelis with disabilities is a well-kept secret | For-profit institutions and government neglect have led to brutal abuse and exploitation."

Much has been written about the new Israeli government’s proposed changes to Israel’s immigration laws. This principally concerns the Law of Return, which grants Israeli citizenship to anyone with one Jewish grandparent.

But less attention has been given to another change in aliyah requirements. It affects potential immigrants with disabilities.

Until now, olim with disabilities must physically arrive in Israel before applying for recognition of their disabilities, a demanding and time-consuming procedure. 

Only after this process will they be eligible to receive government disability benefits.

Under the new procedures, they will be able to apply for such recognition before actual immigration.  With their legal rights ensured beforehand, it is anticipated that their assimilation into society will be easier.

This change will almost certainly be enacted. But we do not know whether crucial information will be shared with potential olim during this new process. 

Will they be alerted to what awaits disabled people in Israel? Will they be warned that Israel still warehouses many of its disabled in large, closed and isolated institutions? Will they be informed that the situation with which they are likely familiar in their home countries is a far cry from Israel’s situation?           

In short, will they arrive here with their eyes wide open? 

There are some statistics they would surely like to ponder:

  • 88% of Israeli citizens with cognitive impairment who live outside their own homes are institutionalized.  
  • 17,000 people live in 491 housing facilities for people with disabilities and special needs. This includes institutions that serve the cognitively impaired, emotionally impaired, autistic and those requiring special rehabilitation. 
  • Most Israelis with cognitive impairment and autism live in closed institutions remote from the community, where they are denied the right to autonomy and privacy, and where frequent and severe neglect takes place.
  • Some 50% of these closed institutions are operated by approximately 70 different private for-profit companies. The same number of operators are NGOs. Only nine institutions are government-owned.
  • Thousands of citizens with disabilities who live within the community do so in difficult conditions of loneliness and without basic services.

These are disheartening numbers that need not be Israel’s reality.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights ofPersons with Disabilities, which the State of Israel ratified in 2012, declares that the state must ensure that people with disabilities live equally in the community and freely choose their lifestyle.

In June 2022, the Knesset passed a law that anchored the right of disabled people to an independent and autonomous life in the community.  This law will remain dormant until the relevant regulations are drafted, with 2024 set as the target date for its implementation. So, there will be no significant change to the status quo for some time.

This is an under-reported topic. As a result, few know that every couple of months, incidents of severe abuse and occasionally death are inflicted on disabled residents of Israeli institutions. When Hebrew news outlets do briefly cover these stories, they tend not to appear on English-language sites.

Over the past six months, four disabled residents have died, three in one institution due to food poisoning, and the fourth in a brutal attack. Another incident of physical abuse was caught on a security camera this month. The perpetrator of the assault, a nurse, has been arrested.

Unfortunately, police investigations are rarely launched and can drag on interminably. Many are closed without any indictments due to “lack of evidence” or “unreliability of witnesses.” When cases are tried, sentences are rarely more than a slap on the wrist. 

Why are these institutions given free rein?

One theory is that the profits they provide are simply too enticing. Greedy operators intensively lobby politicians to keep these institutions open. Naama Lerner of the grass-roots organization Hatnuah L’atzmaut (The Movement for Independence), explains, 

“Since the advent of privatization, operators of institutions receive between 13,000-20,000 shekels/month per resident and are thus highly motivated to retain them. They hire one carer for ten residents so they spend less than 1,000 shekels/month per resident.”

The Movement for Independence is determined to change that. 

Comprised of activists with and without disabilities, family members, experts and laypersons, the group promotes independent living with personal assistance for every disabled Israeli. However, it is facing government apathy and operators’ determination to continue profiting off disabled people.

An Israel-based non-profit called MDF represents these institutions. It was registered in 2009, but its records at the Ministry of Justice appear not to show any activity. The organization has filed only one annual financial report, in 2012. Its registration document indicates that a former member of Knesset, Yoel Hasson, functions as the director of its lobbying efforts. 

In Dec. 2022, MDF organized a protest outside the Jerusalem head office of the Ministry of Welfare to demand increased funding for the operators of privately owned and operated residential care institutions for people with disabilities.

Naama Lerner, who co-founded and today heads the Movement for Independence, staged a one-woman counter-demonstration to criticize the owner/operators.

She said, 

“Death is the really most extreme case. There are many, many, many problems faced by people in institutions. Let’s start with the ‘soft’ items. The ‘soft’ items are that a person is deprived entirely of his privacy. He doesn’t determine who will sleep with him in his room. He will never have a private room. People who are 20, 30, 40 years old who need a private room, personal closet, personal clothing, a moment to be alone. What do the institutions do to prevent this? They shackle them to beds, isolate them in rooms, tie them to restraint chairs, place splints on their arms so they can’t move their arms. All these things are also prohibited by law.”

She went on, 

“A supported housing program is a very important program, and without a doubt, it is the program that every person with a disability will have in the future. Everyone will have an independence-supporter who will accompany them to an independent life, help them build their personal plan and implement it. But unfortunately, today, with the program’s current budget and the severe limitations it places, it really suits but a few, and particularly those who can manage on their own.”

Another organization fighting for deinstitutionalization is Bizchut, founded by the late, legendary social activist Shulamit Aloni. It also believes in the right of every person with a disability to live in the community in a small and intimate setting granting them a life of equality and respect, personal autonomy and full integration.

Bizchut further maintains that, in institutions and hostels, where dozens and sometimes even hundreds of people with disabilities live together, the ability to maintain these basic rights is not possible.

Neither of the above organizations has voiced support for the change in aliyah procedures affecting immigrants with disabilities.

One of the bodies responsible for the change is the Jewish Agency, headed by Doron Almog. Almog is also, ironically, the chairman of two large, closed institutions—Adi Negev and Adi Jerusalem. 

Almog claims to care about the rights of people with disabilities, to which his many speeches and articles on the topic attest. Here is but one example: “The way in which we relate to the most vulnerable among us, those with disabilities and multiple challenges, constitutes the greatest test of our society. It is only when our societies are able to make the care, development and inclusion of everyone part and parcel of our daily lives that we will truly live up to our own ideals.”

But as we know, talk is cheap and it is actions that matter. Almog’s actions consistently contradict his words. For decades, he has championed and helped raise millions of dollars in contributions for the two institutions he chairs. Together they keep 233 citizens, from babies to young adults, locked up and isolated from society.

So, will Almog and the Jewish Agency provide disabled applicants with the information they need before aliyah, such as the contact details of the organizations that endeavor to help people with disabilities live independent lives with government assistance?

Given the disheartening status quo, it is likely that some prospective olim will postpone aliyah until the 2022 legislation has gone into effect or until the advent of a more inviting scenario.

The alternative is an influx of shocked and unhappy new citizens. Would Israel welcome that?

I am the mother of a fragile 27-year-old Israeli woman who suffers from severe physical and cognitive disabilities, including epilepsy and blindness. Keeping her at home where she enjoys loving care from me and my husband is a struggle. But I have no doubt that had we succumbed to the pressure of her teachers and social workers, and institutionalized her, she would no longer be alive.

Now is the perfect time to publicize the ugly truth about Israel’s treatment of its disabled citizens. The secret has been kept for far too long.