Disabled demonstrators, Emil Salman, Oct. 25, 2010
Disabled demonstrators outside the Knesset on Oct. 25, 2010. Photo by Emil Salman
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Some 200 members of organizations representing the disabled protested yesterday in Jerusalem near the Knesset and the offices of the Finance and Social Affairs ministries, demanding, among other things, that disability allowances be raised to minimum wage levels.

"We are fighting for the right to eat basic food, drink water, buy a kilo of tomatoes, take a shower. The cost of bread, water, electricity and fuel have gone up drastically in recent years, and our benefits have not gone up for nearly a decade," Naomi Moravia, chairwoman of the Israeli Human Rights Organization of People With Disabilities, said.

As an example, Moravia notes that a liter of diesel fuel cost a little more than a shekel in 2002, and today costs about NIS 10.

Moravia said the minimum disability allowance is NIS 1,850 a month plus a rental subsidy of NIS 600.

When the first few dozen disabled demonstrators arrived at the protest site yesterday morning, they blocked traffic and clashed with police. Following the rally, demonstrators set up a tent, which Moravia said would be manned until dialogue started with government representatives.

Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog met last week with representatives of the disabled, but was unable to head off the demonstration. According to Moravia, "We were in dialogue with the government since 2002 to raise our disability benefits, but talks stopped two months ago. They stopped listening to our opinion."

The groups decided on the demonstration two weeks ago after they were not permitted to respond at a meeting of the Knesset Social Affairs Committee about an amendment to the National Insurance Law.

The groups are also demanding the expansion of services to children with physical and mental disabilities who are not recognized as handicapped. They also want the waiting period shortened for approval by Health Ministry committees to receive mobility aids like motorized wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs.

According to a spokesperson for the Social Affairs Ministry, "the ministry's leadership and Minister Herzog are in constant talks with the disabled organizations, parents of disabled children and others in the field. Herzog listens to the disabled and understands their needs. During the four years he has been welfare minister, he has taken steps to improve and ease the lot of the disabled. Beginning this month, thousands of disabled children will be able to receive disability allowances although their handicap has not yet been recognized."

The ministry spokesperson added that Herzog had "awakened from a deep sleep" the law allowing the disabled to go to work and retain their disability allowance.

Moshe Toashi, a disabled protester from Modi'in, summarized the history of demonstrations by the handicapped by saying: "You wallow in the dust, humiliate yourself, and in the end they give you another NIS 100 and you say 'thank you.'"

Two previous demonstrations by the disabled have taken place in this area, in 1999 and 2002, the latter lasting 77 days.