Israel Is Turning a Blind Eye to Abuse of the Disabled

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The Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs in Tel Aviv, Israel, this month.
The Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs in Tel Aviv, Israel, this month.Credit: Moti Milrod

Handcuffs, movement restrictions of various types and forcible isolation are frequent occurrences in institutions for people with disabilities. The incidents exposed last week by a Haaretz investigation should keep people awake at night. A man in his forties who resides in a facility for people with developmental disabilities in Gush Dan was put into a room with no furniture other than a bed and a thin mattress because, according to the staff, he was violent toward the other residents. This forced isolation went on for around two years. At another institution, a patient was tied to his bed for 13 and a half hours because there wasn’t enough staff to accompany him to the bathroom. He was periodically tied in this manner for several months. Other testimony described people being tied to chairs for long periods of time, beds being surrounded by cages and people being shut into their bedrooms or locked into “calming down” rooms. In some cases, these actions were taken with the Social Affairs Ministry’s knowledge (Or Kashti, Haaretz in Hebrew, April 13).

There is no therapeutic justification for putting such restraints on residents of such facilities. These unacceptable practices stem from a flawed socioeconomic order of priorities that results in a lack of funds and systematic staffing shortages, coupled with the fact that the Social Affairs Ministry has turned a blind eye for many years. The result is that violence is employed against society’s weakest members.

Around three years ago, the ministry began drafting regulations to govern the handling of patients in “challenging behavioral situations” in various types of facilities. A year ago, these rules were sent to the Justice Ministry for review, but it’s not clear when or even if this review will be finished. After repeated questions, the Social Affairs Ministry admitted that no such regulations are currently in force. Legal sources said it’s very doubtful that tying people up, isolating them or any of the other forms of restraint being used are legal. The Justice Ministry is well aware that these practices lack legal authorization, but it too has chosen to accept the existing situation.

As long as regulations governing the issue haven’t been approved, the Social Affairs Ministry refuses to forbid private institutions to employ such methods of restraint, arguing that this “could cause confusion on the ground.” At issue are some 330 residential facilities of various types that house around 17,000 people with disabilities. Evidently, the ministry prioritizes the welfare of these private companies over the patients’ rights. Moreover, internal discussions conducted with no oversight or transparency aren’t supposed to be a substitute for an orderly process of legislation, nor are they supposed to legitimize violations of the fundamental rights to dignity and personal security. Facilities for people with disabilities aren’t exempt from the law, and we shouldn’t accept any exceptions for them that undermine patients’ rights. Aside from exceptional cases of clear and present danger to the patient or another person, the Social Affairs Ministry must ban the use of any type of restraint.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.