A Real Change Is Needed for Israel's Disabled

Haaretz Editorial
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Demonstrators in front of the Welfare Ministry protesting against the closure of institutions for people with disabilities, 2019
Demonstrators in front of the Welfare Ministry protesting against the closure of institutions for people with disabilities, 2019Credit: Chen Gershony/Activists of the Autistic Community in Israel
Haaretz Editorial

The aim of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is to “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.” Israel signed the United Nations treaty in 2007, and ratified it five years later. But despite this official adoption, it turns out that Israel has not yet internalized the convention’s principles. Even worse, the state’s various authorities do not view them as binding.

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A coalition of some 30 organizations of people with disabilities and social justice groups recently submitted to the international committee of experts that monitors compliance with the convention an alternative to Israel’s official report that highlights what the official report tried to obscure: There are inconceivably enormous gaps between the principles of the treaty and the reality in Israel, as reflected in its laws and in education, health, housing, employment and other areas. Moreover, the “shadow report” submitted by the social activists and organizations demonstrates the absence of a program to reduce these gaps and makes it clear that Israel is in violation of the convention.

The violation is particularly egregious in regard to the right “to live in the community, with choices equal to others,” The alternative report states that Israel is violating in practice the right to independent living in the community. This prevents 20,000 people with disabilities, who live in a range of institutions, from being able to make basic decisions that are taken for granted by everyone else: the people with whom they share their room, when they go to sleep or what they eat for breakfast.

Other violations occur in the educational system. It turns out that even a long series of rulings by the High Court of Justice have been unable to uproot the common attitude that students with disabilities need to adapt themselves to the schools – and not vice versa – or be placed in segregated frameworks. The same goes for the regulations on accessibility: It is not only that 14 years after the deadline some have not yet been introduced, but also that the implementation of those regulations that have been approved has been postponed repeatedly.

In the past, it was acceptable to view the inability of a disabled person to integrate into the general population as a personal problem, the result of health issues or physical differences. That is how a limited choice of services and possibilities was put in place, usually in separate frameworks. The international convention emphasizes the right of a person with disabilities to participate equally and actively in all areas of life, like anyone else. Israel is failing to meet its promise to implement this right. Lighting up buildings throughout Israel in purple to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is not enough: A fundamental change is needed.

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