Tuesday, February 13, 2018

For too many, a deal that is forgotten history

As many readers of my occasional articles will probably know, the Shalit Deal haunts me every day. It constitutes what was probably the worst travesty of justice ever perpetrated by an Israeli leader. And it resulted in the freedom of Ahlam Tamimi, my daughter Malki’s murderer in the Sbarro massacre.
Thanks to that outrage, Tamimi lives a comfortable life in Amman, Jordan, where she brazenly incites millions of Muslims to terrorism with utter impunity [see “21-Nov-17: Mass-murdering Charles Manson and mass-murdering Ahlam Tamimi: Who’s more monstrous?”]
For most Israelis, however, the Shalit Deal is forgotten history.
Nevertheless, for several hours last week, the local press was abuzz with it courtesy of ex- Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Speaking publicly for the first time since his release from prison six months ago, Olmert didn’t mince any words lambasting the deal and its orchestrator, Netanyahu. He was addressing a conference at Tel Aviv’s Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatefutsot, organized by the not-for- profit “Arik for Leadership” society, named for the late prime minister Ariel Sharon. The conference marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Latrun.
Olmert’s speech made me yearn for the bad old days when we were led by a man, Olmert, who was subsequently convicted of and imprisoned for the crime of corruption. I know, I know – that sounds absurd. But it’s undeniable: the ex-criminal spoke sanely and rationally about the release of the Shalit Deal’s 1,027 terrorists, among them convicted murderers and mass murderers, in return for one Israeli soldier. His words were such sweet music to my ears that I’m compelled to share some of them.
He revealed that he had rejected far milder demands from Hamas for Gilad Shalit’s release than those to which Netanyahu ultimately submitted in 2011:
“It is difficult to speak about the price we paid. The price that I rejected was lower both in the number of those released and in their characteristics [caliber]”.
He said that as PM he had several conversations with Gilad Shalit’s parents but said he always told them:
“You are the parents, you can ask to release not a thousand, but ten thousand. It’s human and understandable. But I as prime minister won’t do that. From a prime minister’s viewpoint, things must be looked at in a different way.”
Admittedly, Olmert wasn’t subjected to the intense pressure of an unhinged psy-cho-lo-gist/wife intent on pleasing her friends, the Shalits. As we know, Netanyahu had no such luck. In 2012, he openly confessed to the German newspaper, Bild, that his decision to buckle under to Hamas’ demands was influenced by Sara’s pressure to do so.
It is also important to remember that PM Netanayahu failed not only by brokering that egregiously lopsided swap. The very day of the mass release in October 2011, shocking revelations were reported regarding intelligence gathering related to Shalit’s abduction. Their source was a then freshly-retired senior commander in IDF counter-terrorism intelligence, Colonel Ronen Cohen. He had most recently been the intelligence officer of Central Command.
In an interview published on October 16, 2011 [Haaretz, “Former IDF Official: Shalit Rescue Efforts Were ‘A Resounding Failure’”], Cohen said that the deal constituted “a resounding failure” adding
“The IDF never took responsibility for the soldier and did not even set up a team to deal with bringing him back… Intelligence is not passive but must be activated. [In the Shalit case,] it never was.”
And on whose watch did all those blunders occur? On whose watch have at least six more Israelis been murdered by terrorists released in the Shalit Deal?
The same leader who is now entrusted with our welfare in the days ahead; days that don’t augur calm or safety.

[A version of this post was published on the Times of Israel website under the headline "The Shalit deal redux" on February 12, 2018]

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Do we want a psy-cho-log-ist leading us?

Mrs Netanyahu [File Photo]
The audio recording of Sara Netanayahu that rocked the country this week [reported and recorded here] is relevant to our outrage over our daughter's murderer, Ahlam Tamimi.

"How?", you ask.

In 2012, Mr. Netanyahu confessed that in deciding to release 1,027 convicted terrorists in the Shalit Deal,  he was succumbing to Sara's pressure.

In 2012, columnist Barak Ravid wrote:
"Only recently, several long months late, he [Mr. Netanyahu] agreed to admit – in an interview with the German newspaper Bild – that his wife Sara put pressure on him to approve the Shalit deal." ["New Info on Shalit Deal Shows, Yet Again, That in the Mideast, Nothing Is as It Appears", Haaretz, July 24, 2012
Even in the best of circumstances, any input from the wife of the prime minister in such a momentous move is egregiously unacceptable. Now, in light of the recording, we know what that "pressure" probably sounded like.

We should be shivering in our pants with the knowledge that this woman had, and still has, our lives in her hands. Thanks in part to her, several more Israelis were murdered by those Shalit Deal releasees [see "29-Jan-18: Freeing unrepentant terrorists and the horrors it has brought"]

Others, like our Malki's murderer, are still tirelessly engaged in incitement to murder with utter impunity.

Can we continue to allow the most powerful elected official in the country to lead us under the direct influence of this patently-unhinged woman?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

On voluntourism

Once again, those indefatigable Aleh PR partisans have disseminated over-the-top praise for their enterprise in the name of a foreign volunteer. And once again, that praise exhibits their gross ignorance of disabilities rights. 

This time, the team channeled its message via an American social worker and mother of a 29-year-old girl with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She is currently spending a year at Aleh Negev having left her daughter in the U.S. in an "appropriate arrangement." 

The effusive PR team dubbed her Volunteer of the Year. She allegedly said: 
“Despite being familiar with my daughter’s world, I have never encountered anything like ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran. I wish that something similar could be built in the United States.” [Aleh website]
There is no need to wish or wonder about the lack of such an enterprise in the United States. There are perfectly sound reasons for it. But like so many other volunteers at orphanages and institutions, she seems unaware of the progress that has been made on behalf of people with disabilities in just about every other developed country, excluding Israel. I have personally spoken to such well-intentioned, idealistic individuals and am always struck anew by their obliviousness of deinstitutionalization.

Here is a brief survey of that process in the United States:
For the past 50 years, the main goal of disability rights activists has been to help people with disabilities transition out of institutional settings and into their own homes and communities. To accomplish this, advocates and policymakers have worked to establish an extensive system of support services for seniors, non-elderly adults, and children with disabilities; rather than pushing people into segregated settings, the support now comes to them, in their homes.
Between 1960 and 2013, as a result of this effort, states closed 219 state institutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Whereas in 1977 the average person with a developmental disability lived in a place that housed 22.5 people, by 2011 that number had dropped to 2.3, reflecting a vast shift toward integration and personalization of services... [From "The GOP health care plan could force Americans with disabilities back into institutions", Ari Ne'eman via VOX.com, March 23, 2017]
Once again, to all volunteers and donors to institutions that warehouse babies, children and adults in large, closed and isolated facilities, a reminder of Lumos founder, J.K. Rowling's admonition:
"Voluntourism is one of drivers of family break-up in very poor countries. It incentivizes ‘orphanages’ that are run as businesses."
Sadly, Israel, a developed and enlightened state in other respects, conducts itself in this realm like those poor countries. It ignores legislation and scientific studies. 

And for those questioning whether Aleh is in fact a business, please note the statement [here] by Israel's State Attorney regarding the financial boon that it has been to Israel's largest periphery, the Negev. 

And this:
It is not only rights that suffer in institutions — life skills deteriorate, too. Evidence suggests that exit into the community can actually improve the functional skills of many people with disabilities. The research shows that in domains like self-care, “community living skills,” communications, and social interaction, people have better outcomes after leaving institutions. In part due to these findings, the Supreme Court ruled in its 1999 Olmstead v. L.C. decision that the Americans With Disabilities Act required state Medicaid programs to offer community-based options as an alternative to anyone who wished to take advantage of them... [VOX again]

Monday, January 15, 2018

Is this why our government loves Aleh?

State Attorney Shai Nitzan visiting Aleh Negev [Image Source]
This blog has often bemoaned the incessant procession of dignitaries to Aleh's institutions. The latest to join is State Attorney, Shai Nitzan, who was given "a tour of the village", referring to Aleh Negev, on January 9, 2018.

The kudos that Israel's officials accord Aleh's large, closed  institutions is unforgivable. It intensifies the uphill battle facing  people with disabilities and their families who crave true equality and true inclusion as opposed to the ersatz equality and inclusion that Aleh's PR peddles.

But Mr. Nitzan must be commended for his honesty, inadvertent though it probably was. In his praise for Aleh's enterprise, he let the cat out of the bag, saying
"...Our place, that of the State Attorney, is to work to lessen discrimination, to take care of and assist the periphery in its lack of equality vis-à-vis the center of the country.”
There it is, for all to read and hear.

One crucial motive behind this government's promotion and funding of Aleh is the jobs it generates. Simply put, the warehousing of our most vulnerable children and adults, their isolation from families and communities, is a boon to the  economically-deprived south of Israel - the Negev.

Which means the welfare of the residents with disabilities themselves isn't a priority. And how could it be? If it were, our government would be supporting and funding their care with their families and in the community with the generosity it now unjustifiably bestows on Aleh.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A glimmer of hope through the thick smoke

From the Aleh website
The smoke is blowing fast and thick from Aleh's PR whizzes.

In the hope of blinding us to the truth - that Aleh warehouses and locks up people with disabilities in large, isolated facilities - they inundate the public with faux-uplifting stories.

From motorcycle demos to soldier visits to lipstick sessions, their residents are being trotted out for inane photo ops that mask the sad reality of their existence isolated from family and community.

Now some of that smoke is being directed my way to my Jerusalem neighborhood. We are being treated [here] to a series of free lectures on various child-care topics. Free cake and coffee is thrown in to maximize the appeal. The lecturers will, for the most part, be employees of Aleh.

These tactics are thoroughly duping Israel's politicians and government agencies. Our Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett, regularly trots off to Aleh Negev to inundate it with worshipful words: "You at Aleh are the torchbearers; you cast light on us all..."

Our Ministry of Welfare honors Aleh with awards [here] and its own hyperbolic praise of Aleh's
"world view in which the child remains an integral part of the family, and even more – ALEH is an example of a community-integrated residence..." (emphasis mine)
The greedy tentacles of this ever-expanding monster have nearly extinguished all hope for change in the lives of Israel's citizens with disabilities. But they will not succeed if we continue the struggle for genuine inclusion and equality.
As I typed the above rant, I received the following notification from Bizchut about a grass-roots campaign now underway on social media (translated by me from Hebrew to English):
"'I too deserve to be able to roam around and mess around in the big city. I want to be like you and not like a patient in a special village for people with disabilities. I want to do National Service, I want to take a trip to the Philippines or Thailand. I want a dream job. I want a relationship. That's me.' Tommy Berchanko, a youth [in Israel] with disabilities and a social activist." 
In the last month, tens of similar posts have circulated; posts relating the stories of youths with disabilities and their parents. In a short time, hundreds of people joined the struggle. People with disabilities, their parents, friends and relatives who have decided to shout out their dream, the dream of a full life within the community, with personal assistance for every individual with disabilities. All this is in accordance with the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Israel signed in 2007 and ratified in 2012. We at Bizchut bless and support all the activists and invite you to join them."
 And the group that Bizchut mentioned posted the following on its Facebook page:
"We are a group working to advance legislation that will enable people with disabilities (without distinction between types of disability) to realize their right to independent and supported lives with equality and dignity within the community in accordance with their needs and wishes and with the necessary support to achieve that."
You can read the full manifesto here.

I was particularly heartened by the phrase "without distinction between types of disability". 

Which means, Aleh, your repeated use of "complex disabilities" to denote the children locked up in your institutions just won't cut it. Even they are entitled to live within the community, with their families enjoying true inclusion. Not visits from dignitaries, donors or volunteers - the crumbs of inclusion doled out to Aleh's residents.

So, dear readers, you can now do something concrete to help Israelis with severe disabilities, particularly those consigned to live out their lives in large, closed institutions like Aleh. Join this nascent campaign to propel Israel into the ranks of other enlightened countries throughout the world.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Seeing through the institutions and the smoke-screens

From the manufacturer's website
Today I chatted with somebody possessing inside information about Aleh Jerusalem. I contacted that person regarding Aleh's recent announcement of its launch of a project to equip its residents with Wizzybugs. There's a photo of one over on the right. It comes from the company that developed them.

This is an expensive wheelchair and, as I learned from my source, requires a protracted period of training before a child can operate it. My source told me that several children at the institution have been undergoing such training using a substitute device and that one family had purchased a Wizzybug for their child. And that, dear readers, constitutes the sum total of Wizzybugs at Aleh.

Now here is what Aleh's PR whizzes did with those Wizzybug facts:
  • "At the beginning of November, ALEH, Israel’s network of care for children with severe complex disabilities, launched a new empowerment project at its residential facility in Jerusalem that provides toddlers with specially-designed motorized wheelchairs, allowing them to take control of their own mobility from the age of one year-old...
  • “We at ALEH believe that every person has a natural right to dignity, the highest quality of life and to reach their fullest potentials. That’s why these brilliant Wizzybug chairs were a natural fit for us,” added Grayevsky. “We are thrilled for all of our amazing ALEH kids who are now benefitting from this exciting project, and we enjoy watching them use this new tool to move their lives ever forward.”. 
Notwithstanding those assertions, I had a strong feeling after reading the PR release and looking past the smoke-screen that Aleh has no more than one Wizzybug on its premises. After all, the photos accompanying the article only showed one. If there were a fleet of them, wouldn't we have been shown it? My source confirmed my suspicions.

I realize this deception is trivial and that harping on it, even as briefly as I have, could be construed as obsessive. But it is emblematic of Aleh's wider attitude towards the truth about children with disabilities.

For instance, their incessant insertion of the word "inclusion" into every item they disseminate. Aleh's approach toward these children and adults is the antithesis of inclusion. Their claims otherwise - as found here - are nothing but "alternative facts".  Likewise their irrational insistence that their large, closed institutions are "home" and their staff "family" to the residents could not be further from the truth. 

Occasionally, their slick PR whizzes slip up as they did here where they concede that the children in Aleh Jerusalem do have real biological families who visited them on Hanukka last week. This just confirms the claims of Lumos that over 80% of all children who have been handed over to institutions throughout the world are not orphans:
"Eight million children live in orphanages and other institutions globally. More than 80% are not orphans but have been separated from their families because of poverty and discrimination." [Lumos]
Many of the these families would not have abandoned their children had they received the government assistance they need and deserve to care for their children. 

Somehow these facts elude the army of supporters that Aleh has enlisted, among them employees and volunteers - and including my source. They tell me that the residents had been neglected by their families and enjoy a higher quality of life in Aleh. They are clueless as to the de-insitutionalized systems of care now pursued in the rest of the developed world. They presume that Israel's choice between quality care and family love is the ideal and the only solution. 

When will enlightenment reach our shores?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The minister needs an education

The Aleh Negev facility: Home?
Recently, my husband met with a senior official in one of the government ministries to discuss matters relating to Keren Malki, the Malki Foundation, the non-profit we together founded in 2001 to memorialize our murdered daughter, Malki.

As the conversation drew to a close, the official praised the foundation's work subsidizing para-medical therapies for children with disabilities who live with their families. But she differed with Arnold on one point: she believes that raising such children is not just a privilege, as he had said to her, but an obligation.

While we do not state our views as dogmatically as she did, I do often wonder how parents who abandon their children with disabilities rationalize that step. What explanation do they give their other children for refusing to raise their sibling? Do they concede "Well, he didn't live up to our dreams and expectations so we decided to dump him in an institution?"

How do they reassure their other children who quite possibly lie awake at night wondering "Will I also be abandoned for getting lousy grades in school? Or for getting into fights with my classmates? Or for being punished by my principal?"

Such ponderings would only be natural.

Despite that senior official's encouraging words the Israeli government persists in entrenching institutionalization in Israel. Today we learned that Education Minister Naftali Bennett visited Aleh Negev on December 4th to laud the establishment there of the first Bnei Akiva branch for children with disabilities.

Please enough smoke in our eyes!

When will this government wake up and smell the coffee? It is alone in the developed world. Its regressive attitudes to children and adults with disabilities have been rejected by other enlightened states. In February 2016, Mr. Bennett visited Aleh Negev, and his praise for the institution matched his words this week. He has had plenty of time to learn of Lumos and its tireless efforts to end global institutionalization; to read the warnings of professionals against the physical and emotional harm that life in large, closed institutions inflicts on its inmates. But he clearly hasn't done so.

His continued  support for Aleh violates the civil rights of citizens with disabilities and is a blight on our society.  Mr Bennett, who clearly hasn't made any progress in the last two years said:
"You, at ALEH, are the torchbearers, and you cast light upon us all – light for the children who need it most, light for their parents, light for all of Israel, and a 'light unto the nations'.” ["Naftali Bennett visits ALEH", December 4, 2017]