Despite Deal, Disabled Protests Continue: Ashdod Port Shut Down

YERUSHALAYIM -
A police officer removes a disabled man during a recent protest in Yerushalayim. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite the agreement between government officials and groups representing disabled Israelis, protests by some of the disabled have not ceased. On Tuesday, 10 disabled Israelis in wheelchairs blocked the two entrances to Ashdod Port. The protest began at 6 a.m. and continued throughout the morning – and without their removal by police. As a result, hundreds of trucks that were set to deliver goods for exports or pick up cargo were stuck in a long line to get into the port that was not moving.

During the protest, drivers emerged from their trucks and got into loud arguments with the protesters. One driver told Yediot Acharonot that the protest was “a complete disaster. I support the disabled but they should be protesting the government, not ordinary people who have to make a living. I have children – why are they to blame?”

In a statement, Ashdod Port said that “the protest has had a significantly negative impact on work at the port, especially damaging on the eve of a holiday. The inability of trucks to enter and load or unload merchandise will have a major impact on the schedules of drivers and workers, and create massive delays in the work schedule of the port.”

The protests are being held by the “Disabled Panthers” group, which has refused to accept the agreement. The agreement came early Friday, hours before Yom Kippur, but on Sunday and Monday the group blocked major highways and exits, creating traffic congestion in Tel Aviv and Haifa.

For months, disabled groups have stopped traffic on major highways all over the country, as they protested what they called an “unlivable” level of support they get from the government. Groups organizing the protests demanded that payments to the disabled equal the minimum monthly wage, currently about NIS 5,000, and that all disabled Israelis receive the same pension, without relation to their level of disability.

880,000 Israelis receive such payments, and currently are getting between NIS 1,405 and NIS 2,342 per month, depending on their degree of disability. The state had previously offered to raise the payments to NIS 4,000 for about 30 percent of the disabled, and NIS 3,200 for others with lesser degrees of disability. Government officials have said that there was just not enough money in the state budget for that kind of payout.

Under the deal, stipends will be increased over the next four years, with the severely disabled to receive payments of NIS 4,500. Currently they receive NIS 2,342. Individuals with lesser disabilities will receive less. The plan will cost the government a total of NIS 4.2 billion over the next four years.

In order to ensure that the plan is enacted, it will be instituted based on a law to be passed by the Knesset. The new deal entailed compromise on both sides. The payments will still fall short of the minimum wage, and will be instituted over a four-year period, contrary to the disabled groups’s demands that they be instituted immediately. In addition, the maximum payment will not apply to all disabled, only to those with 100-percent disability, according to the National Insurance Institute. On the other hand, stipends will now be linked to the cost of living, and will increase at the same rate that salaries for government employees increase. In addition, disabled Israelis will be able to receive NIS 4,300 per month without harming their benefits, instead of the NIS 2,800 they were allowed to earn before their benefits were reduced.

The Disabled Panthers group, which has been responsible for many of the road closings, said that it would not accept the deal if the stipends were not raised to minimum wage level. Other groups, however, said that they saw the deal as a breakthrough, and that it was an “important social agreement.”