Disabled Protesters Shut Down Major Highway, Turning Commute Into a ‘Nightmare’

YERUSHALAYIM -
Disabled and handicapped people, along with activists, attend a protest calling for better health care on a main road outside the town of Yekum, near Netanya, causing major traffic jams, at a similar protest earlier this month. (Flash90)

Traffic into Tel Aviv was at a standstill Thursday morning as protesters on behalf of disabled Israelis demanding higher pension payments from the government shut down Road 4, one of the main north-south highways passing through the central region, turning the morning rush hour into a “nightmare,” police said. Protesters shut down the section of the road between the Geha Junction and the exit to Bnei Brak, and police directed southbound traffic onto Road 5, the east-west road that drivers would have to take to one of the other two north-south arteries, Roads 2 or 6, if they wanted to get to Tel Aviv. Delays of an hour or more were reported by commuters, as the protesters blocked the junction during the heart of the morning rush hour.

The protest was another one in a series of road blockages by protesters that have been taking place nearly daily, mostly on roads in the north. This was the first time the protesters took on a road in the Tel Aviv area during rush hour. Police said that the protest was illegal, and tried to force the protesters to move on, but as many of them were in wheelchairs and on crutches, police were forced to tread lightly. The protesters remained in place for about an hour, and then left of their own volition.

The protests are being accompanied by a petition by disabled rights groups to the High Court that the transfer payments provided to disabled Israelis equal the minimum monthly wage, currently about NIS 5,000. 880,000 Israelis receive such payments, and currently are receiving between NIS 1,405 and NIS 2,342 per month, depending on their degree of disability.

The state is set to respond to the petition at the High Court on Thursday. The state has 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. Speaking to Ma’ariv, Dr. Amichai Tamir, a leader of the protest groups, said that he was “not concerned that the public will turn against us because of the protests. The reason we are closing down the roads is because we are truly suffering. If we restricted our protests to legal, closed spaces, no one would pay attention to us. This is one of the few ways we can legitimately bring our case to the public.”