Disabled Defy Police, Keep Up Road Closures

Disabled, handicapped and activists block the entrance to Yerushalayim as they attend a protest calling for better health care, last week. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defying police, disabled protesters once again blocked a major highway during the height of the morning rush hour – this time Route 1, the main Yerushalayim-Tel Aviv road, at the Latrun interchange, about halfway between the two cities. Police on Sunday night had announced that they would no longer allow the disabled protesters to block highways, but a spokesperson for a group representing the protesters said that the road blockages would continue.

The protests, which have been going on for months, are organized by groups demanding that payments to the disabled equal the minimum monthly wage, currently about NIS 5,000. A total of 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 on Sunday said that there was just not enough money in the state budget for that kind of payout. According to MK David Bitan (Likud), raising the transfer payments to the level of the minimum wage “is impossible. It would cost us an additional NIS 4 billion that we do not have. There are many benefits that we can provide besides the minimum wage,” he told Channel Ten.

On Sunday, protesters blocked roads, interchanges, and exits in Tel Aviv, Ra’anana, Kfar Shmaryahu, and near Netanya, causing major traffic jams both in the morning and evening commutes. Police have been reticent to arrest protesters, many of whom show up in wheelchairs, but rising anger among drivers – fistfights and screaming matches have become common during the protests – prompted police to announce that they would no longer tolerate the protests.

“In light of the increase in serious disturbances to traffic and public order due to the protests, police informed organizers of the protests that they would enforce traffic laws,” police said in a statement. “We have offered the protesters alternative venues for public protest that do not interfere with traffic.”

In response, protesters said they would increase their activities. “We have decided that we are going to do even worse things,” Ofer Sofer, a protest leader, told Channel 2. “There will be more road blockages on more roads. Let the police do what they want, let them arrest us. We will block the exits from the police stations and prevent the vans for detainees from leaving the station.”