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Staircases in shelters. No wheelchair access Photo: Amir Levy
Staircases in shelters. No wheelchair access Photo: Amir Levy
 
 

People with disabilities to be forsaken in time of war?

Staircases in shelters, unprepared geriatric wards mean in case of attack, hundred of thousands of people with special needs may be left unprotected

Omri Efraim
Published: 09.03.12, 23:08 / Israel News

"When missiles hit Israel, those who will die first are people with special needs," warned Dafna Elnekave Azarzar, chair of the Ahava Association, which advocates for people with disabilities and their families, and whose son is wheelchair-bound.

 

The vulnerability of those who are the weakest in the Israeli home front went unaddressed during the Gulf War and the Second Lebanon War. Most probably, the next war would leave people with disabilities, as well as the elderly and noncitizens, without care.

 

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In 2005, the Law of Equal Rights for People with Disabilities was amended with an "accessibility chapter," which details emergency protocol. But the chapter is still pending Knesset approval, and half of it has yet to be submitted.

  

According to a report issued by the Justice Ministry's Committee for Equal Rights for People with Disabilities, some 600,000 people with physical, cognitive and mental disabilities currently reside in Israel. In 2010, 200,000 of them reported they had no one to count on in times of emergency.

 

"Who's going to help them seal their windows and doors? Who's going to carry them to safety? All these unanswered questions should have already been regulated," said Achiya Kamara, chair of the Justice Ministry's committee.

 


יהושע ברקוביץ. מי ייקח אותו במצב חירום? (צילום: הרצל יוסף)

Some 20,000 senior citizens will be abandoned in case of emergency. Photo: Herzl Yosef

 

Wheelchair-bound Naomi Moravia, chairwoman of the Israeli Human Rights Organization of People with Disabilities, was living in Sderot until 2006 and is therefore familiar with the routine of missile attacks. "We can't make it to a shelter with a wheelchair. If rockets hit, we stay in bed, horribly stressed, waiting to hear the boom. If you hear it, it means you're alive."

 

According to Moravia, "As far as the home front is concerned, the State of Israel deserts those who need it most. In order to get to most shelters, you need to use a staircase, and people with disabilities are denied access."

 

Preventing repeat tragedy

Chair of the Knesset Accessibility Committee, MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz), wrote to Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter to finalize the emergency protocol pertaining to people with disabilities as soon as possible. According to Gilon, "if we don’t initiate immediate change, we may witness the same tragedies we endured during the Second Lebanon War, which left many of those with special needs unattended."

 

The same problem applies to elderly citizens in geriatric wards. "Some 90% of homes for senior citizens are not prepared for an emergency scenario," said Ronnie Uzeri, head of the Israeli Senior Living Communities Union. This means that some 20,000 senior citizens will be forsaken in case of emergency.

 

"It all comes down to budget issue," Uzeri said, "we asked the Health Ministry to increase our funds, but we were refused."

  

The Defense Ministry commented that "the responsibility of the Defense Ministry for writing regulations does not remove other ministries' responsibilities for people with disabilities."

 

The Home Front Defense Ministry said that "Home Front defense is constantly improving and is dependent on budget and priorities. There is a plan to evacuate people with special needs." Dichter's office stated that 22 special regulations were added to the emergency protocol, which call for the appointment of an official in each government ministry to address the issues of people with special needs.

 

According to the Health Ministry, the ministry is devising strategies with each senior citizens' institution according to its circumstances.

 

There were no comments from the Social Affairs Ministry and the Interior Ministry.

 

 

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