Friday, August 11, 2017

Words at the graveside

Malki in her last year: Always smiling
At the adjoining graves of my daughter Malki and her friend Michal, both murdered in the Sbarro pizzeria massacre in Jerusalem in August 2001, we marked the yahrzeit yesterday. I spoke in Hebrew to those assembled. Here is what I said, translated to English:

This is the first year we can say that Malki and Michal have been gone longer than they were in our lives. And difficult though it is to admit, there are memories of you, Malki, that have faded.

This was made evident to me recently when I found a birthday card in which the entire family wrote you personal wishes. I began mine with "Dear Mali" and added "Sorry to use that nickname - I know you don't like it". I had entirely forgotten that you didn't like that name.

And the words of the Eish Kodesh - Rabbi Kalonymous Kalamish Shapira, the Rebbe of Piaseczna and of the Warsaw Ghetto - which have accompanied me since Malki's murder, remain relevant after all this time.

On Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath following the fast of the 9th of Av, in 1941 when the Rebbe himself was already a bereaved father, he wrote:
"There is suffering for which one can be comforted. But for the loss of a person there is no comfort... because it is not only their absence which pains us, and not only our longing for them which tortures and oppresses but rather what pains us is what happened to them, their own loss. True, there in the heavenly world they are surely fine. But G-d created man so that he should live out his years - until he reaches seventy or eighty. And how many blessings are there in the Torah about long life... And that is why our hearts ache."
This was brought home to me when, as I do whenever her yahrzeit approaches, I opened one of Malki's diaries, the detailed and revealing one that she kept during her last year.

On the first page she answered the ID questionnaire. On the line "Partner", I read her heart-wrenching response. With utter trust, she had written: "Still unknown but he will arrive, G-d willing, with time."

For the loss of that life, filled with joy and satisfaction, that was so cruelly snatched from Malki, our hearts still ache.

And also for that additional layer of pain, the injustice which has tortured us since 2011 - I refer, of course, to the freedom enjoyed by the murderer of Malki and Michal. We persist in battling that infuriating reality so that at least that source of suffering will disappear.

May we win this battle soon.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

From many corners: Disdain for victims of terror

The sign is up: the bazaar is later today (Wednesday)
For the past fifteen years, we have been reminded that our Malki's yahrzeit (the Yiddish word for the anniversary of the day she was killed) is near when we see the sign announcing the Ezra charity bazaar in her and Michal's memory. It is strung over the street where the annual event is held several days prior to it.

(Ezra is the Religious Zionist youth group in which both girls were young group leaders. Michal was Malki’s closest friend, and was murdered together with her.)

But this year, the Ezra kids organizing the event notified us that the sign would not appear. Shortly after hanging it up, they were given word that a municipal inspector had ordered it removed, failing which they would have to pay a fine. Apparently some resident of Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood had complained. Technically, signs hung above roads are forbidden without prior authorization.

I was shaken up by that news. The knowledge that somebody in the neighborhood could be so grossly callous was incomprehensible. After all, we're talking about an innocuous cloth sign neither interfering with nor harming anybody.

Fortunately, the person who had printed the sign for Ezra is a neighbor and offered to solve the problem by contacting the local municipal representative who is a friend of hers. He granted official permission for the sign and it has been hanging lawfully for the last three days.

Prior to the permission being obtained, the Ezra kids had moved the sign to an alternative site in the neighborhood - not hung over a road but tied to a wall of stones. Shortly after placing it there, they found that the sign had been flipped over so it couldn't be read.

At the same time, we have been grappling with similar callousness towards victims of terror from American officials.

Malki ob"m, her very disabled little sister, and the terrorist who
destroyed our lives but still lives free as a bird in Jordan today
The gloating monster who murdered sixteen men, women and children at the Sbarro pizzeria, a woman called AhlamTamimi, is still free and safe in Amman, Jordan thanks to prime minister Netanyahu's 2011 Shalit Deal. King Abdullah II of Jordan, brazenly pretending for the world that he is a determined enemy of terrorism and defender of justice, refuses to extradite her despite the existence since 1995 of a signed extradition treaty between his country and the US.

Plainly, that treaty is not worth the paper it’s written on.

The king knows how his Palestinian Arab constituency would react to Tamimi's extradition to face justice in a US court. Nothing else matters to him - as long as the United States panders to him.

The US Department of Justice contends that it has done all it can. It has indicted Tamimi, it has demanded her extradition from Jordan and it has been refused. (See my earlier post A lesson in the politics of extradition”, June 15, 2017.)

The ball is now in the court of the US State Department which has been egregiously unhelpful in the matter.

While we await their response regarding steps State could but isn't taking, more details can't be divulged. But stay tuned for them in coming days.

Meanwhile, our prime minister – who is the prime reason our child's murderer is enjoying her life - is busy appeasing the king. The two recent conflagrations - security measures at the Temple Mount and the incident at the Israeli consulate in Amman - dominate his interactions with Jordan. Certainly no pressure on the Tamimi front has featured in Netanyahu's relations with that neighbor. Nor is it likely to ever do so.

After all, the Shalit Deal [“19-Oct-11: Haaretz: Shalit prisoner swap marks 'colossal failure' for mother of Israeli bombing victim”] was Netanyahu's "baby", one that he proudly brandishes regardless of the grief it has spawned.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Aleh's illusions

Image Source: Wikipedia
By now you are probably as apoplectic as I am over the number and rank of senior Israeli military and police officials, politicians and religious leaders who have demonstrated gross ignorance about the plight of Israelis with disabilities.

We saw the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, visit Aleh, our major chain of large, closed institutions for people with disabilities, and noted [here] the praise he lavished on that enterprise.

Before that, we heard the Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth extol the virtues of Aleh's institutionalization of babies and children ["Even Chief Rabbis make mistakes"]. 

And, of course, we have noted our Prime Minister's fulsome praise for what they do, and the 2 minute video clip [via YouTube] in which he sings the praises of "a national project that is revolutionizing special needs education in Israel".

But at long last, Aleh will receive the support of a celebrity who shares its skill at duping the public. It appears Aleh's next gala fundraiser will feature Nimrod Harel, the "leading mentalist and perception artist".

First, what does that mean?

According to Wikipedia, mentalism is 
"a performing art in which its practitioners, known as mentalists, appear to demonstrate highly developed mental or intuitive abilities. Performances may appear to include hypnosis, telepathy, clairvoyance, divination, precognition, psychokinesis, mediumship, mind control, memory feats, deduction, and rapid mathematics."
And here's how Harel's website describes his talents:
The methods used by Nimrod... run the entire range from the fields of psychology to the world of illusion. They are not something you are born with, but are learned - Nimrod doesn't claim to have "super powers". However, he does claim to have a deep understanding of human perception, and of the ways to manipulate and tamper with its delicacy. Nimrod closely guards the secrets of his specific techniques which he has developed over many years of study and training - techniques that leave psychologists, hypnotists and magicians alike with an awe-stricken open jaw.
I can't imagine a more appropriate field of expertise for an Aleh surrogate. After all, that is precisely what Aleh's PR stars do as well: they stage the "illusion" of ideal care for our most vulnerable children and young adults. They deceive their audience of donors and volunteers into the "perception" of institutions as paradise on earth.

And their success leaves psychologists, disability rights activists and parents like me with "awe-stricken open jaws".

Kudos to Aleh for selecting Nimrod Harel to represent them. I couldn't have made a better choice myself.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Israel, the world, disabilities and rights

Yotam Tolub [Image Source]
In June 2017, Yotam Tolub who is the director of Bizchut,  the Israel Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities, delivered a lecture at a Kiryat Ono conference about disabilities.

The full text is expected to be uploaded soon. But in the meantime, he shared with us this summary of that talk:
  • Basically, I spoke about the fact that in Israel, in contrast to the U.S. and Europe, in-community living is the last topic rather than the first in the promotion of the rights of people with disabilities. 
  • I pointed out the huge gap in this area between Israel and the rest of the world and related to the fact that academics are not active enough in this domain and do not inspire discussion about it. 
  • This results in minimal awareness of and information about the topic.
More to come.

Friday, July 14, 2017

A pair of discordant voices

Eisenkot [Image Source]
This week, Israel's Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, extolled institutionalization during his fanfare visit [link] to Aleh Negev.

His hyperbolic praise of Israel's largest chain of closed institutions for children and adults with disabilities included these words:
"It is an opportunity to experience the vision, the mission and the love of mankind evident here. This meeting teaches us about man’s spirit, and about the power of a society that is measured by its sensitivity and its efforts to benefit every person."
At about the same moment, another world-renowned figure sent the opposite message about institutionalization.

To mark the twentieth anniversary of Harry Potter, his creator J.K. Rowling gave a rare interview [link] to Christiane Amanpour on CNN during which she focused on the history and mission of her NGO, Lumos.
"Our ambition is to end the institutionalization of children throughout the world by 2050".
JK Rowling [Image Source]
She noted that 8 million children are currently warehoused in institutions globally, "But that might be a low guess".

She added that "90% of those children have at least one parent who overwhelmingly did not want to give the child up".

(In many cases, that is true of those living in Aleh facilities as well.)

She warned donors to
"be careful how you give because even if you're giving with the best of intentions, you may inadvertently be doing harm... propping up a system that we know, 100 years of research shows that even a well run institution, even an institution set up with the best possible intentions, will irrevocably harm the child".
Rowling also addressed potential volunteers:
"Volunteer differently... Volunteering is an amazing thing but volunteer in the right way. Unfortunately, little though you might want to believe it, one of the reasons institutions are set up is to bring into the country foreign money in the form of donations but also in the form of volunteers, wealthy Western volunteers who are also bringing currency."
The next time you see one of Aleh's invitations to volunteer and donate to its large, closed institutions, you may want to ask yourself: "Why do they want me?"

Friday, June 23, 2017

Even Chief Rabbis make mistakes

Source: https://aleh.org/donation/adopt-yosef/
It has been a demoralizing season for people in Israel with disabilities.

On May 25th, we were subjected to yet another Flash-A-Celebrity episode courtesy of Aleh Jerusalem.

This time, it was the chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who was hosted by that institution's director, Shlomit Grayevsky. She told him:
"Thanks to ALEH’s professional staff and innovative programming, Israeli children with complex disabilities of every age are able to live much like their non-disabled peers, are accepted by a wider segment of the population and develop far beyond the boundaries of their initial prognoses...” ["UK Chief Rabbi Is Captivated by ALEH’s Disability Care", May 26, 2017, Jewish Link of NJ]
I fairly choked on those lies. So being locked in a large, closed institution constitutes living "much like their non-disabled peers"? Well,  it probably does in North Korea. But in Israel?

Aleh maintains that institutionalization of these children is in their own best interests. It affords them access to, as Aleh describes them, state-of-the-art services and therapies. To illustrate, in a profile of one of its residents, Aleh states:
Faced with this new reality [the child suffered devastating brain damage], his family decided that the best home for Yosef would be at ALEH, where he would receive the outstanding care and optimal rehabilitative opportunities to help him develop... ["Adopt Yosef | YOUR SUPPORT WILL HELP YOSEF CONTINUE TO DEVELOP HIS POTENTIAL AND KEEP SMILING!"]
Even if this were accurate, why should these unfortunate children be removed from their homes and families in order to receive the "outstanding" and "optimal" care they surely need and certainly deserve?

Just imagine being told by the government:
"Yes, your non-disabled child needs and deserves an education. She will definitely receive an outstanding one with one proviso: that you first transfer her out of your home."
Sadly, it appears Rabbi Mirvis was either unaware of or unconcerned by the injustices being promoted by his hosts. He also appears not to be sensitive to the disparity between the policies of his own home country toward children with disabilities and those of Israel.

Both the UK and Israel are signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 19 of that Convention states clearly that governments are obligated to
"...recognize the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others and take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and their full inclusion and participation in the community..."
The United Kingdom ratified that Convention in 2009 affording it the force of a national law. The starting dates for strategic change toward community services varied. During the past 2-3 decades, complete closure of the traditional large institutions for the mentally disabled has been achieved in several countries. In England for instance, this had been achieved by 2011.

Nevertheless the Chief Rabbi chose to "applaud" and "thank" Aleh for perpetuating the system that his own country has eradicated.

Perhaps he feels that Israeli children with disabilities don't deserve the quality of life that English children with disabilities enjoy?

He said:
"I am proud that in London we have so many generous people who are very supportive of ALEH. I will make it a priority to share what I have seen here today with our constituents across the UK so that this support only continues to grow.” ["CHIEF RABBI OF UK VISITS ALEH", May 5, 2017 - from the Aleh website]
He also mentioned the trendy term "disability inclusion". Never mind that, as we all know, inclusion is the diametrical opposite of what Aleh practices.

The icing on this tawdry cake was the announcement [here] that same month of the opening of a new educational and residential wing at Aleh's Jerusalem branch.

So while institutions like Aleh have been made obsolete in the rest of the world, in Israel they are flourishing and expanding. And they are doing so in contravention of the law.

At around the time that Aleh was boasting and expanding, another institution was in the news too.

Last week, a shocking undercover video clip from the Feuerstein Institute's hostel for disabled and cognitively challenged adults in the Ein Karem section of Jerusalem made waves in the world of disabilities. Residents come from locations throughout Israel and suffer from conditions including cognitive and developmental disabilities, behavioral and emotional impairments, Down Syndrome and more.

As a result of the exposure on Israeli TV news (via hidden-camera reporting), we now know that residents are horribly victimized verbally and physically.

Some excerpts I picked up from watching:
  • "Animal! Pig!" shouts one caregiver at a resident. "No more shouting! The only one allowed to shout here is me!"
  • A caregiver is asked by a young female resident: "Can I have another portion?" He replies: "You'll get a beating! What portion? You'll get a beating! Really a portion!"
  • A resident is warned: "Keep eating! If not, I'll come and hit you."
The news item said employees at the hostel told journalists they had reported the abusive behavior of their Feuerstein hostel colleagues to superiors but were threatened with retribution if they pursued the matter. The parents, they related, are also afraid to speak up because "there is a correlation between parents who complain about the situation and the residents who suffer."

That is surely a quandary facing parents of children in any closed institution.

Notwithstanding, two parents of children who were in Aleh institutions - one in a day program, the other in a residential one - have recently contacted me to share their bitter experiences. They paint a picture of life there that is a far cry from the one that the Chief Rabbi extolled.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A lesson in the politics of extradition

Image Source: The blog I co-write with my husband
This month, Israel proved yet again that re-arresting prisoners released in swap deals isn't such a big deal. The proviso, of course, is that the ex-prisoner violated a condition of release. But that's a lenient requirement. After all, we're dealing with a gang disinclined to repent their murders of Jews.

But this week's re-arrest was different from others. It was for a relatively mild infraction, unrelated to terrorist activity. And committed by a man in his seventies.

Notwithstanding, our government's reaction was swift and severe.

With no retrial, and relying only on a finding by a parole board, Yusuf Abu al-Hir was promptly re-imprisoned for the remainder of his original sentence, namely 15 life terms.

Originally from Acre, Abu al Hir was jailed in 1969 for a series of security offenses. He was found guilty of planting explosives in various places and facilities, causing the death of two people and wounding many others. A military court sentenced him to 15 life sentences plus 20 years in prison and another 10 years, set to be served concurrently.

In 1983, Abu al-Hir was released as part of the first Jibril Agreement under which Israel freed 4,765 security prisoners in exchange for six IDF Nahal soldiers captured during the First Lebanon War.

On May 25, 2017, Abu Al Hir re-entered Israel from Greece where he has lived since his deportation. The conditions of his release categorically prohibited him from doing so. 

But Israel's move begs the question: why is it thoroughly indifferent toward another, younger, far more dangerous terrorist? A woman who has repeatedly violated the conditions of her release? Namely, Ahlam Tamimi.

Tamimi has been brazenly and relentlessly inciting Muslims to the murder of more Jews ever since her release in 2011 as part of the Shalit Deal. She is a convicted, self-confessed mass murderer responsible for 16 deaths in the bombing of Jerusalem's Sbarro pizzeria of August 2001.

So why has Israel washed its hands of her? Why did our prime minister appease her in 2012 by allowing her fiance - also a Shalit Deal releasee - to join her in Jordan in order to marry her? Why did he deem that violation of release conditions irrelevant?

We are also left wondering about another decision Israel recently took. Based on our meeting with FBI and US Department of Justice officials, it is apparent that their request for assistance in winning Tamimi's extradition from Jordan was flatly denied by Israel. It is fairly safe to presume this response was approved - if not instigated - by our prime minister.

Source
Israel's assistance is crucial to bringing Tamimi, an active, blood thirsty terrorist, to justice. U.S. efforts to have her extradited - as provided for by an extradition treaty between the U.S and Jordan -have struck a brick wall. Jordan's King Abdullah has trotted out every excuse he could dredge up - from the judicial to the parliamentary to the "constitutional" - to argue that extradition of Tamimi is impossible. Bear in mind the absurdity of all that: he heads a dictatorial monarchy!

Nevertheless, we were told by U.S. representatives that Israel's official statement was: "Our hands are tied behind our backs." Or in plain English: "Go jump in the lake."

There are probably several theories as to why our prime minister would approve that. His hypocrisy vis a vis terrorism is no secret. In speeches, he waxes bombastic about the topic. But when it comes to action: political profit is what guides him and when being soft with terrorists has empowered him, soft he has been.

So, to concede that the Shalit Deal releasees have resumed terrorism is political poison for the man who set them loose on us all to begin with. This explains our government's refusal to publicize updated statistics regarding those 1,027 prisoners.

We, and the public, know that since 2011, Israel has rearrested dozens of Palestinians freed in the Shalit Deal for terrorist activities. Also, that between 2014 and 2015, six Israelis were killed by Palestinian prisoners released in that deal.

Political calculations also explain why Israel has chosen to steer clear of Tamimi's extradition. Our prime minister cannot afford to have headlines reiterating the brutal massacre that Tamimi perpetrated on 15 men, women and children. Media rehashing of Tamimi's gloating over the large number of children - eight - she butchered could be disastrous for him. And, as we all know, nothing would be more disastrous than that.

Last year, on our behalf, our lawyer inquired of the Prime Minister's Office as to what guidelines the Israeli courts have for sentencing Shalit Deal prisoners who are re-arrested. A lawyer in the PMO responded to him saying the answers were subject to security censorship, were controlled by the government's security service, and that we were not entitled to an answer.

We are now preparing for another round of legal challenges against the Ministry of Justice, possibly through the Freedom of Information mechanism. We will keep you updated.