Edit: See also how readers responded to this coverage.
We're back with an edition that curates news from around the world. There's news from over 50 countries, covering a wide range of social issues.
But the subject that I write about here is disability in the awful escalations of the Israel-Palestine conflict. This edition explores disabled victims of Hamas attacks, disabled people in the destruction of Gaza, and disabled people taking sides (in some cases, orchestrating further conflict).
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Disability Debrief is supported on a pay-as-you can basis. This edition has support from Center for Inclusive Policy and Sightsavers. And many thanks to new support to the Debrief from Disability Rights Fund.
A disability lens on conflict
I write the Debrief based on the idea that we can use a disability lens to understand world news, throwing a new light on individual experiences and social conditions. This is true even in conflict and war.
There are many ways to apply a disability lens. As you will see below, some use it to see the conflict from one of its sides. Today I will use it to explore the situation in Israel and the situation in Gaza.
An important part of this disability lens is that it is created in community with you readers. I know, from conversations with friends, that the violence in Israel and Palestine has many of us grieving, angry and scared.
With that in mind, I start by offering a hug to what is human within us. And I ask for your patience as I write on this issue for the first time.
Disabled victims of Hamas attacks
On October 7th, thousands of Hamas fighters launched an attack on Israel of unprecedented scale. Coordinated attacks included massacres of civilians, killing over 1400 people and taking over 200 hostages.
Disabled people were, of course, among the casualties and hostages. One of them featured in international media was Ruth Perez, a teenager who used a wheelchair and, apparently, loved going to raves. Initially thought kidnapped, her body was later found with that of her father at the site of the Supernova festival. And for those that are being kept hostage, concern for their health conditions is keeping relatives “worried sick”.
Rocket attacks on Israel continue and its residents have to seek out shelters or saferooms. Last year the Shalva National Center, an association for care and inclusion of disabled people, constructed an accessible bomb shelter. Shekel, another disability support organisation, tries, during attacks, to maintain routine for people with cognitive disabilities.
These initiatives are important but hardly going to cover the wider need. A few years ago a disabled Israeli man said that the difficulties in getting to a bomb shelter in the short time available left him feeling like “cannon fodder”.
The situation of disability rights in Israel was recently explored when a government delegation went before the UN Committee on Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Committee commended the government for initiatives in employment, and asked questions about rights of disabled people in the occupied territories.
Wholesale destruction in Gaza
Even before October, conditions in Gaza were dire. A 2020 report by Human Rights Watch explored how the situation of disabled people there was shaped by Israeli restrictions on Gaza, combined with neglect from the Hamas authorities and ongoing conflict. Life there was already “extraordinarily difficult for many people with disabilities.”
In the past few weeks, Israel launched a devastating bombing campaign and the Defense Minister announced a “complete siege” of the territory, cutting off food, power and water to over two million inhabitants. In the words of UN chief António Guterres, “the level of civilian casualties, and the wholesale destruction of neighborhoods continue to mount and are deeply alarming.”
Testimonies from disabled people speak to the challenges of merely surviving. Some deaf residents of Gaza have shared their stories through videos. One physically disabled man describes the cost to him and his family of living through their “fifth war”. Reports on social media commemorate disabled people affected or killed.
Budour Hassan, a blind woman and researcher for Amnesty International, describes the situation in Gaza and when asked about her own disability replies that “it's not about me”.
I asked Shatha Abusrour, a disability rights advocate on the West Bank, in touch with the disability movement in Gaza, about the situation there. In her words:
“Gaza is taking most of the fire, regardless of all individual differences among citizens: civilians; women; children; persons with disability; elderly people, etcetera. The main target is the Palestinian. This, in most cases makes it hard to think from a disability inclusion perspective.
“Nevertheless, I know that Gaza had not prepared by taking all the necessary disability sensitive measures. Buildings for the most part are not accessible, which makes it hard for persons with disability to efficiently evacuate before missiles are thrown. Alerts are not designed to be accessible for people who need different ways for effective communication. The health sector is almost destroyed, which makes the question on rehabilitation for injured Palestinians irrelevant. UNRWA schools and other buildings used as shelters are not fully accessible. Electricity has been cut, so people who depend on it for so many reasons including reasons that have to do with their disability are left with no options at all. Finally, under such attacks, people lose their assistive devices with no possible compensation plan in place.
“Death is all over the Gaza strip, its smell is everywhere, so even activists with disability who may under other circumstances fight for disability inclusion are under real danger, incapable of launching such a struggle. They are literally asking for forgiveness, just as those who believe they are leaving at any moment may do.”
Disability taking sides in conflict
Disabled people are always among the people actively responding to a crisis. This is also true in this conflict, with, for example, disabled athletes in Gaza helping to distribute supplies. But disabled people are also among the combatants, and outside of the conflict, taking sides.
One of the founders of Hamas, Ahmed Yassin, had a spinal cord injury in his childhood, and in later life used a wheelchair. He was using that wheelchair in 2004 when the Israeli drone followed him to target the strike which killed him. Reading his wikipedia page, it is striking to see how disability and discrimination played important roles in his education and employment.
On the Israeli side there is a striking amount of disability inclusion in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). One captain claimed that an army programme employing five hundred autistic people makes the IDF “the world's largest employer of autistic people”. They also have a “Special in Uniform” programme for people with developmental disabilities. An academic assessment of these initiatives by James Eastwood explores how disability inclusion can enable militarism.
Conflict also disables people. That is rumoured to be the case of Mohammed Deif, current leader of the Hamas military, who apparently uses a wheelchair. And on the Israeli side the treatment of veterans with disabilities was recently brought to shocking attention when two veterans committed suicide as they were waiting for disability recognition and support.
As for disabled groups outside of the conflict, there are disability organisations that have expressed support for the Hamas attacks, including a federation in Kuwait and a blind organization in Yemen: “our white stick with the flood”.
There is, separate from those, an exploration of disability in terms of Israeli control of the Palestinian territories. For instance a 2021 statement from Abolition and Disability Justice Coalition says “there is no disability justice under military occupation”. For a plain language exploration of these perspectives, see Kevin Gotkin's primer on solidarity for Palestinians.
An alternative use of a disability view can show commonalities across communities in conflict. That's demonstrated by this podcast episode of In Touch on the experiences of blind women from Israel and Gaza (no transcript).
I always learn from feedback and will appreciate it particularly on this issue.
This has been draining to write and I don't have any clever closing words. I have a fear that things get a lot worse.
With a heavy heart,
This update has 218 curated links from 51 countries and regions, organized across 45 subjects.
- Accessibility and Design
- Assistive Technology
- Black Lives Matter and Racial justice
- Civil Society and Community
- Climate Crisis and Environment
- Communication and Language
- Conflict and Peace
- Culture, Entertainment and Media
- Data and Research
- Digital Accessibility and Technology
- Disaster Risk Reduction and Crisis Response
- Economics and Social Protection
- Education and Childhood
- Employment, Business and Work
- Gender Equality and Women with Disabilities
- History and Memorial
- Humanitarian, Migrants and Refugees
- Independent Living and Deinstitutionalization
- International Cooperation
- Justice Systems and Legal Capacity
- Lived Experience and Opinion
- Mental Health
- Mobility, Travel, Transport and Tourism
- Policy and Rights
- Politics and Elections
- Relationships, Sex and Reproductive Rights
- Space Exploration
- Sport and Paralympics
- Violence and Harassment
- War in Ukraine
- North America
- South America
Many thanks to readers and Sightsavers for the support that keeps this going. News curation is done with support of the Center for Inclusive Policy.
The Debrief is produced by me, Peter Torres Fremlin. Opinions or mistakes are mine, particularly in an edition like this.
I appreciate the many friends who have helped me process and understand more deeply the war in Israel and Palestine. And thanks to everyone that sends me links to news. Keep them coming.