No way of escape

by | Nov 6, 2023 | Ability News, Events, External News

Editor’s Note: This piece does not take sides in the terrible ongoing conflict in the Middle East. It attempts to offer a glimpse of the tragedy engulfing people with disability, from both sides, caught up in this terrible war. This story contains details of killings. It doesn’t take long to realise who to avoid in war zones. There’s normally a clue in the way they move, speak or in the look of their eyes.

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Years ago, before my accident and working as the ABC’s Indochina Correspondent in Bangkok, I learned to pick the fanatics because common humanity meant nothing to them. There is no reasoning with someone holding a gun; consumed by ideology. They needed to be avoided at all costs. 

I could do that back then, because I was able-bodied. Not now. Someone with disability doesn’t have that choice. And that’s why, as the ongoing scale of the war in the Middle East becomes apparent, a tight constriction grips my chest. 

For so many individuals there is no choice. No future. 

Ruth Peretz, a 17-year-old with Cerebral Palsy and Noya Dan, her grandmother who has autism, had travelled to the desert to attend a music festival. A Hamas fighter who had driven through the wire cordoning of the Gaza territories, couldn’t be bothered keeping them as hostages. As far as he was concerned they were nothing. Their lives were worthless. 

Casually, callously, he shot them. 

Fedaa al-Rifi is a 33-year-old with hemiplegia, brain damage that has led to paralysis on one side of the body. An Israeli politician decided the only way to destroy Hamas required destroying Gaza’s infrastructure. Now she’s trapped in her flat without electricity, unable to leave, slowly starving to death. 

Casually, callously, and on both sides, people are ignoring humanity. 

Hamas fighters are making the decision to kill up close; Israeli politicians from a distance. The result is the same. What makes any conflict so terrible for People with Disability is that there is no escape and helplessness breeds contempt. 

War, any war, is a struggle for mastery. Disability itself becomes a weapon in the propaganda war as each side points at ways the other is ignoring the needs of the most vulnerable. 

The reality is that there is no space for disability in war.

Nevertheless, and although both sides are using stories about the individual tragedies People with Disability are suffering as propaganda, there is evidence this is having a positive effect. 

Last week for example, a special seminar was organised by the Jerusalem Press Club to explore the extra cruelty people with disability are inevitably exposed to in war. 

Numbers tell the story – unfortunately we only received half the number. 

Speakers told the Club it’s estimated seventeen percent of the 200,000 displaced Israelis have a disability. Calculating the number of Palestinans with disability suffering under relentless bombardment is pointless. The Jerusalem Press Club says “everyone in Israel is experiencing some level of trauma” and yet the situation in Gaza is undeniably worse. 

The video recording of the Club’s seminar on the treatment of people with disability almost began with a triumphant message: Israel is persecuted. 

There’s no need for that. There are no prizes to either side for undergoing more hardship than the other. Of course this does not diminish the power of the underlying message in any way. 

It is simply to note that the individual needs of People with Disability are being callously ignored by fighters from both sides – close up and personally by the terrorist fighters of Hamas and brushed away from consideration by the politicians and generals of Israel. 

The need for humanity is again being ignored. The needs of People with Disability should be more than just ammunition to be used in a war of propaganda. 

It in no way minimises the tragedy Israelis are suffering to point out that Palestinians in Gaza cannot even choose to be ‘displaced’. They are blocked from any exit, trapped in the fighting. For them there is absolutely no escape from the ongoing bombardment, as the UN Relief and Works Agency has pointed out.

Watch the YouTube video recording of the seminar