Persons with disabilities in Palestine have traditionally been discriminated against and excluded from social and political life. However, the recognition of disability as a human rights issue is increasing, both at the community and policy levels.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 92,710 people in Palestine, or 2.1% of the population, have a disability. However, the World Health Organization estimates that 15% of the world’s population are persons with disabilities, so it is likely that the actual number is much higher.
The Palestinian Authority ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2014, after attaining observer status in the UN. Nonetheless, persons with disabilities in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem continue to face multiple barriers to education, employment, health, and social services.
The overall context that overshadows life for the ordinary Palestinian, is the prolonged Israeli occupation entailing widespread and systemic rights violations. The desperate situation is further magnified for vulnerable groups like people with disabilities and the poor. Persons with disabilities, endure negative attitudes, discrimination and social exclusion.
Promoting disability inclusion in Palestine
The Disability Rights Programme aims to empower persons with disabilities and improve their access to political, social, cultural and economic rights. The programme has four key components: Community-based rehabilitation (CBR), empowering Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs), policy advocacy, and promoting disability rights in East Jerusalem.
Community-based rehabilitation (CBR) is a holistic, rights-based community development approach that aims at ensuring the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities within their community. Community-based rehabilitation involves people from villages to national level, and works to change attitudes about disability at all levels. The Disability Rights Programme continues the efforts to decentralise the CBR programmes to local municipalities, highlighting their responsibility to address disability issues in their communities. In the current political situation in Palestine, cooperating with municipalities has proved more effective as they are more aware of the situation and challenges in their communities.
The second component focuses on strengthening the capacity of Disabled People’s Organisations and grassroots groups in human rights advocacy and on the use of the CRPD, enabling them to conduct effective advocacy, awareness raising and networking. The programme additionally assists in the development of democratic and transparent organisational structures.
The third component, policy advocacy, promotes inclusive policies and engages with and builds the capacity of the Palestinian Authority to ensure the promotion, protection and preservation of the rights of persons with disabilities and their families.
The programme’s fourth component, on the promotion of disability rights in East Jerusalem, focuses on raising awareness on the rights of Palestinian persons with disabilities living under Israeli law in occupied East Jerusalem, and facilitates their access to rights and services through challenging discriminatory policies and practices.
Main achievements in Palestine
Some of the main achievements of the Disability Rights Programme are:
Community Based Rehabilitation
- The CBR programme is supported by substantial commitment by local structures. 179 local councils in the West Bank contributes to the programme through funding of salaries of CBR staff.
- CBR has managed to raise issues around sexual violence against women and girls with disabilities, and cases are now starting to be reported and addressed.
- Efforts by the CBR partners contributed to a collaboration agreement with the Ministry of Local Government (MoLG) to promote disability inclusion in local councils and adopt disability and women’s rights as one of the Ministry’s five key communication areas.
- The CBR programme supports the formation of self-help groups for persons with disabilities and/or their family members. These groups have proved to play a major role in bringing the beneficiaries together to discuss and address their common concerns.
- The infrastructure developed by CBR partners and DPOs has enabled the implementing partners to respond to the emergency in Gaza and to Covid-19 in a disability inclusive manner. In Gaza, 1200 persons injured in 2018/19 were supported with medical, rehabilitation and psychosocial support. This helped many to reintegrate into education and employment.
- Tools to measure the satisfaction of CBR users in the West Bank and Gaza has been developed by our CBR partners, and the capacity to gather and analyse the results, as well as integrate them in the planning has been strengthened. This approach is crucial to the development of the programme and strengthens its democratic participation component.
Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs)
- The DRP has contributed to the establishment of a DPO for women (Stars of Hope) and another for families of children with intellectual disabilities (Voices).
- The DRP inspired the introduction of innovative approaches to promote disability rights, such as through arts, sports, mass media (disability-focused radio channel) and social media.
- Bihimitkom, a disability youth organisation, was established through DRP engagement with a mainstream youth organisation – Palestinian Vision, which is still acting as an incubator for the growing DPO.
- The DRP has provided initial training and support to its DPO partners on developing shadow reports to UN human rights treaty bodies. For instance, As-Salam Club in Gaza took the lead in developing a shadow/alternative report for the Palestinian national report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, with the support of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Gaza.
- The Disability Rights Programme is engaged in developing national guidelines on inclusive education for the Ministry of Education and Higher Education.
- The DRP has successfully supported the Ministry of Education (MoE) in the development of a practical, national inclusive education policy and the establishment of unified training guidelines on inclusive education, which helped the Ministry to guide different donor initiatives in this area.
- 480 individuals (around half were females) in the period 2018 – mid 2020 attained their rights through legal advice and representation. 22 lawsuits were filed in the same period on behalf of beneficiaries.
- A network of four DPOs/rehabilitation actors in East Jerusalem established a mobile legal clinic, enhancing their capacity to address legal issues and disability rights.
- Increased awareness among Palestinians with disabilities and their communities as a result of a media campaign on local radios and social media, conducting awareness raising sessions and running a petition on the rights of persons with disabilities.
- With proper technical support and links, disability has become mainstreamed in St. Yves services and has the potential to continue beyond DRP support.