Israel Not Ready?

There was an interesting article in the Jerusalem Post last week about the apparent lack of hotel accessibility in Israel.

Tourism officials believe this will be a watershed year for tourism in Israel — I’m not sure why, as travel to the Middle East isn’t exactly at the top of my list right now, and I lived in Beirut in the early 80s — but hey, we’ll go with the Tourism Ministry’s prediction. And apparently Israel isn’t ready for (what is believed to be) an influx of disabled (meaning older) visitors.

Why?

Well, it seems that Israel’s’ access laws are in the process of being updated and it doesn’t seem likely that resolution is near. To be honest, after reading about the specifics of the problem, I’m thinking the time frame is going to be something along the lines of our own pokey “Access Board — cruise ship guidelines” time table fiasco.

Here’s the scoop.

Currently the law covering accessibility comes from a 1995 building code, and it’s pretty ambiguous. Unlike our own ADAAG, it doesn’t really give specific standards for accessibility. And it only applies to properties built after 1995. The problem is, Israel has some pretty old properties; in fact at least two-thirds of Israel’s properties were built before 1995.

So you can routinely encounter things like narrow doorways, steps and elevators not big enough to hold wheelchairs. And under the current law, these older properties aren’t required to make any changes.

So that’s the reason for the new law. Little is known about the proposed legislation except that it will treat pre and post 1995 hotels differently, and it has to be approved by a special construction and housing committee before it’s implemented.

And as you may expect, there is some opposition. The hotel industry will undoubtedly weigh into the debate, as according to the Israel Hotels Association the demand for accessible rooms is low and many property owners have a hard time justifying the expense of access upgrades. Disabled advocates of course dispute this claim and hold that there is little demand because of the lack of accessibility.

In the end, it all adds up to lots of talking and lots of time before anything is approved. Some experts estimate it will take several years, but nobody really knows for sure.

So what’s a traveler to do?

Well, if by chance your travels take you to Israel in the near future, look for a hotel built after 1995, and make sure to ask specific questions about accessibility.

And if you can postpone your trip until after the new law is implemented, even better.

After all, there are lots of places in the world that want your business, and have made accessibility modifications. Why not give them your tourism dollars?