The High Court of Justice yesterday struck down a provision in the law that disqualifies car owners from receiving supplemental income benefits from the state. Decided by an expanded panel of seven justices in a ruling that Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch chose to read out herself on her last day on the bench, the court ruled that the provision unconstitutionally and disproportionately infringes on the right to a minimum existence with dignity.

The case arose out of three petitions that were filed in 2004 and 2005 against the policy of the National Insurance Institute that disqualifies recipients of supplemental income assistance if they own a car or even drive someone else's vehicle. Supplemental income benefits are paid to people whose income falls below the minimum wage.

The petitioners, which included the Adalah legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel and Women Lawyers for Social Justice as well as a number of single parents affected by the law, took the position that use of a car would facilitate their holding down a job. They also claimed it could reduce their outlays on travel compared to public transportation. And one petitioner who lives in an Arab community said he had no access to public transportation.

The seven-judge panel was unanimous in finding the no-car provision unconstitutional. Beinisch explained that the provision that was struck down yesterday disqualified recipients of supplemental income without in any way verifying that they had sufficient means to an existence with dignity. The court gave the state six months to develop an alternative provision.

"The right to minimum human existence in dignity," Beinisch stated, "is at the core and the kernel of human dignity. Living with the insult of hunger, without a roof [over one's head], constantly seeking where help will come from is not a life of dignity," she said. "Without minimum material conditions, a person lacks the capacity to create, to aspire, to make choices and to exercise his freedoms."