Salah Hassan, who lives in the village of Mashhad just outside Nazareth, waited eight years for yesterday's ruling by the High Court of Justice. The court struck down a state policy of barring citizens from receiving supplemental income assistance if they own a car or drive someone else's vehicle. The ruling by court President Dorit Beinisch came on her last day on the bench before retiring.
Hassan, 63, was one of the petitioners in yesterday's High Court case, which was brought through the Adalah legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel and by the group Sawt el-Amel ("Laborer's Voice"). He has been receiving supplemental income for over a decade after he was forced to stop working for medical reasons. Three of his daughters live with him, including one who is blind whom he frequently has to accompany for medical appointments and other errands. Up to now, however, he couldn't drive her himself because of the National Insurance Institute policy that would have led to the loss of his supplemental assistance benefits.
In an efforts to loosen the restrictions on the use of a car by supplemental income recipients, the Knesset passed a law in 2001 permitting recipients to own and use a car under limited circumstances, including a condition that it be at least five years old and that it be used for purposes of medical treatment at least six times a month. The law was never implemented, however, and it was repealed two years later after the Finance Minister claimed it would cost the treasury considerable amounts of money by increasing the number of eligible recipients.
Hassan's involvement in the High Court case followed a decision by the NII turning down his request to drive and continue to receive the income assistance. "After consulting with the branch physician," the NII ruled, "it has been decided that blindness is not a reason justifying a car for medical reasons and there has been no testimony of numerous urgent treatments or visits to the hospital and to medical clinics."
"I have a driver's license," Hassan said, "but I didn't want to get into trouble so all those years I was very careful even though it involved a double burden in dealing with a child with disabilities, when I myself am sick. I also had to take her from place to place on public transportation." Expressing his satisfaction with yesterday's High Court ruling, he said: "I don't know if I can allow myself to buy a car, certainly not a new one, but at least I can borrow a car from a relative for family errands." (Jack Khoury )
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