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The army's denial of a handicap-friendly car for disabled veterans living abroad is an unlawful act of discrimination, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

Disabled veterans are entitled to a specially tailored vehicle for the handicapped, which is to be funded by the Israel Defense Forces. Thus far, though, the IDF has not extended this benefit to disabled veterans who reside outside of Israel for more than 180 days a year.

In the majority decision, Justice Edna Arbel wrote: "It is incumbent on the state to match the terms by which it grants aid in the form of a disabled-friendly vehicle for both population groups."

Arbel, who was joined in the majority opinion by Justice Salim Joubran, set a one-year deadline for the state to implement the changes in policy as stipulated in the court's ruling.

"With the injury suffered by a wounded veteran in the course of his military service, a type of 'covenant' is forged between that soldier and the state for which he fought as well as between the soldier and the nation which he defended, [a covenant] that binds him by blood to the state as well as to the collective and is not severed solely because the wounded veteran prefers to live, in the later years of his life, in another place," Arbel wrote.

"Given that the benefit to the disabled is provided to those living in Israel, and given the futility in distinguishing between these veterans and those living in Israel, one ought to view the denial of a handicap-friendly vehicle to wounded veterans living abroad for over 180 days per year as unlawful discrimination," the justice wrote.

The ruling notwithstanding, Arbel did accept the state's argument that a wounded veteran who permanently lives abroad will not be eligible for an IDF-funded handicap-friendly car during his visits to Israel.

'Moral debt'

Joubran wrote that the benefit extended to wounded veterans is tantamount to the repayment of "a moral debt."

"Because the wounded veteran's disability does not wane once that person leaves the state's borders, neither does the state's obligation toward that person if he or she decides to live his life outside of the state," Joubran wrote. Nonetheless, the ruling "does not mean that the disabled veteran is entitled to a vehicle at every place he decides to visit in the world at any given moment."

Despite the ruling, Yoav Kraim, a senior official with the Campaign for Handicapped Persons in Israel, is pessimistic about the likelihood it will be implemented.

"I congratulate disabled IDF veterans and the court for the wisdom in its ruling," Kraim said. "Unfortunately, one should not assume that in this case [the authorities] will act justly and logically - yet it is always good to keep hope alive."