The National Insurance Institute has restored medical and social benefits to seven Palestinian activists in East Jerusalem and their families that had been taken away from them during the Gaza conflict last May.
The seven are among some 20 political activists from the area who discovered in May, during the disturbances in the city that preceded the fighting, that they and their families had been blocked in the NII and health maintenance organization computers, thereby denying them, their partners and children health care and government allowances. The other 13 have yet to have their benefits restored.
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None of the activists were notified in advance that the benefits had been revoked; most discovered it by chance when they applied for and were denied medical treatment. Among the dozens denied care were at least three pregnant women.
Human rights organizations and East Jerusalem HMO staff called the step an act of collective punishment of Palestinians the Shin Bet and the police have identified as being active in demonstrations and disturbances on the Temple Mount and in the Old City.
Most of the Palestinians whose files were blocked are relatives of prisoners, administrative detainees or those who were questioned on suspicion of involvement in Temple Mount disturbances.
“The Shin Bet tells the NII ‘make their lives difficult,’” a senior official at one of the HMOs in East Jerusalem told Haaretz in May. “Now, they are going to have to submit applications and file appeals with the courts. They’ll be questioned and checked as to whether they are, in fact, Jerusalem residents.”
Denial of NII rights, which depriving those targeted of health insurance and government allowances, is often taken against East Jerusalem residents. Usually the explanation is that the insured has left Jerusalem for the West Bank, or that the center of his or her life is no longer in the city. Even moving to the other side of the street or to a new neighborhood outside Jerusalem city limits can be grounds for denial. But the activists whose rights were rescinded say they never left the city. Most of them live in the Old City.
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Knesset Member Osama Saadi (Joint List) said he had asked NII’s director general for an explanation but to date had received no response. “Such a move has no legal or factual basis and, as proof of that, the benefits of seven of these families have been restored. No one doubts that the other families will also get their benefits restored, too,” Saadi said. “This is collective punishment against prisoners who have served their time and been released, and continued harassment of the families.”
In most cases where Palestinians have taken legal action, the NII has restored their benefits retroactively – for example, in five of six cases handled by Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual. In another, attorneys Adi Lustigman and Tamir Blank filed suit in Labor Court over four cases, of which three were restored retroactively before the hearing. In the fourth, benefits were restored on an interim basis until the hearing began. In two other cases, the NII restored benefits even before the suits were filed.
“A family with minor children is being harmed by an abusive and arbitrary decision, which on the face of it isn’t based on any facts, lacking minimal evidentiary basis or reasonable examination. We are concerned that this was done out of irrelevant considerations,” one of the lawsuits said.
“Entire families have lost social benefits without any warning or explanation, and apparently based on irrelevant considerations,” said Hamoked Executive Director Jessica Montell. “It’s not enough that the NII has walked back on these invalid measures. It must give an accounting and reveal who provided it with the list of families and whether it was instructed to deny health insurance to men, children and pregnant women as a means of collective punishment.”
The NII said its decisions to deny benefits were all taken properly. “In line with the information we had and examinations conducted externally, it was found that in the cases in question the address provided to the NII was not that of the person’s center of life, which was outside Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. Those who were affected were given the opportunity to appeal, and in some cases, due to humanitarian considerations, their benefits were restored,” it said in a statement.
“The NII will restore retroactively the benefits of all those who are entitled to them, such that none of their rights are harmed. Those who are not residents of Israel will not be paid allowances, as the law states,” it said.