Israel's Top Court Rejects Petition by Severely Disabled Homeless Eritrean for Suitable Housing

High Court says solution suggested by the welfare authorities – placing Massal, 67, in a facility for the developmentally disabled – was reasonable and shouldn’t be rejected out of hand

Messel in Tel Aviv, Israel, February 27, 2019.
Meged Gozani

The High Court of Justice on Sunday dismissed a petition against the health and social affairs ministries and the Tel Aviv municipality for taking a year without finding a proper solution for an asylum seeker who is severely disabled and has been living in the street.

The court denied the petition, filed by the organizations HIAS Israel and Assaf, saying that the solution suggested by the welfare authorities – placing Massal, 67, in a facility for the developmentally disabled – was reasonable and shouldn’t be rejected out of hand.

The petitioner’s attorneys called the suggestion that Massal be placed in a facility for the developmentally disabled when he is in fact mentally sound, “horrifying.”

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“This petition concerns the petitioner’s demand that the respondents find a solution in a suitable framework for the petitioner, an asylum seeker of Eritrean origin, who because of a road accident is disabled and unable to support himself and take care of himself,’’ the justices wrote.

“A solution was suggested to accept him in a facility operated by the Social Affairs Ministry, which provides a broad and supportive framework, including food, medical and psychological treatment, and enrichment activities. The petitioner’s lawyer objects to the solution because of the character of the population in the facility.

In response, the state clarified that a professional acting on its behalf examined whether the petitioner was suited to the proposed facility. At this point, we believe that there’s room for the petitioner to test the suitability of the solution rather than reject it out of hand.”

The justices ruled that if Massal wanted to appeal the suitability of the proposed solution, he could apply to an appeals committee. Justice Daphne Barak-Erez added, “It seems that the state made very significant efforts and that is the point of departure.”

Attorney Nimrod Avigal of HIAS objected, saying “The only suggestion from the state’s perspective is to put him in an institution with people with moderate to severe mental retardation and that’s not suitable for him. It’s a horrifying suggestion.” To which Barak-Erez responded, “You can say the proposal is not acceptable, not exhaustive, and so on, but to call it horrifying? That’s out of line.”

The Social Affairs Ministry operates frameworks for the homeless and the elderly that would be suitable for Massal and to which Israelis in similar situations are referred. However, elder-care facilities refused Massal because he doesn’t have medical insurance, while the ministry wouldn’t house him in the institutions for the homeless because he “isn’t desperate,” as they put it.

Instead, the ministry last month submitted to the court a proposal to house Massal in Kfar Nahman, which has 118 residents with cognitive development disabilities and cognitive decline. Welfare officials argued that this framework “is certainly much better than the situation currently described in the petition, in which it was written repeatedly that the petitioner urgently needs shelter and food to enable him to rehabilitate himself.” The state thus requested that the court dismiss the petition.