Nati Goresky, a retired accountant from Even Yehuda, was two years old when he contracted polio in 1945. A Petah Tikvah native, he spent a year at Beilinson Hospital on a respirator. There were no wheelchairs in those days, and when his parents brought him home they continued to wheel him around in a baby carriage.
Yitzhak Gil-Ad, 64, was born in Tel Aviv. "At the age of two or three I got sick and nobody knew what happened to me, until a famous doctor from abroad said it was polio."
Goresky and Gil-Ad are among the thousands of patients who were pleased when the Polio Law initiated by MK Azmi Bishara passed in March, promising them a one-time grant of tens of thousands of shekels. But when the time came to apply it, they found out that they, and a small group of only 50 other polio victims, would not benefit from it because they were born before the establishment of the state.
The law states that those entitled to compensation were those "residents of Israel who contracted polio in Israel." The National Insurance Institute (NII) interprets this to mean that those who contracted the virus before the state was established, even if they were in the area of the future country at that time, were not eligible for compensation.
The two are part of a group of 12 polio victims who petitioned the High Court of Justice on Tuesday to require the NII to extend to them the compensation.
The NII's distinction is surprising, since numerous laws include in the phrase "in Israel," and include the country that was to become the future state. The identity cards of the petitioners, for example, states their place of birth as "Israel" although they were born before its establishment, but in the area of the future state.
"We are of the opinion that the words "in Israel" in the law relates to the geographic area of the state of Israel," attorney Yehuda Ressler wrote in the petition. The NII was not persuaded that the law did not intend to discriminate against those who contracted the virus here before the state was established, despite letters to officials by MKs David Tal (Kadima), Ran Cohen (Meretz) and Ravid Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), who were involved in the legislation.
The Knesset did want to differentiate between those who contracted polio in Israel and those who contracted it in another country, but made no such distinction regarding those born before and after the establishment of the state. The petition presents examples of laws that do make this distinction, and those mentioning events "in Israel" as opposed to "abroad."
"If the Knesset wanted to exclude from the law those born before the state was established, it would have stated this specifically," the petition said.
Years of bad care
With the passage of the Polio Law, many victims of the disease felt that an injustice of many years was being corrected. Most of the victims went through years of improper treatments, when the disease was not well understood, and they are the only ones still feeling the effect of years of the treatments. Polio has effectively been wiped out since Jonas Salk invented and tested the polio vaccine in 1955.
"Once a year I would be called in for tests," Goresky says. "They would lift up my arms and my legs and let them fall back again. They did experiments on us with operations, they moved muscles from one place to another in our bodies, and every doctor did something else, but it didn't do any good; it just did more damage."
Gil-Ad also described useless treatments. "They put my whole body in a case, they did physiotherapies. One time there was a doctor who was so mixed up he put my right leg into a case instead of the left. They finally did surgery but my situation got worse. Today I'm in a wheelchair because my situation has worsened."
The compensation law was almost frozen because of the Economic Arrangements Law, but was protested by polio victims. Now, the small group of 50 patients do not understand why they are being excluded.
"I have been watching the complex discussions of the compensation law for polio victims," MK Ran Cohen wrote Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog. "There was no argument in the committee about the applying to polio victims who were born and became sick in Israel. But it turns out that the NII added a condition - that in order to receive the compensation a patient had to have contracted the illness after May 1948. I don't remember such a condition being part of the law."
Cohen said it seemed the only logic in the condition was to limit the payment the state would have to make to the eligible disabled.
Similar letters were sent by other lawmakers to NII director general Yigal Ben-Shalom. Two months ago he responded: "According to legal advice received, the law does not apply to polio victims who fell ill within the area of Israel before its establishment."
"The NII's interpretation does not seem logical," Goresky said. "We are part of a group of a few thousand polio patients who all know each other. We have been next to each other in hospital beds since the establishment of the state. For decades those with polio received all their treatments together. My parents came here out of Zionism to establish the state and took part in all the wars and the underground. How can there now be discrimination between us and those who were born before the state was established?"
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