The Disabled on the Other Side

According to data from the Palestinian Health Ministry, some 2,000 of those wounded in the current intifada will remain disabled for the rest of their lives.

Majad Jalad can barely get around his own house. He's a five-and-a-half-year-old boy from Tul Karm who was shot in the stomach last August by an Israeli soldier at a roadblock while traveling in his grandfather's car to visit his cousins in the next village. All of Majad's internal organs were ripped apart as a result of the incident. Following treatment at the intensive care ward of Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, he was sent back home, where he is being raised by his mother and grandfather.

Majad needs rehabilitation in the wake of the serious injuries he sustained. The closest place where such treatment is available is the Abu Raya Rehabilitation Center in Ramallah. The way from besieged Tul Karm to encircled Ramallah is tortuous and difficult, and the little boy isn't always able to get there.

Jihad Abu Rabia, who lives in the Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah, has been incapacitated for three years. He was 15 when an Israeli border policeman shot him in the head as he was fleeing. He is still partially paralyzed, unable to speak, and incontinent. He rarely leaves his meager home in the refugee camp. His father works as a cleaner in the camp and his mother cleans the local offices of the Palestinian Authority. Jihad needs intensive, long-term rehabilitative treatment, and, in fact, should probably be in an institution that can tend to his needs.

Four Palestinian rehabilitation institutions and charitable organizations are caring for Jihad Abu Rabia - the Abu Raya center, the Medical Relief Organization, the Al-Nahada women's organization and the neurology department of the hospital in Ramallah. It's not enough, though. His mother, Rabaa, says that she hasn't taken him for treatment for the past four months because of the closure imposed on the refugee camp.

Last week, Rabaa was invited to appear, together with Jihad, before the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, which is discussing the compensation law that the government wants to enact - but she didn't make it there either. The chairman of the committee, MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor), stated that the mother and her son were denied an entry permit to Israel. To the authorities, they constitute a security risk.

Those who are killed are counted, but not those who are crippled. According to data from the Palestinian Health Ministry, some 2,000 of those wounded in the current intifada will remain disabled for the rest of their lives; according to the research institute run by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, from Ramallah, 437 of these cases involve children. Such numbers would be a serious blow to any society, and it is especially tough on the Palestinians because of the absence of proper rehabilitation services.

There are only three rehabilitation institutions in the West Bank, and none of them can compare to the Israeli facilities. The number of beds in the Palestinian institutions is a fifth of the number in Israel, even though the number of Palestinians who have been disabled as a result of the intifada is far greater. The situation is far worse in the Gaza Strip, where there is not one rehabilitation institution worthy of the name.

The disgraceful condition of the medical services that Israel left behind in the occupied territories after some 30 years includes the rehabilitation institutions. The Palestinian Authority, for its part, has done very little to improve things in this regard. A Mercedes Benz and luxurious headquarters continue to take priority there over hospitals and rehabilitation institutions. The result is that thousands of disabled individuals have no access to rehabilitation and are forced to remain at home in a shocking state.

The economic aid is also minuscule. The intifada disabled are entitled to allowances from the Palestinian Authority - NIS 500 a month for a disabled child and up to NIS 1,000 a month for an adult provider who is very seriously disabled. Because of the labyrinthine bureaucracy in the PA, not everyone gets even this tiny amount. The Palestinian invalids can, therefore, only observe enviously the campaign being waged by the Israeli disabled for more government aid.

Israel cannot claim innocence in the face of the plight of the Palestinian disabled. In addition to the distressing fact that a large percentage of these individuals were wounded even though they had done no wrong, but only because of the insufferably light trigger finger of the Israeli army and the Border Police, the defense establishment and the judicial authorities are now engaged in a concerted effort to push through the compensation law, which will almost completely block compensation for Palestinians who were hurt for no reason.

True, the military advocate general, Major General Menachem Finklestein, was in a jesting mood during the last session of the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, noting that these were cases of "I sat on my windowsill and got hit by a missile," but there is nothing funny about the behavior of the defense establishment and the Justice Ministry on this subject. Their argument is that because there are no records for every incident, it is difficult to check the veracity of the Palestinians' claims.

And why are there no records? Because the Israel Defense Forces has almost completely stopped investigating cases in which Palestinians are killed or wounded by soldiers.

So one serious omission engenders another: First there is no investigation; then this state of affairs is cited in order not to give the victims compensation. The populist remark by Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit about giving "compensation to terrorists" is utterly without foundation, as is the contention of the defense establishment that it will drown in a flood of empty claims. It is the judicial establishment, which is not known for its leniency toward Palestinians, that will decide who has the right to compensation.

The result is that a society that abuses its own disabled lightly casts off its heavy responsibility for the disabled of the other nation, some of whom are in that situation because of that same society's soldiers. If Rabaa Abu Rabia had been issued en entry permit for herself and her paralyzed son, Jihad, and the members of the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee had been able to see Jihad's condition with their own eyes, they might have understood that Israel cannot escape its responsibility for his fate and for the fate of the others who are in a similar condition.

The lawmakers might have changed their minds; they might not have capitulated to the pressure exerted by the defense establishment and the threats of the Justice Ministry; and they might have thrown out the immoral legislation they are being asked to pass.