Two steps forward, one step back: Israel’s new discriminatory health rights for Palestinians

A new law that extends health insurance rights to non-citizen family members of Israeli citizens discriminates against Palestinians, according to an attorney working on the subject.

Israeli ministers signed the new regulations, which according to a Haaretz report on Monday, will primarily benefit Palestinians who are permitted to live in Israel under “family unification” procedures.

(The Knesset last week extended the formal ban on family unification, which was first enacted 11 years ago at the height of the Second Intifada. The ban, to which humanitarian exceptions are occasionally granted, applies only to Palestinians and therefore primarily discriminates against the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are most likely to marry Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Those Palestinian family members of Israeli citizens who are granted humanitarian exceptions are given military permits to stay in Israel, but not formal residency permits that would allow them to work or make them eligible for any other social rights granted to residents or citizens.)

What the Haaretz report missed, however, is that the new regulation gives far more, and far cheaper social and health rights to non-Palestinian family members in Israel for reasons of family unification.

Furthermore, while Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party is attempting to take credit for the new regulation, which despite its discriminatory shortcomings is an important step forward, it turns out that the change is the result of a High Court petition and not, as Attorney Oded Feller of ACRI notes, the good will of any legislator.

Atty. Feller writes on his Facebook page (my translation):

New politics at its finest.

The arrangement for health insurance for Palestinian family members is not a “Yesh Atid” initiative, nor is it borne of anyone’s good will.

It is a settlement that the government was forced to adopt after a petition was filed to the High Court of Justice in 2009. The High Court issued an injunction, the state dragged its feet, and ultimately accepted the settlement. The arrangement was adopted by the health minister and finance minister under the previous government but it took time to be anchored in into new regulations, which is how the current politicians came to take credit.

This is an important arrangement, but one that is discriminatory and inferior to the one that applies to non-Palestinian family members. Filipino, Romanian and American family members are eligible for full health insurance like Israeli citizens and permanent residents enjoy, and they also receive fee waivers as defined under the law. (Children, for example, are exempt from payment.) The arrangement for Palestinians includes fixed monthly payments with no waivers — payments that are also levied on children. In addition to the monthly payments, Palestinian children and spouses are also forced to pay a very high initial payment, which non-Palestinian family members are not required to pay. Palestinian family members of permanent residents (particularly East Jerusalem residents, who are the poorest people in Israel) must pay NIS 7,695 ($2,207) in addition to the monthly payment.

Therefore, the High Court’s involvement in the case is not over. In an exceptional step, before the new arrangement was even published, the High Court ordered that a revised petition be filed against it, which can be interpreted as an order nisi. In accordance with the High Court order, a revised petition against the arrangement was filed after its publication. The petition will be discussed at beginning of next month, on April 7, 2014.

It must also be said that alongside the — discriminatory and inferior — health insurance arrangement, the government refused to provide Palestinian family members with the right to national insurance, as opposed to non-Palestinian family members who are eligible for full rights just like Israeli citizens and residents. That decision was also made by the previous government, but if “Yesh Atid” really wants credit, then its ministers of welfare and finance, who also adopted the decisions of their predecessors, are responsible for the fact that Palestinian family members do not have national insurance. The High Court will also discuss that.

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