A Beduin boy suffering from cerebral palsy may die because a request to allow his home to be hooked up to electricity, to power vital breathing assistance devices, is being stalled by opposition from the Misgav Regional Council.
A special Knesset committee established to look into the case of 18-month-old Muhammad Suwaed recommended two weeks ago, after a visit to his home in the Western Galilee, that it be hooked up to the grid.
"It's going to be a long process," said Yoram Rundstein, the Infrastructure Ministry's deputy director of electricity. "I understand there is opposition from the planning and construction committee" of Misgav.
Municipalities and regional and local councils usually represent their residents' interests, pushing the government to provide them with services. But in this case, as in a number of other similar health-related cases concerning Beduin children, the Misgav Regional Council opposes the measure which would save the boy, even though the move is supported by Jewish and Arab legislators and government officials.
"We will have to give our opinion," said Itamar Shoruky, supervising coordinator for the Misgav committee, which is made up only of Jews and is under the aegis of the Interior Ministry. "The house does not meet the necessary criteria," he said, referring to the fact that the Suwaed's house is located on a site which the state has not recognized for building.
The Infrastructure Ministry is likely to agree once it receives an aerial photo showing the house was built before 1987, said Rundstein. That would qualify the building for such a hook-up, based on a law passed in 1996 providing individual homes in communities not recognized by the state, but built before that date, with such infrastructure. The photo was displayed to the committee at the Suwaed home, but Rundstein was not present and he has yet to receive it.
Government officials and human rights activists accuse the council of being unnecessarily intractable, adding that the law can be flexible if there is a desire to do so. Some say that the reason the council is not giving the family electricity is to pressure them to move to Beduin villages.
"They have an interest in moving all the scattered Beduin and concentrating them to Wadi Salameh or Husseiniyah," said Shlomo Cohen, the Israel Electric Company's (IEC) Deputy Director for the Northern Region.
Misgav's rejection will force the issue to be brought to an arbitrator, thereby delaying and possibly torpedoing the move to provide the electricity. "When two government bodies disagree then we pass it on to a legal adviser," said Rundstein.
The Suwaed house, built in 1986, lies a few hundred meters outside a line recently drawn recognizing a Beduin village named Husseiniyah. Because the Suwaed house and those of Muhammad's uncle and grandmother were not included inside the line, they are not recognized by the state either, and are not eligible for infrastructure services like electricity.
However, the 1996 law gave all homes built before 1987 in places not recognized by the state permission to receive electricity, so long as no additions were made to the building. The law stipulated that the regional council needed to apply in the name of the citizens for their homes to receive electricity. But that was not done for any of the Suwaed family homes. The reason, said Cohen, "is because [the council] wants them to leave."
Alif Sabag, of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, agreed. "The policy of the state is to spread Jews throughout a maximum amount of land and to concentrate Arabs in a minimum amount of land," he said.
Shoruky confirmed that he wants the family to move into either Husseiniyah or Kfar Salamah, although he said that no plots are available there. The Suwaed family lives on about 20 dunams that they have owned since before the creation of the State of Israel which lies between two Jewish communities established in the last 20 years.
At the request of MK Abdul Malik Dahamshe, a special Knesset committee formed to deal with the boy's dilemma traveled to his home two weeks ago to decide if the home met the necessary criteria. Two Knesset members - Shas MK David Azoulay and Dahamshe - along with Cohen, who stood in for Rundstein, looked at the 1986 aerial photo and were convinced the house was eligible to be hooked up to electricity, because the house they were standing in was no bigger than the one in the photo.
"This issue can be resolved," said Azoulay as he sat outside the Suwaed home. "But if [someone] wants to, it can also be blocked. Sometimes you need to bend the law...you need to realize that this family already lost three sons and should not lose the last one."
Muhammad needs electrical equipment to help him breathe. Two of his brothers, who also had cerebral palsy, died in the last three months from breathing complications that could have been avoided if their house had electricity. Another died six years ago.
But Shoruky insists that the house the MKs visited was a different house, and that the family had built this new building on the exact site of the one shown in the aerial photo. The Misgav committee official added that it was in the Israel Electric Company's interest to give the family electricity so that they could make more money, implying that the IEC's Cohen was recommending the permit when he should not.
Cohen said that citizens pay only NIS 5,000 to be connected to electricity, but since the Suwaed family lives far from the grid, it would actually cost the IEC NIS 200,000 to make the connection, so profit was obviously not a motive for the IEC's desire to do the work. "We don't care about the money," said Cohen. "We see it as a family with a sick child and children who died. It's a humanitarian act."