By Dana Weiler-Polak
Muamman Abu Kwaik, a quadriplegic 5-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, leaves his home in the East Jerusalem town of Shoafat at 6 A.M. every day and travels for three hours before he reaches the rehabilitative kindergarten he attends on the western side of the city, a mere 35 minutes away. The Jerusalem municipality was required by court order to find Abu Kwaik a spot in a rehabilitative kindergarten and provide transportation – but in an effort to save money at the expense of Abu Kwaik’s health, it has yet to make it any easier for him to get to school. It is unthinkable that Muamman’s fundamental rights – to health, rehabilitation and education – are being violated because of the municipality’s technical and economic considerations,” said Sharon Primor, a legal adviser for disability rights group Bizchut. The advocacy group, which went to the courts in 2007 to get Abu Kwaik a spot in the school, says it was told by the municipal official responsible for transportation issues that the travel arrangements could not be changed.
However, the municipality later said in a statement that it would favorably consider giving Abu Kwaik his own ride to school, which would significantly shorten his trip. “This is a situation in which there is an alternative,” said Primor. “The unreasonable length of time is not a function of the distance but rather derives from considerations of cost. The route of the transport is convoluted and it makes many stops.” Bizchut and Muamman Abu Kwaik’s mother, who has traveled on the van to see for herself what the trip was like, say Muamman is one of nine children picked up and dropped off every day. The municipality says there are only two others, both of whom it says are dropped off near Abu Kwaik’s school. If Muamman’s three-hour ride to school remains unchanged, it could exacerbate his condition and impair his recovery from orthopedic surgery he recently underwent, according to Dr. Dalia Bohana. “The results of a long trip in an unsuitable position could lead to the failure of the operation and the rehabilitation in the immediate and long term. Beyond that, a trip like that causes discomfort and even suffering to this child,” she wrote in an expert opinion. Bohana said Abu Kwaik should not travel for more than 50 minutes at a time. A direct trip takes about 35 minutes – including 15 minutes at a roadblock in the city, according to an estimate by an independent transportation company.
Muamman’s father, Nasser Abu Kwaik, said the trip makes it difficult for his son to learn anything once he reaches his destination. “He has a very hard time with the traveling,” he said. “He gets there after three hours on the road, very tired. He isn’t managing to learn.” And once school ends, Muamman “comes home in pain and dizzy,” his father said. “He has to make this trip every day, in the heat, in the cold, in the rain and when it’s windy. I don’t understand why they are doing this to him.” The municipality said it has suggested that Abu Kwaik be dropped off first, though that would cut the trip by only 15 minutes, according to the transportation company. The municipality attributed the length of the trip to the roadblock.