On Wednesday afternoon, Elbert "Bong" Cainday, a reporter and editor for the month-old Manila-Tel Aviv Times, which serves the Philippine foreign worker community in Israel ("A Sign of the Times," Ha'aretz, August 30), glanced out of the window of his South Tel Aviv apartment. He knew his Israeli experience was coming to a close. Cainday, 31, whose residency visa expired last year, chose not to look for an escape route. Nor did he wait for the policemen in civilian clothes to knock on his door. He walked downstairs and without resistance climbed into the police van that would be taking him to Maasiyahu Prison.
Seated in the van was A., another Filipino reporter at the Times, who had been picked up by the police at the newspaper offices. "Driving in the van, I already knew we were heading over to pick up Bong. The police were holding a picture of him," relates A.
The two colleagues exchanged glances but did not dare speak to each other. A. asked the policemen to check his papers. "At first, they ignored me," relates A. "I knew that if I reached the police station in the Hatikva quarter, there would be no coming back. I kept on pleading with them until finally they were convinced."
The van stopped at a street corner, the policemen inspected his papers and then let A. go. "I asked Bong to call me, and then I got out of the van and started running down the street. It is a terrible day for us," he relates. Cainday was left with the policemen, in a van heading for Maasiyahu, where illegal workers who are seized are detained pending deportation.
The rumor about the arrest of Cainday, a dominant figure in the close-knit Philippine community in Israel, rapidly spread among the foreign workers in South Tel Aviv. Cainday arrived in Israel five years ago, having left his children in the Philippines. He resided legally in Israel, caring for a senior citizen in Jerusalem.
Two years ago, when the man passed away, Cainday had a hard time finding another job, due to the undesirability of hiring foreign workers who had only a single year remaining on their residency visas in Israel. He moved to Tel Aviv and began volunteering for UPIMA, an organization that addresses the needs of Filipinos in foreign countries, reinforcing their connection to the homeland. At the same time, he held a part-time job as a cleaning worker. Two months ago, Cainday was recruited by the Manila-Tel Aviv Times, where he worked on a voluntary basis as a senior editor and writer. In lieu of a salary, he was paid in phone cards by the publisher and founder, Yossi Eitan.
"The decision to deport 50,000 illegal foreign workers living in Israel is a classic example of what Barbara Tuchman called `The March of Folly.' The explanation offered for the deportation is at odds with the decision to bring masses of new foreign workers to Israel," Cainday wrote in an acerbic, fluent column that ran last month in the newspaper's first issue, in which he held forth on his ideas about current political and social issues.
That night, in a telephone call from the detention facility at Maasiyahu Prison, Cainday recounted the day's events: "The policemen had a copy of the Manila-Tel Aviv Times. They asked me why I cast aspersions on the government's deportation policy, and why I, as an illegal worker, allowed myself to express myself so openly. I didn't say a word. I knew that in the end they would do whatever they wanted to, and that I couldn't stop them from doing so."
Cainday reports that the conditions and treatment at Maasiyahu are reasonable. "When it comes to foreign workers, Israel is more humane than other countries."
Are you angry at the state?
"I'm not angry and I don't blame the government of Israel for the deportation. The problem lies with the Philippines. There is no work there, and the government sends its young citizens to work in other countries and ignores the emotional cost they have to bear. There are currently 8 million Filipinos living outside the borders of their country to support their families. It happens in other Third World countries, too. This business causes the breakup of families, and means that children are growing up without their parents."
Did you know you would be arrested?
"I knew it could happen, and I know it happened because of the newspaper. On the other hand, I hoped that the Israelis would understand that I am serving my community and I thought they would act with tolerance toward the press."
Adi Lexler, the foreign workers coordinator at Kav La'Oved, the workers' hotline, was not surprised to hear of Cainday's arrest. "The Filipino community founded a newspaper, which from its first issue explained to workers what their rights were. It's altogether obvious that the authorities would try to close it down, and arrest leaders of the community who are disseminating this kind of information," he claims.
"No matter how you look at it, the issue of foreign workers in Israel is founded upon oppression. The system wants to prevent any attempt at organization or communication, or the dissemination of information about rights among the foreign workers.
All day Wednesday, the newspaper staff made fruitless efforts to contact Elbert Cainday and have him released. He spent his first night in Maasiyahu in a room with a few Thai workers.
"I'm the only Filipino here. I've never been in prison," he says. "I like Israel and the family I lived with, but now I just want to get out of Ramle (where Maasiyahu is located). I'll go back to the Philippines - to my children. It's sad that it's ending like this, with my deportation," he says. And then adds cynically: "At least I'm happy to know that Israelis are reading our newspaper, too."
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