Foreign worker- Nir Kafri
An Oz official questioning a foreign worker in Tel Aviv. Photo by Nir Kafri
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The Interior Ministry's controversial Oz immigration police unit has been accused of beating and verbally abusing members of an African-American family from Kansas City whose members converted to Judaism several years ago, and are living in Ashkelon pending a decision on their citizenship request.

Kristien Garrett, 24, who is seven months pregnant, was taken by ambulance to Ashkelon's Barzilai Hospital after the Oz unit operation. During the operation, several officers detained her husband Sean, telling family members that his name did not appear "in the system" of the ministry's Population Registry.

Witnesses said Kristien Garrett's one-year-old daughter and Garrett's mother Trina Woodcox were struck a number of times as the officers moved to detain Garrett's husband. Sean Garrett was allegedly handcuffed, beaten repeatedly and subjected to racial slurs while in custody; he was later released when ministry officials determined that his visa was valid.

The Oz unit, which spearheads a high-profile Interior Ministry campaign to track and expel foreign nationals who lack valid permits to remain in Israel, admitted to having detained a family member in error, but denied allegations of use of physical force. It countered that family members had attacked them with "cursing and swearing."

The family had come to Israel at the invitation of the Interior Ministry, which asked to interview them prior to a final decision on their request for immigrant status. Ministry officials held a hearing on their case last month, a step in the process toward receiving citizenship.

When Woodcox, who held the family's documents, asked to accompany Sean Garrett in the police van, "officers grabbed her by her hair and her head, and pulled her by her leg," dragging her out of the vehicle, Kristien Garrett told Haaretz Thursday, after her release from the hospital.

The officer with her mother "turned around and started hitting me and my child in the face," she said. Her husband tried to help her, "but two other officers jumped on him, handcuffed him, and beat him up while the other officer was hitting me and my daughter."

Neighbors left their houses to come to the family's aid. "Everything was just a big frenzy," Garrett said. "One of the neighbors came and took my daughter away from me, so that she wouldn't be hit any more. The police officer was kicking me and hit me in my stomach, and I hit him back, to get him off of me."

Another neighbor called an ambulance. Kristien Garrett was taken to Barzilai with cramps, and hospitalized overnight. She has now been discharged on bed rest.
The lawyer for the family, Nicole Maor of the Israel Religious Action Center, said that they had been subjected to racial abuse by the police officers, who reportedly yelled at them: “Afro-Americans, kushim [darkies], we don’t need you here.”

Family members said the officer who had struck Kristien Garrett later returned and apologized to Sean for beating his wife. "He said that he had never hit a woman before, and that he felt bad for the mistake that had been made," Woodcox said.
 

Oz unit official Yehuda Ben-Ezra denied that the officers had used physical force against the family, saying that his inspectors had filed a police complaint alleging that the family had attacked them with profanity.
 

Questioned regarding Garrett's hospitalization, Ben-Ezra told Army Radio, "The woman is not in the hospital because of violence by inspectors. Really not." Pressed by news anchor Yael Dan, Ben-Ezra said "I have no idea why she was hospitalized - why she went to the hospital."

"You mean there was no violence there?" Dan asked.

"Not on the part of my inspectors. On the part of the residents, yes. On the part of my inspectors, truly no."

The morning after the incident, Trina Woodcox went to the Ashkelon police station to file a complaint against the police, but was rebuffed.

"They called her a liar, and said that they couldn't accept her complaint," said Maor.

Wilcox wrote Kansas City Reform Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff, who had converted the family to Judaism, "My heart is breaking right now.

"We have so much love for Israel. But it seems like Israel does not love us back."