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High Court justices this week deliberated the question, "What is a widow?"

Is a widow like a divorcee, as the state maintains: Someone whose connection to her husband has been severed and therefore is not entitled to family reunification? Or, as attorneys of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) maintain, must the state consider the widow connected to her deceased husband and permit her to become a citizen of Israel?

The State Prosecutor's Office declared in its response: "The spouse of an Israeli citizen loses any right to status in Israel the moment the marital tie expires, whether due to death or divorce, as long as citizenship proceedings are incomplete."

Reut Michaeli and Nicole Maor, who represent IRAC, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (the Reform movement), disagree: "Legislation does not consider relations between the deceased and the widow to be severed - there is absolute continuity. The widow is the natural heir of the deceased. She is entitled to financial support from his estate to assure her continued existence. She is entitled to survivors' benefits from National Insurance Institute - because of recognition of the connection, which did not cease at the time of death."

IRAC even maintains, "The state is so extreme and hurtful that it raises suspicion that its real motive is to reduce the number of non-Jews residing in Israel."

No less than nine appeals were submitted to the High Court by foreign widows the state wishes to deport. There are no widowers in this story. Perhaps women are less likely to import spouses. Perhaps women tend to marry men who are older than they are. All these appeals involved women who had married Israelis and failed to complete the graduated citizenship process before their husbands died. In all cases, the state contributed to their grief by attempting to expel them from the country.

Draconian measure

In response to the appeals, the state publicized this week a protocol regulating the treatment of foreign widows of Israelis. While this protocol is rife with problems, space permits examination of only two of them. The protocol permits granting residency to widows with Israeli children only if the mothers have completed half of the graduated citizenship process. In practice, this means widows who have been engaged in proceedings for less than two years will be deported along with small children who are Israeli citizens in every way.

Miriam Amzadar, a Moroccan citizen, and her 3-year-old daughter Shaima al-Atrash, an Israeli citizen, live in Ashdod. Amzadar's husband, Jamain al-Atrash, died in 2004. Amzadar, one of the widows who petitioned the High Court, says she received notification from the interministerial committee on humanitarian issues three months ago that her request for Israeli residency had been denied and that she must leave the country. In effect, this meant her daughter would be deported as well. The state announced to the High Court this week that the committee would reconsider her case. It is not clear what changed in the meantime - except for the state's fear of the High Court ruling.

Another problematic clause in the protocol addresses widows who do not have Israeli children: "The place of residence of their close relatives will be examined, among other factors." In other words, widows with relatives living abroad stand very little chance of staying here. Daniela Barlev, a 44-year-old Romanian citizen, married Alexander Barlev, an Israeli citizen, in 1988. She had nearly completed citizenship proceedings when her husband died in 2002. Now the state is demanding she leave the country, claiming she has a grown daughter living overseas - and therefore, her attachment to Romania is stronger than to Israel.

There is virtually no chance an immigrant would not have close relatives living in her country of origin. Thus, this clause indicates that all widows without Israeli children would be deported.

Who needs a bed?

Should a foreign worker get a bed? If it were up to Population Administration offices in Ramat Gan, the answer would be not necessarily. Elena Pirvu, a foreign worker from Romania, resigned a month ago from her job as a caretaker at a retirement home. She contacted the Interior Ministry, requesting the tourist visa necessary to undergo the employer-transfer protocol for foreign workers, and was rejected. In her appeal against the ministry, Pirvu said she was forced to sleep in the room of an elderly resident where "there was no other bed than that of Mrs. G. On cold nights I slept in the bed with Mrs. G., and on warm nights I slept in an armchair."

Mrs. G.'s room also lacked a cupboard, and Pirvu had limited access to a shower.

David Atzmon, deputy director of the Ramat Gan Population Administration offices, said: "We did not approve this request because we see it as exploitation of protocol."

Why is this exploitation? Because it is the second time within a year Pirvu requested to change employers. But Pirvu never worked for her previous employer. The appeal maintains that a week after she arrived in June 2005, the family that invited her to Israel left the country. At that time the Interior Ministry also denied her an employer change. After illicitly residing in Israel for seven months, Pirvu was arrested and tried.

"I found no real justification for the arrest of the detainee," wrote Judge Dan Liberti. "It is possible and desirable to permit her to resolve her status in Israel."

Following that ruling, Pirvu found employment at the senior citizens' home.

Pirvu's attorney, Yuval Livnat, a legal counselor for Kav La'oved - Worker's Hotline, filed an appeal last week. "Her path was riddled with pitfalls from the moment she set foot in Israel. She is not a criminal and has never before been in trouble with the law. Yet she was held in prison. She was exploited by her employers. She fell prey to an Interior Ministry clerk who demanded that she continue to work in subhuman conditions or leave the country," he wrote.

Livnat asked the court to order the ministry to permit Pirvu to transfer to another employer and "to demand compensation as an example to the Interior Ministry."

Population Administration spokeswoman Sabine Haddad responded that the request was denied because Pirvu already made use of employer-transfer protocol. Pirvu filed an appeal, and a decision is still pending. Haddad also said the family that initially invited Pirvu to Israel notified her in advance that she was not to come. Because she entered Israel despite that decision, her first request for employer-transfer was denied.