Her choice: An abusive husband or deportation
The life story of 28-year-old M. could be the plot of an especially dramatic soap opera. A member of the Falashmura, M. came to Israel in 1998 as the daughter of an amputee. When she went to the Interior Ministry to register her first-born child, she was told that she had to leave the country - because she was not, in fact, the daughter of the woman who raised her. M. has an older stepsister - also adopted, but by a different mother - who found herself in a similar situation. When the two women finished their conversion studies, the Interior Ministry ordered that they not be converted. As far as M. knows, her father was Jewish, but she has no way of proving it.
M. gave birth to two more children. But their father gets drunk on the weekend and abuses them. In one instance, M. says, the father stuffed one of the children's mouth with food and said "I'll kill you with food." M. then fled with the children to a battered women's shelter.
If she leaves the shelter, she will be homeless. If she is deported, her children, who are Israeli citizens, will also be deported. M. is in the classic trap of foreign women who are victims of abuse in Israel: Their choice is between an abusive man and the risk of deportation.
On Thursday the High Court of Justice was scheduled to hear the sisters' petition. But the hearing was postposed for six months, during which they will continue to live without status and without rights.
When M. and her sister came to Israel in 1998, they, like other Falashmura who are not Jewish, were given temporary residency. In Israel, the Falashmura study for conversion and after the ceremony receive immigrant status and Israeli citizenship. However once the Interior Ministry found out during their conversion course that they were adopted but did not have adoption papers, they were ordered to leave the country.
M. says the ministry informed her she was not her mother's biological child in 1999 when she went to register her first-born child. After M. promised her mother that she would always see her as such, her mother admitted that she took in M. at the age of two, after her biological mother was unable to raise her.
The sisters' lawyer, Yohanna Lerman, told the High Court of Justice in the petition that in Ethiopia adoption is conducted through the families, rather than the courts; therefore, there are no official papers documenting the sisters' adoption. Lerman says the two women have been living in Israel for the past seven years without status and with practically no rights.
Meanwhile, the other sister moved in with a man she met in Ethiopia and bore him two children. Ostensibly, the shared domicile should have accorded her rights.
M., on the other hand, moved in with a man in Jerusalem and bore him three children, who are registered only on the father's identification card.
M. says her partner beat her and the children continuously. According to M. he would tell her "if I kill you no one will look for you," and "I'll call the police and they'll send you to Addis Ababa."
She fled to the shelter at the end of June 2006. "I have no identification card, no one will help me. I don't sleep at night thinking about tomorrow."
In the petition, Lerman asked the court to treat the sisters as adopted and to allow them to convert and become Israeli citizens.
Interior Ministry official Elinor Golan wrote in letters regarding the second sister, that if she left the country, her partner could request a visa for her based on their relationship. But she reiterated the ministry's demand that both sisters leave the country immediately.
In the state's response to the petition, assistant state prosecutor Michal Tzuk asked the court to reject the sisters' request since the case rightfully belongs in the Administrative Court. She also claimed that other legal avenues had not been exhausted; for example, they had not requested a residency permit so that they could convert.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said the ministry is working on a procedure for female foreign nationals who have lost their status in Israel, because they have left an abusive husband, and all exceptional cases will be reviewed.