Text size

On June 15, 2004, a day before Semion Mueller died of cancer, the Muellers had an appointment at the Interior Ministry office in Be'er Sheva. Natalia Mueller, 55, a non-Jewish Ukrainian, had completed five years and four months of her naturalization process. At this meeting she was supposed to file a request for the hoped-for citizenship. Spouses are required to attend such meetings together, so Mueller went to the Ganei Omer nursing facility, where her husband lay on his death bed, hoping he would be strong enough to come with her. "He said he could not come, that I'd have to go alone," she says.

When Mueller got to the Interior Ministry, the clerk reportedly told her that if he died, she would have to leave the country since she is not Jewish. "I was in shock. I didn't know what to do," she says.

That same day, Semion's brother arrived from Germany. They stayed with Semion until the evening, then drove to the Muellers' apartment in Arad. In the morning the hospital called to say that Semion had died. Since then, the Interior Ministry has refused to grant Natalia Mueller permission to remain in Israel, and she is here illegally.

The naturalization process for spouses of Israeli citizens is supposed to take four-and-a-half years. In the Muellers' case, it took nearly a year longer because of bureaucratic reasons and the Interior Ministry is now trying to deport Mueller. Her case highlights the Population Administration's harsh treatment of widows whose Israeli husbands died during the course of the naturalization process. It begs the question: If the authorities refuse to grant citizenship to Mueller, who will they give it to?

In early 2006, the Israel Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism filed 10 petitions to the High Court of Justice on behalf of widows of Israeli citizens. IRAC claims they are entitled to citizenship under Israeli law, and wants the court to compel the Interior Ministry to introduce a procedure for widows' naturalization.

The ministry has a policy according to which, among other things, the case of a widow who completes three years of the process will be discussed by the inter-ministerial committee for humanitarian cases. Mueller ostensibly meets this procedural criteria. Nonetheless, the committee rejected her request to remain in Israel. Last October, Mueller petitioned the High Court through the IRAC.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said in response that "our detailed answer will be given in court."