A small kibbutz in the Arava last month lost a vigorous legal fight against the deportation of one of its members, a Japanese-born woman who became a cherished part of the community during her unusual and long love affair with Israel.
Megumi Miyata, a 34-year-old who is in divorce proceedings with her Israeli husband, left Israel on March 12 under orders of the Interior Ministry, despite petitions and letters by politicians and members of Kibbutz Samar - where she is a full member - to prevent her expulsion.
Miyata, a teacher and dance instructor, came to live in Samar in 2007 with her husband, a member of the kibbutz. Since then, she periodically reported to the Interior Ministry's Eilat offices to extend her visa. According to law, spouses married to Israelis are eligible for citizenship after 4.5 years of cohabitation.
During a routine visit late January to the Interior Ministry's offices, she told the official in charge of her case that she and her Israeli husband were seeking a divorce. She was subsequently given less than two weeks to leave the country.
"I thought that because we were married I could stay here until we were divorced," she told Anglo File over the phone from Malaga, Spain, where she is now living. "And I did not want us to lie and say that we were still together, as I know many couples do."
She added that at first, she "couldn't believe" she was being told to leave "from one minute to the next like that, after so much time and after turning this place into my only home," she said in Hebrew.
Her sudden deportation order prompted dozens of friends at Kibbutz Samar, where she still is a full member, to sign a petition in which they demanded she be allowed to stay at least until her divorce. This bought Miyata - who speaks fluent Hebrew, and who has legally lived on-and-off in Israel since 1999 - another two weeks, but the ministry was adamant not to extend her stay any further.
Haim Oron, a Meretz MK, also wrote to the ministry on her behalf, as did Udi Gat, head of the regional council. Irit Laubel, head of the ministry's southern desk, responded to Oron that marriage to an Israeli was the basis for Miyata's status in Israel, and the ministry was examining the sincerity of their union. "The relationship ended and with it, her eligibility to any status," she wrote. "Her request to stay cannot be met and the kibbutz's petition cannot change that."
Miyata, who was born in central Japan to a family of veteran Korean immigrants, first came to Samar in 1999 as a volunteer. She studied Hebrew at Ulpan Yotvata. According to Ehud Kugler, secretary of Samar, her membership was approved by a much larger majority than any previous candidate.
Arik Bashan, a writer for Yedioth Hakibbutz, likened her "humiliating and insulting deportation" after 10 years in the country to cutting "the bloom of a unique and special strain," which came from "distant Japan" in an editorialized report that appeared this month.
He added: "With Shas in charge of the Interior Ministry portfolio, with Benjamin Netanyahu declaring that foreigners 'taking up jobs and pulling us closer to the third world,' and with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz asserting that foreigners are 'the primary reason for poverty and social gaps in Israel,' there is little chance Megumi's case will be resolved under this government."
'Little legal recourse'
Attorney Yael Katz-Mastbaum, who specializes in representing foreigners and who handled Miyata's case pro bono, said there was little legal recourse to be pursued in fighting the deportation, since it was in keeping with the letter of the law.
A colleague of hers, Tomer Warsaw, who works for and with nongovernmental organizations for foreigners in Israel, says that 15 years ago Israeli citizenship was given almost automatically to non-Israeli spouses after marriage, but that scrutiny was introduced to prevent marriages of convenience.
"The kibbutz's request that Miyata be allowed to stay illustrates how she's made a home here," he said. "There are internationally accepted principles about allowing people who made their home in any specific country, stay there. Our legal and political systems often do not honor these principles, and this case seems to be another example of this."
Kibbutz Samar with its 240-odd residents will keep Miyata registered as a member "until her return," according to Kugler. Miyata, for her part, says she wants to return as soon a possible, but she is not sure this will be possible.
"I have no status in Israel now," she said. "My situation is the same as Palestinian's who need invitaions from Israelis and permission to come to Israel. And yes, the way the country is being run is a certain reflection of its people, this is true. But I have become connected to the Israeli way of life, to how people open their hearts straight away. I loved my life in Israel and I want to return to my home."