Filipina Teen Fights to Join Holocaust Remembrance Trip to Poland

16-year-old student warned return to Israel may be barred though she was born in Israel.

A 16-year-old of Filipino origin is battling to join her school friends on a March of the Living trip, but she worries she won't be allowed back from Poland because of her parents' uncertain status with the Israeli authorities.

Janelle Pancho's parents came to Israel in 1992, four years before she was born. When the class at Herzliya's Harishonim High School learned that the sign-up period for a Holocaust remembrance trip was starting, Pancho wanted to join in. Then she learned she might not be allowed back into the country.

Janelle Pancho - Alon Ron - 19022012
Alon Ron

"I went to the Interior Ministry in Tel Aviv to ask for help. They told me I could go but they couldn't promise I could come back. It was a huge disappointment. I sat in the middle of the office and cried," she says.

"One of the employees came up to me and told me that if I have no citizenship, I shouldn't have any demands."

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But her classmates and her parents convinced her to fight for her right to go on the tour. "My mother asked me whether this was important to me, and I said it was, so she said she would fight with me," Pancho says. "Even though I'm not Jewish and this isn't about my family, I feel that this is something I need to do, a heritage I want to be exposed to."

The school is also trying to give her a discount on the cost of the trip. Her classmates join her during demonstrations for children of migrants to Israel. "They give me the strength to fight," she says.

Meanwhile, Pancho turned to the NGO Israeli Children, which contacted MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz ). He in turn wrote to Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who referred the letter to Interior Minister Eli Yishai two weeks ago.

In his letter, Gilon said the educational and ethical values of a Poland trip were close to a pupil who grew up with the values of Israeli society and was educated in an Israeli school. "We must not allow a child who grew up in Israel to experience alienation because of her origin, and certainly not in the context of remembering the Holocaust and the trip to Poland," he wrote.

The group will travel to Poland in less than a month, but no answer has arrived from the interior minister.

In a similar case last September, a 17-year-old with parents from Korea was issued a permit allowing him reentry into Israel; this came after pressure was put on the authorities.

For their part, the immigration authorities said "the family has been in Israel for many years against the law. In 2005 the family applied for permanent residency but was rejected in court. They reapplied in 2010 and it will be examined. The application to travel to Poland will be examined separately as a singular exception."