Herzliya's Friends

Herzliya Kines' first request for citizenship was rejected, because on the decisive day, she was not yet six years of age - she was only five years and eight months.

Last week Herzliya Kines submitted an appeal to the Interior Ministry regarding the decision to expel her from Israel. Kines' first request for citizenship was rejected, because on the decisive day, she was not yet six years of age - she was only five years and eight months. With the exception of the four missing months, she meets all the criteria: Her parents entered the country legally, she is studying in first grade and she speaks Hebrew.

The fact that expelling her would constitute cultural exile is proven by the many letters from the parents of the children in Grade 1B in the Gavrieli Hacarmel school in central Tel Aviv, where she studies; these letters indicate that in their eyes she is Israeli for all intents and purposes.

Orly Assaf, mother of Herzliya's friend Romy, wrote: "Every morning my husband meets you, Dick, as you are carrying Herzliya on your shoulders and he is carrying our daughter Romy on his shoulders. We have had many heart-to-heart talks, and have always enjoyed your company. Herzliya, Emily and Dick, you have captured our hearts, and we love you and pray in our hearts: We hope that you will be among those who remain and that your daughter Herzliya, like our own daughter Romy, will build her home here in our country."

Herzliya and her parents, whose story Haaretz has been following regularly, apparently will still have to wait many long weeks for an answer, for the simple reason that the exceptions committee is still in the process of being established. But, in the final analysis, Herzliya Kines is only a symbol. In addition to her appeal, another few dozen cases of children of foreign workers who have received negative replies will reach the committee.

The committee will have to discuss the case of a 23-year-old girl who arrived in Israel at the age of 14 1/2. According to the criteria, citizenship will be granted only to someone who arrived in Israel before the age of 14. This also applies to children who were almost six years old on the critical day, like Herzliya, and children who passed the age of six but were not yet in first grade.

Another question concerns the fate of children whose parents come from two different countries, such as Ghana and the Philippines. It is possible that they don't meet the age requirements, but - in effect - have nowhere to go. We can assume that some of these children are less charming and captivating than Herzliya, and most of them do not have such a Zionist name, either. Nevertheless, most are part of Israeli society, see themselves as Israelis and are accepted as such in their surroundings.

The decision made by the Olmert government at its inception, to grant citizenship to all the children of foreign workers who have been here for six consecutive years, was a correct and magnanimous decision. It expressed the broad consensus among the public that these are Israeli children in every sense, who belong here, and that it would be cruel to expel them to a country with which they are not familiar and whose language they don't speak.

The idea that children who study in first grade, speak Hebrew and write Hebrew will be expelled only because they are "borderline" cases and missed the government decision by a few months is intolerable. Just as the government demonstrated generosity toward a few hundred children who meet all the criteria, it must do the same for the few dozen whose cases are borderline.

The Population Registry says that during the initial investigation it had to adhere to the criteria, and that only the exceptions committee will be able to demonstrate flexibility. The Population Registry and the office of the interior minister recently promised that the exceptions committee will, in fact, be magnanimous. Such behavior is both desirable and crucial.

The government decision is defined as a one-time step. Afterward the government is supposed to begin doing something that it has not done until now: to expel families with children if those families do not agree to leave voluntarily. The expulsion of children is a difficult and cruel step. A fair and considerate attitude toward the borderline cases can help somewhat to justify this move. Israel's demographic balance will not be harmed by it, but its moral balance will improve, and that is no less important.