1,000 Students and Teachers Demonstrate Against Arrests of Israeli-born Filipino Children

'We all feel Israeli,' says one protester in wake of arrests which escalated Thursday with the detention of a 13-year-old girl who was heading to school

About 1,000 students and teachers and parents are protesting outside of Givon Prison against the detention of two Israeli-born, Filipino children who are slated for deportation to the Philippines. 

The two children are 13-year-old Gena Antigo, who was arrested by the Population and Immigration Authority as she prepared to head out for school on Thursday, and 10-year-old Ralph Harel who is currently detained along with his mother. 

Gena, a Philippines national who was born in Israel, was arrested with her mother who has been living in Israel since 2004. Gena's mother has been residing in Israel without a permit for the past 12 years.

Demonstrators held signs reading: "We won't let them deport Gena," "They're children just like us" and "No evil in our schools."

United Children of Israel, a group formed by Filipina mothers for their Israeli-born children, released a statement in response to the wave of arrests: "We won't go to school, we won't go to work, we won't just go on with our lives while Gena and Harel are spending their nights in prison."

ICU added that they "demand to stop the deportation of the children, and release them from jail. We must release Gena and Harel!"

Geril, who is a senior at the Bialik-Rogozin school in south Tel Aviv, said that all Filipino children in Israel "all feel Israeli for all intents and purposes."

"We grow up together, we become counselors in the Scouts, we do final high school exams together and dream of serving in the army," Geril added. "I believe that every child is entitled to grow up where he was born and where he feels that he belongs."

Geril also said that he hopes that "the State of Israel, which I love and believe in, will find a way to embrace the children and turn them into citizens with equal rights."

Arrested before heading out to school

On Wednesday morning, Sivan Kandeliker, a seventh-grader from Tel Aviv, waited for her best friend Gena, as she has every school day for the past few years, to walk to the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium school together. But when she called Gena to tell her to come downstairs, she learned that Immigration Authority inspectors had arrested Gena in advance of her deportation to the Philippines.

Gena (left) with Sivan Kandeliker in Tel Aviv
Sivan Kandeliker

The night before the arrest, Gena told her that she didn’t want to get to school late, Kandeliker told Haaretz. They agreed to meet at 7 A.M., and when her friend was late, Kandeliker called her. “She answered in a voice that sounded like she was sleeping. I was going to tell her, ‘What, you’re sleeping in? You said you didn't want to be late to school,’ to joke about it with her, but then I realized she was actually crying.

“I asked her what happened and she told me that she was sending me a WhatsApp message because she couldn’t talk,” Kandeliker said. “I hung up and I saw she wrote me: ‘The immigration police caught me.’ I was in shock, I began insanely crying on the street, people were staring at me. I called my mother and wanted to go home. At school, all her friends were sad, we couldn’t believe they arrested her."

Kandeliker recounted that she and Gena have been friends since third grade. "We've been walking to school together for years, go to each other’s’ houses, we're like sisters. I’m scared she won’t be here with me anymore. I don’t know why they want to deport her, she's a wonderful girl. I’m going to demonstrate with all my friends so they release her.”

Immigration inspectors arrived at Gena’s home at 6:15 A.M., while she was getting ready for school. The same thing happened to Ralph Harel, a fifth-grader. When the school year began, the director general of the Population and Immigration Authority, Shlomo Mor Yosef, promised that children of migrants would not be stopped during the school day, on their way to school or on their way home. The Immigration Authority said the arrests do not violate this promise, as it does not apply to the timeframe prior to leaving for school.   

Gena did not receive a hearing before being taken, along with her mother, to Givon Prison, in violation of Justice Ministry directives. Officials in the Immigration Authority said on Wednesday that they will begin holding hearings for the children of migrants facing deportation only after the necessary personnel are trained. The authority declined to give a date for when the hearings will start or when training will begin.