49 Hebrew Israelites Appeal Deportation Order: 'No Different From Other Community Members'

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Children slated for deportation by Israel's Population and Immigration Authority.
Children slated for deportation by Israel's Population and Immigration Authority.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Forty-nine members of the Hebrew Israelite community filed an appeal on Thursday against an order to deport them to the United States.

They are demanding permanent resident status, as the other members of the group in Israel, which now number in the thousands, have been given. They are also seeking a restraining order that would bar their deportation until a court decision.

The appeal was filed by the 49 residents of the southern Israeli town of Dimona at the immigration appeals court in Be’er Sheva.

The community, which has origins in the United States and has also been known as the Black Hebrews, established itself in Dimona with the arrival of a group led by Ben Ami Ben Israel (formerly Ben Carter), a former factory worker from Chicago, in 1968.

In 2015, a group of about 100 members of the community in Dimona requested that the Population and Immigration Authority give them resident status after having lived in Israel without official status for years. The group also submitted a list of those for whom it was seeking to settle their status. In April of this year, roughly six years after the initial request was filed, the Population Authority declined to provide permanent status for 49 of them and demanded that they leave the country within 60 days. Administrative appeals of the decision were also denied last month, after which the group was ordered to leave within two weeks.

The Population Authority is claiming that the status of the community was legalized in 1999, after it submitted a list of its members. Anyone on that earlier list who had been in Israel for at least 10 years was issued a work permit and later received temporary resident status. In 2004, they were given permanent residency.

From the Population Authority’s standpoint, anyone whose status was not legalized in 1999 is living in the country illegally. The group of 49 who are subject to deportation take exception to the policy. They also claim that the community’s status was settled in 2004, when members received permanent residency, and not in 1999 when they became temporary residents.

“The appellants [the group of 49] are no different from thousands of other members of the community who received a permanent [residency] permit,” the appeal states. “They live together with the others in a cooperative urban kibbutz, they were born in the same place in the community’s maternity house, were educated at schools in Dimona like the other members of the community and there is no relevant distinction between them and those who were more fortunate to receive a permanent [resident] permit.”

Haaretz examined the cases of the 49 appellants and found that some of them had arrived in Israel in recent years and claimed that they had lived in the country previously. Others came to Israel as minors. Some were born in the country and are now in their 20s, and some have lived in Israel for decades. All of them were ordered deported on the grounds that they did not have legal resident status.

As part of their effort to head off the deportations, members of the community appealed for support from the U.S. House of Representatives. In response, Democratic Illinois Congressman Danny K. Davis recently contacted Prime Minister Naftali Bennett seeking an explanation for the deportation order.

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