After Haaretz Exposé, Baby Born to non-Jewish Mother to Get Residency Status

The baby's mother, a non-Jewish Ethiopian, was in the process of settling her own status in Israel when the baby's Israeli father died. Interior Ministry refuses to grant her citizenship without court order.

Pentai Marga and her infant daughter, Shai-Li, in Netanya, Mar. 1, 2017.
Ofer Vaknin

Following a report in Haaretz on Thursday about a baby who had been denied citizenship after her Israeli-born father died, Interior Minister Arye Dery ordered the ministry's Population and Immigration Authority to grant the baby temporary residency status, which will also provide her with state-funded medical care.

The baby girl's father, Mesegnau Trakin, who was Israeli, died while the girl's mother, a non-Jewish Ethiopian, was pregnant with her. Absent official status in Israel, the baby, Shai-Li Marga, who is now four months old, was not entitled to full government social service benefits, including medical care. She will now be entitled to them, but the Population and Immigration Authority is insisting that the baby's family obtain an order from the family court confirming that Shai-Li is entitled to Israeli citizenship. 

Interior Ministry Dery has now also ordered expedited consideration of the status of the baby's mother, Pentai Marga, who was in a common-law marriage to Trakin – an Israeli of Ethiopian Jewish background who died in May of cardiac arrest. Pentai Marga, who was in the process at the time of receiving resident status as the spouse of an Israeli citizen, had obtained an Israeli work visa, but it is due to expire this week.

"This is the case of a baby who is a few months old, whose father was Israeli and from my standpoint that is a decisive consideration," the interior minister said. "I have ordered that the baby be granted every Israeli social benefit and no one should prevent that."

In addition to his wife and infant daughter, Trakin is survived by sons Daniel, 6, and Yosef, 3. Shai-Li was born in November at Laniado Hospital in the family's hometown, Netanya. The hospital had asked the mother to settle the status of Shi-Li, who was born prematurely, as quickly as possible so that the baby would be entitled to medical care through the state-funded medical system. The Interior Ministry refused to grant the baby Israeli citizenship even though its policy is to provide the child of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother citizenship upon the presentation of a paternity declaration. In this case, however, the father died before the baby was born.

In the absence of official status in Israel, the baby had not entitled to state-funded medical care and was discharged from the hospital early. The family was unable to pay for medical examinations and medical care that Shai-Li required and did not receive the treatment.

The family's lawyer, Yadin Elam, said in response: "Of course, we welcome the interior minister's decision, but it's unfortunate that he is giving Shai-Li social service benefits alone, as an act of grace, and not the Israeli citizenship that she is entitled to as a right, as the daughter of an Israeli citizen. Since the interior minister also acknowledges that Shai-Li is the daughter of an Israeli father, she is an Israeli citizen from birth based on Israeli law and the right thing is to register her immediately as an Israeli citizen and not insist on the issuance of a family court ruling."

Referring to Shai-Li's mother, Elam added: "It would also be appropriate to settle the status of Pentai, a widow and mother of three children, so she doesn't remain with the uncertainty and is at least entitled to social service benefits."