Baby Born to non-Jewish Woman Denied Citizenship After Israeli Father Dies

The baby, who was born prematurely, cannot receive medical treatment because she has no legal status in Israel; the mother repeatedly requested to grant the baby citizenship during her pregnancy.

Pentai Marga holds her baby.
Ofer Vaknin

Israel has denied citizenship to a four-month-old infant whose Israeli father died during her mother’s pregnancy.

The mother, a non-Jewish woman from Ethiopia, lived with the Israeli father in a common-law marriage in Netanya. The couple had two other children, who have Israeli citizenship.

The Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority did not respond to the mother’s repeated requests to grant the baby citizenship after her birth. This week the authority finally told the mother she must produce a court ruling in order to obtain citizenship for her daughter.

The baby, who was born prematurely, has no legal status in Israel, so cannot receive medical treatment under the state health insurance law. Because of this she was discharged too early from the hospital’s premature babies’ ward. The family cannot afford the examinations and medical treatments she needs and so far she hasn’t been receiving any.

The mother, who was in the process of receiving a resident’s status as the partner of an Israeli citizen, is also in an uncertain position due to his death. Her visa is due to expire on Friday and she has not received an option to extend it.

The father Mesegnau (Moshe) Trakin, of Ethiopian descent, died last May of cardiac arrest, leaving behind his partner, Pentai Marga and their children Daniel, 6, and Yosef, 3. Marga was then three months pregnant. Their daughter, Shai-Li, was born in November in Landiado Hospital in Netanya.

The hospital asked the mother to get the baby’s legal status sorted out as soon as possible, so that she could be insured in a health maintenance organization.

But a month after she was born the Netanya branch of the Registration Authority said that due to the father’s death, the decision to register the baby as an Israeli must be made by higher ranking ministry officials.

Some two months after the birth, when no progress had been made, the family’s lawyer approached the authority again, noting the infant “needs more comprehensive tests but the family is unable (and shouldn’t have) to finance them. So far we have received no response, despite the registration urgency.”

Last week the authority’s Netanya deputy director replied that after “consulting with Jerusalem” it was decided the mother “must produce a family court ruling to register her daughter.”

“So far Shai-Li has received nothing, she isn’t a member of a health maintenance organization,” her mother Marga told Haaretz on Wednesday. “In the hospital they made a list of tests she must undergo. I can’t pay for any of them.”

She said she couldn’t afford private health insurance. “My visa expires on Friday. I have no answer, no appointment with the Interior Ministry. I can’t work without a visa. Where will I find work? How will I raise three children?”

“The baby has no ID card, or any papers. I can’t put her in a day care center, it’s 2,500 shekels a month. How will I pay? I have rent, electricity, taxes, children,” she said.

Ultimately, says the family's attorney Yadin Elam, “this isn’t a legal matter. It’s a matter of Shai-Li, a four-month-old baby, an Israeli citizen by birth. Not only was she born a premie and orphaned from her father, but due to the ministry’s completely ignoring our numerous requests to register her as a citizen, she was discharged too early from hospital and isn’t getting the medical treatment she needs.”

Elam said the authority’s manager in Netanya told him explicitly that they had no doubt the late Mesangau was Shai-Li’s father and had he not died they would have registered her as his daughter and as an Israeli without delay.

“Despite this, and after months of endangering the baby’s health and safety, the ministry has decided to punish the family further and demand a court ruling as a condition for registering her. This is an unnecessary demand which makes no legal or other sense. The interior minister must ask himself if additional expenses of thousands of shekels and a delay of many more months until the baby is registered as an Israeli is the way to go,” he said.

The authority said in response that under the procedure, a minor with an Israeli father may be granted citizenship if the mother is legally allowed to stay in Israel as his common-law wife. “Due to the regrettable circumstances in this case we cannot act according to procedure, so Mrs. Marga was asked to get a court ruling for her daughter’s registration.”

As for the mother’s status, the authority said that “since the Israeli partner died before the process was completed, the case was passed to the examination of the inter-ministerial committee on humanitarian matters.”