Court Orders Temporary Stay of Deportation of Members of Hebrew Israelite Community

The 49 people who were ordered deported are members of a group with origins in the African American community in Chicago, most of whom had been given resident status in 2004

Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri
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A young member of the Hebrew Israelite community in Dimona holding the deportation letter from the government.
A young member of the Hebrew Israelite community in Dimona holding the deportation letter from the government. Credit: Eliahu Hershkovitz
Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri

A group of 49 Hebrew Israelites from the southern Israeli town of Dimona got a reprieve on Monday from their immediate deportation to the United States when a Be'er Sheva administrative appeals court issued a temporary stay of their expulsion from Israel.

The order came in response to an appeal filed last week by the group, members of whom are seeking to establish legal residence in the country. Judge Michael Zilberschmidt also gave the Population and Immigration Authority a week to state its position on the suspension of the deportation process. If the Population Authority files no objection, the group will be spared deportation at least until the court rules on the merits on their appeal.

The Hebrew Israelite 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.

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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.

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.

“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.

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