A 5-year-old Israeli girl is to be deported to Ethiopia with her mother, whose request for legal residency in Israel was denied.
The woman, an Ethiopian citizen, told authorities her former husband, an Israeli citizen whom she divorced, had been violent. The Family Affairs Court granted her custody of the child and the two are now living in a battered women’s shelter.
Two weeks ago the Jerusalem District Court ruled that the woman is not entitled to legal status in Israel and must go back to Ethiopia with her daughter.
District Judge David Mintz, who has recently been appointed to the Supreme Court, ruled that the fact that the girl is Israeli and the woman suffered violence at the hands of her husband does not grant her legal status in Israel.
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He said the child has not begun school and therefore has not yet become integrated into Israeli society. “It cannot be said that disconnecting her [from Israel] will create special hardship that could constitute a humanitarian reason,” said Mintz, adding that the mother’s main affinity is to Ethiopia, and therefore there is no reason they should not be deported.
“How will I go back to Ethiopia? This is an Israeli child,” the mother told Haaretz.
The woman has been in Israel for seven years. A few months after her arrival she began the process of arranging for residency status based on her marriage to an Israeli. However, four years ago, she moved out of the house she had shared with her husband due to his violence toward her and threats to their daughter. She and the child have been living in a battered women’s shelter for about a year.
Following the woman's separation from her husband, the Population, Immigration and Border Authority stopped handling her application for residency. The woman applied to a special inter-ministerial committee that deals with exceptions to residency regulations on humanitarian grounds. She based her case on the fact that she was the mother of an Israeli child and her husband had been violent toward her. Two years ago, Amnon Ben-Ami, then-head of the immigration authority, took the recommendation of the committee to deny the woman residency status.
Four months ago, the woman turned to an appeals tribunal in Jerusalem that deals with immigration and residency, which also denied her request and ordered her to leave the country within six weeks. “At such a young age the child can easily integrate into the cultural and social tapestry of her mother’s country of origin,” tribunal head Menahem Pashitinzky wrote in his ruling.
The woman then appealed to the Jerusalem District Court. Liat Steinberg, her attorney, told the court that it is in the child's best interest to remain in Israel with her mother. She noted that the 5-year-old was born in Israel, speaks Hebrew and has never been to any other country. She told the court that deporting the girl to a developing nation goes against Israel’s obligation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Moreover, Steinberg said, even the procedures of the immigration authority state that special consideration should be applied when a child is in the custody of a non-citizen who suffered violence from the child’s citizen parent. The woman should not be punished for being courageous enough to leave the home she shared with her violent husband, Steinberg said.
Population, Immigration and Border Authority, represented by attorney Gila Craimer of the Jerusalem district attorney’s office, stated that the decision was reasonable and the daughter's Israeli citizenship did not mean the mother deserves legal residency status. Nor did the mother show proof of any difficulty resulting from a minor who is an Israeli citizen moving with her to her home country and living there with her family, Craimer told the court, adding that the mother hardly speaks Hebrew and has no meaningful connection with anyone in Israel except her daughter.
The woman had informed the court that she is currently in a relationship with an Israeli who is the father of her second child, whom she gave birth to a month ago. The boy is also an Israeli citizen. However, because the woman has not yet asked to regularize her status based on the new relationship, the judge ruled that it could not be taken into consideration by the court.
Judge Mintz said that granting residency to a non-citizen married to an Israeli was to preserve the family unit and noted that the consideration is irrelevant in this case due to the divorce of the child's parents. He also said that the girl's father does not have a close relationship with her and the mother is using their daughter only to obtain Israeli residency.
The father also requested that his daughter leave Israel with her mother and said that she can return when she turns 18 if she wishes to do so.
The court ruled that the argument that the father is obliged to pay child support also does not apply because it can be enforced even when the mother returns to Ethiopia.
Steinberg said she was considering petitioning the High Court of Justice, citing a recent ruling by that court criticizing the actions of the committee for humanitarian exceptions.