Non-Israeli Battered Wives Face Deportation and Custody Battles

MK Adi Kol is trying to resolve the legal status of spouses of Israeli citizens who wish to bring up their children in Israel despite domestic instability.

The Interior Ministry has decided to postpone for a year the deportation of “Y,” a 30-year-old Ukrainian citizen who was a victim of battering by her husband. The decision was made so as to allow time to look into the suitability of leaving their infant son in Israel with his father. The father expedited the order for the woman’s expulsion by claiming that she had only married him in order to obtain Israeli citizenship. At the same time, he obtained a court order prohibiting their 3-year-old son from leaving Israel. In the absence of any legal status, “Y” cannot find work or receive health or welfare benefits. If she leaves for Ukraine she will have to part from her son.

Last December, the Interior Ministry instructed the woman to leave Israel within 30 days without her son, but this decision was not enforced. Following intervention by the Knesset Public Petitions Committee, another meeting was held last week by an interministerial committee that deals with the granting of legal status based on humanitarian considerations. The committee decided to suspend the expulsion order for now. “In light of the specific and exceptional circumstances of this case, and despite the fact that the applicant does meet the procedural criteria, I’ve decided to accept the committee’s recommendations and grant her temporary residence for one year, during which the couple’s relations with their common son will be examined,” wrote Amnon Ben-Ami, director of the Population and Immigration Authority. “Her status will be evaluated at the end of the year, based on the relevant circumstances related to their son at that time”.

MK Adi Kol (Yesh Atid), who spearheaded the discussions around this issue, is still bothered by the decision. “I welcome the committee’s decision regarding the woman”, she said. “However, conditioning her continued residence in Israel on the relations between her violent husband and their child raises serious concerns that she will ultimately be separated from her child and expelled on her own.”

“Y”’s case is not unique, but one of many. Welfare services know of 52 women without legal status who were subjected to spousal violence but became their hostages since they had not yet obtained formal residence permits. In one of these cases, the authorities deported an American woman who was obliged to leave her son behind. The Knesset’s Public Petitions Committee, headed by Kol, started to look into this phenomenon in an attempt to change procedures so that mothers who are married to Israeli citizens are allowed to continue living here alongside their children.

This phenomenon is particularly rampant among “brides” who were married to violent Israeli men who imported them from Eastern Europe, Africa or the Far East. In dozens of these cases, the husbands registered cautionary notes at the Interior Ministry, stating that they are not certain that the women married them out of love but rather out of interest in obtaining Israeli citizenship. This makes it harder for the women to leave them, out of fear that they will lose any legal status they have here. The ministry now employs a step-by-step procedure for granting the mothers a legal status. This allows officials to monitor these women and their husbands over time, in order to examine the “sincerity of their relationship” before granting the women legal status in Israel.

Haifa District Court Judge Ron Shapiro criticized this procedure in a ruling he handed down last July. “This reality is often exploited by violent spouses, who take advantage of the women’s dependence on their good will in order to retain their residence status in Israel”, he wrote. “I find it necessary to point out this phenomenon, according to which the Interior Ministry’s policy becomes an instrument in the hands of violent husbands who impose their wishes on their wives, who depend on them in order to remain here. This was not the reason the respondent [the ministry] obtained the authority to carry out this monitoring procedure.”

Kol has decided to try to change this entire procedure. According to a proposal she submitted to Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, marrying an Israeli citizen and having a child with him will annul the implementation of this procedure and allow the woman to appeal directly to a humanitarian committee in order to obtain legal status. In addition, from the outset of the process, the woman will be entitled to a work permit and to enjoy full social benefits.

“Y”’s story is typical. She met her husband in Ukraine five years ago. “He traveled a lot between Israel and Ukraine and the city of Uman. We met at a café,” she recounted. “Only after we were married and came here did I understand that he was a different person than the one I met there.”

“Y” escaped on two occasions, going to a battered women’s shelter after being severely beaten by her husband. People at the shelter said that the violence she suffered was harsh. “The man beat and slapped her, abusing her physically and mentally. He dragged her naked from the bathroom, choking her with the shower curtain. He threw things at her and threatened to throw their child, who was five months old at the time, out of the window,” one acquaintance said.

“Y” tried to leave her husband on several occasions, but each time he convinced her to return. With the help of the shelter she completed the legal process of divorcing him, but was persuaded to return and live with him after he promised that he had changed. “I returned due to family pressure,” she says. “They told me that it’s no light matter. I was married and one doesn’t run away like that. I returned to him and started attending a Hebrew ulpan. The more I understood him the more I realized that there was nothing to hope for.”

The Interior Ministry rejected her request for residence, first for leaving her husband, later for not meeting the official procedural requirements that grant battered women legal status. In a formal letter, she was required to leave Israel within 30 days without her son. “When she asked what would happen to their two-and-a-half-year-old son, the Interior Ministry official looked at her and said that she could leave him with her husband, since according to him the two have a good connection,” say people at the shelter.

“I’m stuck in mid-air. The boy is an Israeli citizen and I’m not,” she told Haaretz. She currently lives in Israel, raising her boy without a work permit, health benefits or assistance from the housing or welfare ministries.