Opinion |

A 13-year-old Existential Danger to Israel

If the country is deporting teenage asylum seekers into oblivion, why be surprised if it does the same to a dark-skinned Colombian girl?

Orly Vilnai
Orly Vilnai
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Illustration: A girl at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport.
Illustration: A girl at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Orly Vilnai
Orly Vilnai

Here’s a story that will certainly make headlines and spark a diplomatic incident. A 13-year-old Israeli girl flew to visit her relatives abroad. As is usual when children fly alone, she was accompanied by a flight attendant. When she landed in the middle of the night, tired and confused, naturally she was taken for questioning by the border authorities.

Meanwhile, her aunt and uncle were waiting at the airport. The hours went by and they were out of their minds with worry. At a certain point they approached the airport authorities, who informed them that the girl had been taken for questioning.

For her to be allowed out, the couple would have to post a bond. They couldn’t do this at the airport, but at a courthouse far away. The couple rushed to do as instructed and returned to the airport as quickly as possible, where they were told that the child had been sent back to Israel, and not just by any flight. Her journey included a 24-hour layover in Madrid – for a 13-year-old girl flying alone.

Amazing story, eh? So why haven’t you heard about it? Because it’s the other way around. The girl isn’t Israeli, she’s Colombian, and the country that deported her is Israel, which is already a famous serial deporter. And when Israel deports people, anything goes.

Here’s the real story. Diana Ben-Harush is a Colombian who has been married for a few years to an Israeli named Roni Ben-Harush. They recently had a baby. Diana, who has full Israeli citizenship, invited her brother’s daughter to visit her during the summer vacation in Colombia. The girl flew for two days accompanied by a flight attendant. When she got off the plane she was taken to be questioned, and no one informed her awaiting aunt and uncle.

The questioning was long and exhausting, the girl said; the investigators tried to get her to say that the woman who was waiting for her was her biological mother, not her aunt. The girl said that at some point she realized that if she “admitted” this, she would be released, so she lied and said the woman was her mother. The aunt and uncle were sent to Tel Aviv to post the bond, and the border personnel put her on a flight to Madrid.

The Interior Ministry report to the family stated that the girl didn’t have a return ticket to Colombia. The family swore that she did and they could prove it. It seems the paranoia that Israel has developed toward “foreigners,” especially those whose skin is darker, has reached the point that even isolating and frightening a 13-year-old into a state of trauma, and then deporting her, seems legitimate to the authorities.

Mistakes do happen, after all, so the girl’s aunt and uncle applied to the Interior Ministry to let the girl visit Israel so as to correct the harsh experience. They submitted all the required forms as well as a letter in which they pledged to post a bond and make sure the girl left Israel on the required date. The application was submitted in early December and no response has yet arrived. The girl’s vacation is almost over, but the Interior Ministry clerk hinted to the couple that there was no chance the application would be approved.

I also checked with the Interior Ministry as to why no response had been forthcoming, and mainly why a 13-year-old tourist from Colombia was taken for interrogation and deported. What threat was she to Israel? For a long time now I’ve been nudging the ministry’s spokesman’s office but have received no response. Neither has Meretz MK Michal Rozin, who also approached the Interior Ministry on the matter.

Maybe we should give the Interior Ministry the benefit of the doubt. Maybe we don’t know all the details and there’s some significant issue here. But the ministry isn’t saying that; it’s simply ignoring all queries.

So what happened here? It’s not like they ever loved foreigners in Israel, but it seems we’ve reached the point of no return when it comes to bullying, hatred and paranoia.

A country that doesn’t grant a permit to a 14-year-old refugee who crossed the desert without his family and arrived from Eritrea alone and frightened is a deranged country. It’s a country where now that the boy is 18, it wants to send him into oblivion. It’s a country that has lost its sanity.

If heartlessness has reached such heights, it’s not surprising that children who come to visit their relatives are expelled – not before they’re frightened to death in an interrogation room as if they were criminals.

Loss of proportion, loss of shame, loss of compassion. After all, the aunt and uncle could have been located and brought into the interrogation room so the girl wouldn’t be alone. Why couldn’t the authorities have waited until the bond was deposited?

All this has become a matter of course. The only comfort is the ever-growing effort against the great expulsion that at least shows some vestige of humanity here.

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