Opinion

When Israel's Deportation Drive Reached My Son's School

Ralph Harel, 10 and Gena Antigo, 13, were arrested on their way to school in Israel's deportation drive and released on November 1, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

In recent months another stain has been added to the moral standards of government in Israel. Women who came to this country legally and whose only “sin” was that they became pregnant while caring for our elderly have been arrested, along with their children, as if they were dangerous criminals.

Members of my family and I have followed the case of one mother and her son with concern, people whom we know well and feel a deep connection to. Every time we hear about the arrest of a foreign worker and her son, we immediately make sure that everything is all right with our friends. That was also true last Thursday, when news began to surface of the arrest of three foreign-worker mothers and their children. We made sure right away that “our two” were okay.

But then came an email from our own older son’s school that the mother of another boy from school had been arrested. Then came word on social media in our neighborhood that the boy himself, who is in 6th grade, could be arrested at the end of the school day.

My heart skipped a beat. My frustration over my inability to do anything was burning inside of me and I felt like screaming. Many others felt the same way, so within a matter of hours of the email about the mother’s arrest, hundreds of children from our school and others schools in the city were standing in front of the school in protest. They were demanding, begging, crying, singing and shouting, beseeching that their friend not be deported from the country.

Israeli students protest against deporting migrant workers and their children, Tel Aviv, November 2019.
Meged Gozani

The woman’s son was taken to the home of a family so that he could be in a safe place as his mother remained behind bars. Several hours later came news of the possibility that the mother would be released on bail. Within minutes the full amount required had been raised, and the mother was released that evening. Mother and son could at least sleep under one roof that night, a small and fleeting consolation.

The teachers at our school held class discussions on the issue. Our children are aware of the situation. They attend the demonstrations and ask questions (although there is no answer to the question of whom it would bother if they were allowed to stay in the country).

The day’s events required that the issue be discussed directly. A friend suggested that I find out if our older son might be afraid that something similar would happen to him, that he would also be arrested and deported.

At that moment, I realized that she was right. Children don’t make a distinction between Filipinos, Indians and Israelis. They’re not familiar with the nuances of immigration policy and don’t know what happens to someone who entered Israel legally, who then got pregnant here and whose visa has expired. From the children’s standpoint, a friend is a friend.

And if he’s fun to play with, he’s an “awesome” friend. We’ve talked about that too.

At night there was another email from school with good news. The mother did get released on bail and the matter was being monitored and dealt with. At the same time, the school’s principal thanked the school community “for taking part and contributing to every extent possible to provide the necessary assistance.”

“A model community!” the email concluded.

The concept of community is highly valued in the current zeitgeist. It’s as if everyone recognizes the importance of local communities that share common values and geographic proximity. In a busy online world, communities are a source of comfort and relief. I was proud to be part of a local community which doesn’t believe that children belong behind bars and doesn’t think that friends need to be deported just because their mothers were born somewhere else.