John and Lance are in the 7th grade at Tel Aviv’s Gymnasia Herzliya school. Both were born in Israel and grew up in south Tel Aviv, and their only language is Hebrew.
All of their friends are Israelis. They are members of the Israeli scouts are and excellent basketball players. Their lives and experiences are entirely rooted in Israel. And their future is also here.
When they graduate from high school, they want to serve in the army. They are the flesh of our flesh. They have no other country.
John’s mother arrived in Israel 20 years ago from the Philippines, and Lance’s mother 14 years ago. Both mothers entered the country legally to care for elderly Israelis. In the period of a generation that they have lived among us, caring for our elderly, their sons were born.
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Because they dared to give birth in Israel, their residence visas were not renewed. A few months ago, the women were detained by the immigration police while waiting for a bus. When it was found that their visas had long expired, they were offered a choice: immediate arrest for themselves and their children or they could sign a document “consenting” to leave the country.
Under such coercion, the mothers' signature was secured on a commitment to leave Israel by July 15th this year, and if they fail to comply, they are to be be arrested and expelled immediately with their children. Their cases are part of a wave of expulsions of about 100 Philippine workers and their children that is planned by the government this summer.
There are situations in which evil becomes very concrete. When they seek to take your dear Israeli friend from you by force – a friend who grew up with you, who only speaks Hebrew – and expel him, that faceless monster shows its teeth. And so, Lance’s and John’s teachers and friends enlisted in the fight against this injustice.
A few days ago, the students and teachers at Gymnasia Herzliya’s junior high staged a protest march against the expulsions. As I write this, I tremble with emotion, because it is the very meaning of humanity and education to turn the concept “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” from a slogan into action. Hillel the Elder would have been proud of them, as Janusz Korczak would have.
Many empty words are wasted on the question of what it means to be a Jew. Maybe we should start by being human beings. Being human means joining the struggle against the students’ expulsion led by the principal of the Gymnasia, Ze’ev Dagani, and the head teacher for the 7th grade, Daniel Levy, along with their wonderful students.
There is terrible injustice in the expulsion of these students. It is without justification other than for nationalistic and xenophobic reasons. The last civics class at the Gymnasia was devoted to the expulsion issue. All of a sudden, abstract questions of human rights have become concrete: ensuring that John and Lance come back to school for the 8th grade, that they not take our good friends away from us.
The Gynmasia Herzliya students cannot be left on their own. If they are successful in this fight, we have hope. If they don’t receive our support and fail in their efforts, the road to the abyss lies ahead.
The expulsion will not end there. On the day the inspectors come to expel the children and their mothers, thousands of good citizens who remember what it is to be human and also what it is to be Jews, need to show up.
Rafi Peretz, our new education minister, declared upon taking office that he intends to organize ceremonies at the Western Wall where every Israeli student receives a Bible. But what are these books worth if we have erased their essence?
My grandfather’s Bible states “and thou shalt love [the stranger] as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” When will we just once hear about justice, kindness and mercy from the members of Peretz’s Habayit Hayehudi party?
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