They Won an Oscar, but Tel Aviv School Pupils Still Face Deportation

Bialik-Rogozin school, whose student body comprises refugees and immigrants to Israel, was the subject of Academy Award-winning documentary 'Strangers No More.'

Sometimes disgrace can actually lead to honor. Don't say this in Los Angeles, but between us, in Tel Aviv, we can tell the truth: If the fate of Mohammed and Johannes and Esther had depended on the government and the interior minister, they wouldn't be here anymore. Their little school experience would have ended a long time ago.

They are still here, but only because various aid organizations refused to hold their peace for the children's sake. Because the Tel Aviv municipality accepted them with open arms. Because some cabinet ministers managed to wake up in time and object. And above all, because the Bialik-Rogozin school itself took the children into its embrace and refused to let them be taken away.

Bialik-Rogozin school - David Bachar
David Bachar

But sometimes, even that didn't help, and the following morning there were unneeded desks in class.

On Monday the school celebrated, both the teachers and the children, as if they had been given wings of hope. Tuesday, however, is another day, and the staff of the detention facility at Ben-Gurion International Airport are preparing to receive the first families. They will arrive on Wednesday. This is the facility that was also designed for children.

With our own eyes, we saw the beds of various sizes, the brand-new toys straight from the store, the cute dolls in whose company the tots will while away the time until they board their flights out of the country. It's not an Israeli invention to create a setting that looks inviting, a distraction from the cruelty and suffering.

And then, all of a sudden, came the good news. But it's not clear how we ended up with the Oscar all of a sudden, just as it's not clear whether these children will still be in school next year, or whether they will be going underground to escape the immigration police.

President Shimon Peres rushed to call the principal of the Bialik-Rogozin School, Karen Tal, to extend congratulations and share in the honor. This story, he said, is "a great human story. You have brought unexpected joy to Israel."

It really is "unexpected," after those long, tormenting years of constant fear: Mom and Dad without refugee status, without work permits, wanted by the authorities and facing poverty and uncertainty. Instead of his phone call to the school principal, Peres should have called Interior Minister Eli Yishai to tell him what he thinks of him and his plans for the detention facility.

"Strangers No More" is a film with an unknown ending. We have to write the ending ourselves. Will we hold onto Uncle Oscar and let him lead us to a happy ending, or will we smash him on the way back to an unhappy ending?