Israel’s plan to deport the children of foreign workers is yet another reminder of the state’s ongoing inhumanity
Michelle is the 14-year-old daughter of undocumented migrant labourers from the Philippines. In fluent Hebrew, she sums up the inhumanity of Israel’s plans to deport the children of foreign workers. “It’s like they’re taking sheep and packing them,” she says.
While Michelle will probably be naturalised, Israel is set to expel scores of minors, along with their families, to their parents’ country of origin. The criteria that determine who will get residency are rigid and arbitrary. Because of tight age restrictions and an even smaller window to get one’s paperwork turned in (parents will have just three weeks to submit documents that might be impossible to obtain) many children will be left out in the cold.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday night to rally against the deportations. The scene was heart rending. Little girls sat on a ledge, swinging their feet, holding a poster that read: “Don’t deport us.” A young boy gripped a sign with the message: “We are all Israeli children.”
Noa Kaufman, an activist with Israeli Children, a grassroots movement founded specifically to advocate for the kids facing deportation, said that all must be allowed to stay. She remarked that the expulsion would not only damage the families of migrant workers, it would be harmful to Israel, as well, making the country “so white and so ugly”.
It’s a thinly veiled accusation of ethnic cleansing – something activists have shied away from during the year-long battle over the issue.
The struggle began last summer when Israel first announced its plans to deport 1,200 Israeli-born children – a number that will probably be reduced by the recommendations of a governmental committee. The move, part of a broader crackdown on Israel’s approximately 250,000 undocumented migrant labourers, will be a reversal of the state’s long-held policy against deporting minors. The public was outraged. Massive protests delayed the expulsion until the end of the school year.
While the children were born to non-Jewish parents, they are unequivocally Israeli. They go to local schools, speak fluent Hebrew and celebrate both national and religious holidays. Their homes often include Shabbat candles, hanukiyot, and kippot, as parents accommodate their assimilated children. Immersed in the culture, the kids profess a love for Israel, a country they embrace as their own.
But Israel, a state of immigrants that has no immigration law besides the Jewish right of return, would prefer to expel them.
Israel began bringing foreign workers into the country in the late 1980s, during the first intifada, to replace Palestinian day labourers. Now the state says it wants to reduce its dependency on migrant labourers. But in 2009 – the same year that the government announced its intention to deport the children – the state issued a record number of visas for more to come.
Perhaps interior minister Eli Yishai was being more honest about the government’s motives when, speaking to the Israeli daily Haaretz, he called the 1,200 children a “demographic threat … liable to damage the state’s Jewish identity”. And Yishai showed his true colours when he remarked that migrant workers bring “a profusion of diseases” to Israel.
State policies are similarly racist, revealing a blatant disregard for foreign workers’ humanity. Migrant labourers who fall in love and marry can be stripped of their legal status. Women who bear children must choose between keeping their baby or their visa. If a mother won’t ship her newborn child home, she and her child become “illegal” and, now, subject to deportation.
The policies might be shocking but they aren’t surprising. What can be expected of a state that builds settlements at the expense of peace? What can be expected of a government that subjects 1.5m Gazans to collective punishment?
The connection between the plight of the children and the Palestinian struggle was apparent on Saturday night. Some of the Israeli demonstrators were wearing T-shirts reading: “Free Sheikh Jarrah“. Chants common to protests against the separation barrier were used, substituting girosh (deportation) for kibush (occupation).
The scene was a reminder that a state “so white and so ugly” was established long ago – the children are just the latest victims.
Source: The Guardian.co.uk
Mya Guarnieri is a Tel Aviv-based journalist and writer. A regular contributor to Al Jazeera English, her work has also appeared in The National (Abu Dubai), The Jerusalem Post, The Huffington Post and many other international publications. She is currently working on a book about migrant workers and national identity