I’ve been living in a state of insecurity for years. The words “state” and “security” are very commonplace in Israel. But I’m not referring to the grandiose matters of international relations, the existential threat about which I am writing is my own personal one.
To give a bit of background, I arrived in Israel eight years ago by virtue of the fact that I was married to an Israeli and we were relocating with my two year old daughter from London to Tel Aviv. My wife and I separated after about six months of being in Israel and so began a period of uncertainty and insecurity that lasts until this day.
Neither my wife or I anticipated that our separation would prompt Misrad Hapnim (the Israeli Interior Ministry) to issue me with a 60 day deportation order. The fact I had a young child in the country meant nothing, the fact I wasn’t Jewish meant everything.
I spent every drop of energy I had to find a way to be allowed to remain in Israel and play an active role in my daughter’s upbringing. I created a 40 page dossier complete with testimonies from myself, my family, my wife, friends, nursery teachers and anyone else who was connected to mine and my daughter’s life in Israel. I sent this dossier far and wide in the hope that it would arrive on the desk of someone who might be able to help get my deportation order retracted.
I sent copies to the Prime Minister (at that time Ehud Olmert), his wife, MKs, the media, human rights organizations and anyone else I thought might be able to help. In the meanwhile I had to work for cash as I had no legal right to be in the country. This was a bizarre paradox as I had one Israeli court confirming the amount of mezanot (alimony) I needed to pay and the interior ministry trying to deport me and definitely not allowing me to work so that I could afford to pay my dues.
My dossier attracted the attention of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). I met with their representative, who was a Professor of Law at Tel Aviv University, and explained my situation. He offered two final year law students to work on my case as part of their degree. They began to prepare a case to be submitted to the Supreme Court. Whether coincidence or not, shortly after beginning to prepare my appeal, my dossier made it to Meir Shitrit (then Minister of the Interior) and to my great relief and eternal gratitude he used his ministerial discretion to grant me a one year residency visa with permission to work unrestricted. That was seven years ago.
The visa entitled me to live and work in Israel, for a year, but did not allow me to vote or to possess a credit card, and could be rescinded or not renewed at any time. For the first few years I was simply happy to be able to stay in Israel, having faced down a deportation order, but as the years have passed I have become more conscious of the impact my temporary status has had on many other aspects of my life.
Each year I have to attend a meeting with Misrad Hapnim in Tel Aviv to get my visa renewed. This is a very depressing office flooded with African refugees trying to get some formal recognition from the Israeli government and Philippinos who always seem well organized. I have always found it perplexing that the Misrad Hapnim visa department would only have explanatory notices on the wall in Hebrew and Arabic and has many officers who do not speak English. Is this possibly a cynical attempt to make any progress on visa issues as difficult as possible?
The meeting follows a predictable pattern. The officer looks at me with disinterested eyes which inevitably widen when she types my ID number into her computer and she sees I am not a straightforward case. My request for a year extension is then sent to the head office in Jerusalem and a decision usually takes a month. I then have to return to the Tel Aviv office and collect the new visa valid for another 12 months, written on the visa are the words “Generally Temporary” which pretty much sums it up. I don’t want to be “generally temporary” anymore!
Living on one year visas has significantly impacted on my personal life. Having a temporary status in one aspect of life, especially where you live, can cause a “temporary” attitude towards everything else. I have written previously about the various jobs I have had in Israel but since my visa issues began I have put any hopes of developing a career on hold. Equally I would like to set down roots in Tel Aviv and ultimately aim to buy an apartment in the city. But this seems like a far off dream given that I have no guarantee I will be allowed to stay from one year to the next. I would also like to marry and have more children but this is made far more difficult by the lack of certainty that I will be able to remain in Israel.
The last time I collected my visa from Misrad Hapnim I asked the officer what I needed to do to apply for Israeli citizenship. She laughed in my face, and told me not to bother as I had no hope it would be granted. This disheartened me until now but I have decided to be more pro-active and have written to Misrad Hapnim directly to set out my case and ask for assistance to at least make the application. Wish me luck!
I have to search hard to find a silver lining to my visa situation but there is one. Living with uncertainty has helped me to appreciate all the good things I have in Israel, an amazing daughter, fantastic friends and the chance to live in an incredible country. I hope I will achieve my dream and become a citizen.