MK Miri Regev declared in the beginning of the Passover holiday that all who entered the country without prior authorization, including Sudanese and Eritreans, should prepare to “go home”.
The word “home” is used quite a lot by Israeli politicians who promote the deportation of asylum seekers, ignoring their asylum claims.
Last summer, the migration authorities and the government spokesperson’s office coined the title “Operation Going Home,” to describe the policy of collectively deporting around a thousand South Sudanese.
In the following paragraphs, I will follow the story of one family deported last summer from Israel. We will call them the Imanuel family. The family consisted of a father, a mother, and their two daughters, Sunday and Sara.
Three years earlier, the young daughter, Sunday, had trouble reading while studying at the Bialik-Rozen school, made famous from the Oscar-winning documentary. A local Tel Aviv resident, Rami, volunteered to help her learn how to read. She was ten at the time.
“We started sitting down once a week for an hour or two at the library,” describes Rami.
“She used to make beautiful paintings which were unique in the amount of details. Layers and layers and layers of details….All the paintings began with flowers and little humorous motifs – a man is watering the flower and the bee drinks the water and the bird tries to chase the bee away…At some point, when the painting was already very saturated, corpses and skeletons started to pile up, or you would have a car running over a guy or someone hanging himself in prison. Her paintings always started very humorously and ended up with horror.
“This is how I first came to learn something about her.”
“We started working on stories and painting. She would tell the story, and make the painting, and I would write it down, narrating the story. After a while she told me her life experiences. But not about the family.”
Below are Sunday’s drawings, followed by the rest of her story:
Sunday’s older sister, Sara, was fourteen. One day she approached Rami and told him her father had beaten up Sunday severely. He had also broken some object on Sara’s head. Once he kicked Sara in the stomach severely, and she was coughing up blood the whole night. “This was not under the category of what could be termed ‘different cultural approach to education,’ explains Rami. “This was more like Clockwise Orange.”
Rami and other volunteers would always send the information to social services at the Ministry of Welfare. One time the girls testified, the father was arrested and nothing was done. The girls never dared testifying again, because they did not believe the police would help, and their testifying put them at risk.
One time Sunday had severe bruises on her body and a wound in her eye. The social services told Rami he could go to the police, but otherwise they could not look at her. As the police was not an option for them, because of the repercussions of testifying, they did nothing.
Aid organizations went to the High Court of Justice to petition against the social services. Sunday’s case was used as one of the exemplary cases in the petition.
One week after the deportation of South Sudanese began, but before Sunday and her family were deported, there was a severe attack from the father. The girls then said they were willing to cooperate with the police, despite the risks.
They went to the social services who did not believe them. As a result, Sunday tried to commit suicide and she was taken to the hospital. The social services refused to take any testimonies or begin the process for investigating their claims. Instead, the social services stated that, if there was any additional attempt to stop the deportation of the family, the girls would be taken out of their family to prevent any contact with the volunteers and humanitarian organizations, and would be united with their parents on board the plain to South Sudan.
A recent Associated Press report cites South Sudan as one of the top countries with child marriages, with half of all girls marrying. Before deportation, Sara, now 15 years of age, was told by her father that, once in South Sudan, she would be married. He told her that, if no one else would marry her, he would marry her himself.
Because social services refused to accept Sara’s and Sunday’s testimonies and because they were in the care of their parents, they could not independently apply for humanitarian protection. At some stage, desperate for protection, Sara asked Rami to contact the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) headquarters in Tel Aviv and to petition for protection on grounds of domestic violence. Rami contacted the UNHCR, but he was told that the only authority they could apply to was the social services themselves. In other words, if the girls were to take the risk, leave home, and knock at the UNHCR door and ask for protection, they would be handed right to the hands of their family. Before their deportation, Rami and another volunteer, who had worked with Sara closely for over three years, provided the girls with cell phones so that they could keep in touch with them after deportation.
Once in Juba, South Sudan, the girls fell victim to brutal attacks by the father, and Sara was once locked all night out of her house, sleeping in the streets of Juba; Juba after dusk is one of the more dangerous places in the world, and that is even more true for a young girl, on her own.
A few months after the deportation, an Israeli advocate, Lea Miler Forshtadt, initiated a project intended to bring the kids deported from Israel to South Sudan back to school. It is worthwhile pointing out that as of now, of the 500 children who were deported from Israel last summer, less than 10 have been going back to school in South Sudan. A group of Israeli volunteers initiated a fundraising campaign, and together, they found donors sufficient to cover the school fees and expenses for 37 deportee children to study in a boarding school in Kampala, Uganda. Getting Sunday and Sara into the project was among the first priorities. For anybody knowing the family’s background it was clear that this was nothing less than a life saving mission.
Presently, the daughters are happy studying in a boarding school in Uganda, but have no money to support themselves during the school break. Unless sufficient money is raised from private donors, they will need to live on the streets of Kampala.
In general, when social services in Israel does not do their job, there is a judicial mechanism for holding social services accountable. Normally, it does not matter what the nationality or ethnicity of the victim is. It does matter what the nationality is, however, when entire national groups are mass-deported, all at once, without any inspection of individual cases.
Sunday and Sara do not know where home is but they have a far better understanding of what “home” is than Miri Regev. When declaring that all migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees should prepare to go home, MK Regev is placing all members of a national group in one camp, both literally and figuratively. Her statements emphasize the quick, rushed, blind approach of deportation that Israel has taken over the last five years. Such a quick approach does not only mean there is insufficient time to inspect each case. It also means there is an incentive for civil servants to overlook cases of domestic violence and abuse, and an incentive for abusive parents to return home quickly. Neither civil servants nor parents are held accountable, and Sunday and other children’s lives are at risk in their own homes.
The story of freedom did not end with the end of the Haggada. It took thousands of years for the Jewish people, and humanity in general, to develop the type of social services that protects children from domestic violence. Children can be removed from their homes in their own homeland. This is because being in “our homeland” is not, in itself, sufficient to ensure safety.
Sunday and Sara’s story also does not end after deportation. Social accountability can still be strengthened, by strengthening the victim’s access to education and, at the very minimal, access to a roof over their head outside of abusive homes.
It is still possible to donate to help Sunday, Sara and the rest of the children who are already in Uganda, so that they can continue their studies safely.
In addition, there are still hundreds of children deported from Israel who have no access to schooling. If anyone who would like to help new deportee children join the program, at an annual cost is $950, please contact the organizers directly:
Lea Forshtat: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Rami Gudovitch: email@example.com