Emil Shleymovich
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Kiev should ban Israeli ministers from visiting

What reason did officials give for turning this toddler away at Israel's border? The answer may surprise you
Elizaveta Avramchuk (courtesy of the family)
Elizaveta Avramchuk (courtesy of the family)

Dear Israeli Minister of the Interior Moshe Arbel! We would like to introduce you to Ukrainian citizen Yelizaveta Avramchuk. She was detained on June 8 at Ben Gurion Airport and deported 17 hours later from our God-chosen country because the inspectors suspected she would overstay her visa to earn money.

The official document addressed to Yelizaveta states the reason for denying her entry into Israel as follows: “For lying to [border officials] and suspicion of intent to settle and work in the country.” There’s just one detail that prevents us from pinning a medal on the border guards for their vigilance against this potential guest worker: Yelizaveta is 2 years old. She was born on August 24, 2020, Ukraine’s Independence Day.

This is a standard rejection form that many Ukrainians are handed – and it’s a standard automatic response of the bureaucrats at Ben-Gurion Airport. Elizaveta Avramchuk flew to Israel with her mother, Anastasia, and grandmother, Tatyana Shchedrinova. Her relatives have lived in Israel for a long time. Anastasia’s niece, who is an Israeli citizen, applied to the Ministry of the Interior in advance, stating that she would guarantee both the accommodation for her guests at her home (hence the lack of a hotel voucher) and their timely departure from Israel. However, the Ministry of the Interior replied that no guarantees were needed and that they could come.

It’s not easy for a Ukrainian family to come to Israel – because of the war, there are no direct flights. They had to travel via Warsaw, only to be stopped in the “sterile zone” of the airport, along with other “suspicious” people. This is what the girl’s grandmother wrote:

“Together with a dozen other Ukrainians, we slept on the floor between the benches, without food or the possibility to buy it, without documents or any explanation. We felt like hostages. We were interrogated with lights [pointed at our faces] like in the movies, our phones were taken away, and some of us even had our phones smashed. We were threatened with being sent to prison (and one of us was sent there for three days). No one has ever spoken to me in such a rude way.”

Soon after, the family was thrown out again. To return home, they had to buy expensive tickets back to Warsaw. Liza will celebrate her third birthday in Kremenchuk, a town in the rocket-fire zone. Just recall that the 1951 UN Refugee Convention explicitly prohibits “the return of persons to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” Israeli officials don’t care: because the refugees passed through a third country, they get a free pass.

This is just one of many similar cases of which Interior Minister Moshe Arbel is supposedly unaware. In response to the Ukrainian ambassador’s rebuke Arbel rejected allegations that Ukrainian citizens are humiliated when entering Israel.  “Israel’s immigration policy welcomes tourists from many countries around the world, including Ukraine,” Arbel said. “In cases where there is suspicion of illegal use of a tourist visa for work or residence, the Population and Migration Authority exercises its legal authority.”

This came after the Ukrainian president clearly hinted at the possibility of depriving ultra-Orthodox pilgrims of the opportunity to visit Uman on Rosh Hashanah.

The minister’s behavior was nothing new – before Moshe Arbel, his predecessor in the post, Ayelet Shaked, used the excuse of “not knowing” what was going on at the airport.

A minister manages not to know what the country has been talking about for at least a year and a half? Here are a few more cases, starting with the most recent: Tatyana Grizyuk, a student, was given a trip to Israel by her parents. Her father is a Ukraine’s Armed Forces volunteer and she is a student at Chernivtsi University. She traveled to Tel Aviv via Romania. According to her, the inspector at Ben-Gurion Airport said to her: “A young girl from a country at war can’t afford a holiday!” – She was taken to a waiting room and deported a short time later. The money her parents, who are not particularly rich, had spent on the tickets was thrown in the rubbish without explanation.

Zinaida Panchenko, who had flown to Tel Aviv from Chisinau via Istanbul, while waiting to be questioned, wasn’t feeling well. Nevertheless, the officer who conducted the interrogation (although the woman was no longer able to answer clearly), decided to deport Panchenko, took her to the waiting room – and there, after another five hours, Zinaida lost consciousness in the toilet, which she had entered before boarding the return flight.

“I regained consciousness on the ambulance stretcher with a huge bruise on my head and terrible pain in my heart and back. While still semi-conscious, I was taken to [Asaf ha-Rofeh] Hospital where, after an examination in the emergency room, it turned out that I had suffered a heart attack, as a result of which I lost consciousness and fell, hitting my head and back hard, breaking the lower vertebrae of my spine! I was admitted to the cardiology department and various tests were and are being carried out. I will now have to spend at least 3 months in a rigid corset with limited movement ability…

According to the cardiologists, I’m not allowed to fly for a week. I will know the exact result after the last check-up. Migration officials call the hospital regularly because they have to pick us up and take us to deportation when we are discharged.

In my situation, it is impossible to fly. I have a cousin in Israel with his family, he acts as a guarantor, and provides a letter on his behalf, his documents. In my situation, I need our passports and belongings returned to us, as we only had one bag with our documents, the rest was in our luggage… Not to mention my 9-year-old daughter, who found me unconscious in the toilet and has been with me all this time. I also have a guarantor in Israel, a 110 square-meter flat in Kyiv, a car, and a job, my daughter is doing very well at school and I have ordered textbooks for the new school year. I can provide all these documents if I am given the opportunity,” says Zinaida.

More than once border guards have been caught red-handed for such behavior. Recently, the High Court of Justice banned them from tampering with the phones of arrivals without a court order – but according to reports reaching the editorial office of “Detaly”, this court order is not being enforced and mobile phones are still sometimes “examined” in search of damaging information.

The reason why border guards are so “brutal” is that it is extremely difficult to catch and deport an illegal immigrant who has actually entered the country to earn money. And in the case of Ukrainian citizens, it is impossible because the court has banned their deportation until the war is over. So they try not to let them in at all. Israeli lawyers are trying to help Ukrainians free of charge, and NGOs are raising money for bail, Yet in this fight against the state machine, the forces are too unequal. But even if the legitimacy of the refusals is at least debatable, only rudeness can explain why normal conditions for those awaiting trial or deportation are not created, and why airport workers allow themselves to treat them in this way.

The answer is simple: because they can. Officials of the Ministry of Interior, which has been controlled for many years by the religious Shas party, are allowed to treat all CIS nationals in this way. During all these years, not a single boor has been prosecuted or disciplined. The procedure for refusing entry is non-transparent, suspicions do not need to be proven, and any trifle (for example, not having a return ticket) can become a reason for refusal. And the deceptive reply of the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs only shows that the Israeli authorities are not going to change anything for the better.

Under such circumstances, Kyiv should be tough and officially ban Israeli ministers – if not Netanyahu himself at this stage, at least Minister of Foreign Affairs Eli Cohen and Arbel – from visiting Ukraine in retaliation for their unfriendly attitude. And also – to cancel the visa-free regime with Israel, and not to use this threat merely as a bargaining chip in the next telephone conversation with Eli Cohen. Only a strong public spanking can restore a sense of reality to top Israeli officials. This, and only this, can change the Israeli government’s attitude towards the citizens of Ukraine for the better.

About the Author
Born in 1971 in Baku (Azerbaijan). Immigrated to Israel in 2001. Emil was a member of the Israeli editorial staff of RTVI (Russian TV International), then worked at the Public Broadcasting Authority. Currently, he is the editor-in-chief of the portal
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