Late last night, a 4-year-old girl named Ofek and her mother, Nancy, were taken off a plane at Ben-Gurion airport just as it was getting ready to take off for the Philippines. The two were not tourists planning a vacation to the Far East, but rather a family set to be deported from Israel. An eleventh hour legal stay allowed them to get off the plane and live — at least a bit longer — in Israel.
Her mother entered Israel on a legal work permit, and Ofek was born in Israel. The little girl’s first language is Hebrew, and she has never set foot in the country of her mother’s birth. However, because she has not yet finished kindergarten in the Israeli school system (the 4-year-old is set to begin pre-kindergarten this fall), she does not have the right to stay in Israel, according to Interior Ministry policies.
The non-profit organization Israeli Children acted on behalf of Ofek and was able to get a court in Tel Aviv to issue the temporary stay. Sarah Netanyahu, the wife of Israel’s prime minister, also intervened in Ofek’s case. She wrote a letter to Interior Minister Eli Yishai asking him not to deport little Ofek, warning him that tearing her away from the only life she has known could cause her serious psychological trauma.
“It is not fitting for a 4-year-old girl, who was born in Israel and who has known only this as her home her whole life, to be held in custody [in a detention facility at Ben-Gurion Airport] facing deportation,” Netanyahu wrote. She went on to express the hope that the Interior Ministry would decide not to deport any child who is being educated in the Israeli school system, and that Ofek will be allowed to begin the school year back at her neighborhood school in September.
Yishai thanked the prime minister’s wife for her concern and thoughts on the issue. At the same time, however representatives of the Interior Ministry have reiterated in the Israeli press that the government has issued directives to begin deportation proceedings against any child of foreign workers who did not complete kindergarten in 2010, and therefore cannot be considered to have officially been part of the Israeli school system.