Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Adieu... to you and you and you

The Bialik-Rogozin school in south Tel Aviv is one of the most unusual educational institutions in the country.

For one thing, the school includes a kindergarten, primary school and high school under one roof and one management.

For another, it has a unique demographic composition. Thirty-two percent of its students are the children of foreign workers, 19% are children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and 7% are Israeli Arabs.

Another peculiarity, to say the least, is that Bialik-Rogozin must be the only school in Israel that stands to lose about 30% of its student body before the end of the school year.

In accordance with a government decision passed on June 26, all children of foreign workers and their families will be deported from Israel as of March 31, 2006 unless they meet each of the following criteria:

• The child was born in Israel, is at least 10 years old and has lived here continuously.

• His parents entered Israel legally with a visa and permit according to the Entry to Israel Law before the child was born.

• The child is studying in an Israeli school or graduated from one, speaks Hebrew and his deportation would involve "cultural exile" to a country to which he has no cultural connection.

In its June decision, the government endorsed a proposal originally approved by the Interministerial Committee for Population Registration headed by then-interior minister Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor).

Paz-Pines's proposal was a more draconian version of the one made by his predecessor, Avraham Poraz (Shinui), two years earlier.

According to Poraz, children of foreign workers who had lived in Israel for at least 10 years and who were in high school or who were high school graduates would receive permanent residency status. Children who had lived in Israel for at least five years and were in the 11th or 12th grade would be eligible for temporary status if a special committee concluded that they had a strong connection to Israel.

Poraz did not make residential status for the children of foreign workers and their immediate families conditional on the birth of the child in Israel or whether their parents originally entered the country legally.

In accordance with the more restrictive criteria established by Paz-Pines, only 27 of the 225 children of foreign workers studying at Rogozin were eligible to remain here.

On August 24, two months after the government endorsed Paz-Pines's proposal, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and the Hotline for Migrant Workers petitioned the High Court of Justice, asking it to declare that the two conditions Paz-Pines added to Poraz's proposal - Israeli birth and legal entry by the parents - were improper.

These conditions, wrote ACRI attorney Michal Pinchuk, "are arbitrary and do injustice to the aim of the arrangement, which is to find a solution on the basis of humanitarian principles, to the problem of the children of foreign workers. These children have integrated into Israeli society. Their deportation would mean taking them to an alien country with which they have no cultural or emotional ties." Pinchuk argued that these conditions had nothing to do with the children's existential plight. The children had no responsibility for the nature of their parents' entry into Israel or where they were born, and neither of these matters determined their own ties to Israel, the country in which they had been raised.

Even if the High Court accepts the petition, many of the pupils at Bialik-Rogozin will be forced to leave Israel as of next Sunday (January 1, 2006.) More than half the children of foreign workers, 120 out of the 225, are younger than 10 years of age and are not covered by the petition. Another 27 meet all four criteria. That leaves less than 80 pupils and their immediate families who will in fact be affected by the High Court decision.

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