By Mya Guarnieri
It’s big news here in Israel that “Strangers No More”— a documentary film that focuses on a South Tel Aviv school attended by zarim, Hebrew for foreigners or strangers—has won an Oscar.
“Thank you most of all to the exceptional immigrant and refugee children from 48 countries at Tel Aviv’s remarkable Bialik Rogozin school,” Karen Goodman, co-producer and co-director said in her acceptance speech. “You’ve shown us that through education, understanding, and tolerance, peace really is possible.”
So what is the Israeli government showing us by planning a mass expulsion of such children? Understanding and tolerance won’t be found here. (And you’d better look somewhere else for peace, too).
After a five month delay, which followed a year-long battle over the matter, the deportation of 400 children and their parents is scheduled to begin on Sunday—just a week after “Strangers No More” won an Oscar. Just a week after a crowd in the US applauded the touching story of foreigners who find a home here in Israel. Just a week after the Israeli media runs its hip-hip-hooray! reports of the win, the Oz Unit will start rounding such kids up. And one of the children is the 10-year-old star of the film. According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel:
…10-year-old Esther who starred in the movie is facing a probable deportation alongside an estimated 120 pupils from her school. Esther fled from South Africa and arrived in Israel with her father four years ago – thus missing the five-year mark set as a condition to remaining in the country.
In fact on Sunday, the very day that the honor was awarded, South Tel Aviv’s kindergartens were half-empty. Why? According to the Israeli news site Walla, parents kept their children home from school because they were so frightened of the immigration police.
Israel has prepared for the detention of the kids at Ben Gurion International Airport—where some will await flights to countries they have never seen—by decorating a holding cell with cheerful drawings and fun, family games. But, in the words of Israeli Children, a grassroots organization that has been fighting the deportation for over a year and a half now, “Jail is jail!”
And it seems that “strangers” are strangers to the Israeli government—no matter how tolerant and understanding the children might make the state seem to the world.
Those who support the children’s right to stay in Israel will be rallying on Friday at 12:30 in Gan Meir.
Mya Guarnieri is a Tel Aviv-based writer and journalist. A regular contributor to Al Jazeera English, she is currently working on a book about Israel’s migrant workers.