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Israeli Court Suggest Jailing Father and Son to Keep Family Unit Intact

By Adv. Carmel Pomerantz

Amanuel (not his real name) fled the endless military service in Eritrea and arrived in Israel in 2007, hoping to finally enjoy freedom. In the past five years he worked as a baker in a popular Tel Aviv bakery. He left his wife and five children in Eritrea. When his oldest son, Tumuzgi (not his real name) approached recruitment age into the military (16), the family realized that he will soon be sent to a military camp, and Tumuzgi fled and arrived in Israel to reunite with his father.

When Tumuzgi arrived in Israel we was taken to juvenile immigration detention. Tumuzgi tried to claim that he’s 18 so that he can be released from detention with everyone else, but the judge at the Administrative Tribunal needed just a glance at the detainee to realize that he’s a young teen. After several months in detention, the Administrative Tribunal ordered to release Tumuzgi to the custody of Amanuel, on the condition that he’ll be responsible for ensuring that Tumuzgi will study in high school until he becomes an adult, and so it was.

Life hasn’t been easy for Tumuzgi in Israel. He’s struggling to learn Hebrew or English. He’s short, skinny and childish. When he first arrived at the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, accompanied by a friend, the lawyer handling his case thought he was 15 at most. Tumuzgi suffers from medical conditions that prevent him from doing physical labor, and because he looks like a kid, he couldn’t find any work. Even when he managed to find a job, his health problems led to his dismissal.

Amanuel prefers that Tumuzgi study instead of working and is happy to have the opportunity to support and provide for his son while he acquires basic education, something many Eritrean fathers are unable to do.

A few months after Tumuzgi reached the age of 18 (on an arbitrary date set by the Tribunal, since both father and son don’t know the real birth date), Amanuel received a summon to the Holot detention facility. Israel summoned to Holot all Eritreans who’ve arrived in Israel until June 2009 who don’t have wives of children who are minors in Israel. Amenuel’s employer fired him immediately. All Amanuel’s attempt to explain to Ministry of Interior clerks that he supports his son who is sick, lives with him and cannot support himself failed. Amanuel then turned to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants for help. Since he did not want to violate Israel laws, he presented himself to detention in Holot. He left his son to the care of a distant relative who provides him with a roof over his head.

On the eve of Passover, the Hotline filed an administrative petition against the summon to Holot. In the petition we explained that parents’ obligation to support their children and the children’s need for such support does not automatically end at the age of 18. We argued that the Ministry of Interior must examine the individual circumstances of each person before issuing a summon to Holot, and if they had examined Amanuel and Tumuzgi’s case properly, it would have become apparent that although Tumuzgi is an adult in terms of his age, he is a minor in terms of mental abilities and performance, and requires the help of his father.

In the appeal we criticized the Ministry of Interior for disregarding anything except the criteria for summoning people to Holot, and its refusal, time after time, to look at the person before them and examine what harm will be done in his specific case.

Three months after the petition was filed, the Tribunal for Appeals rejected the petition. The Tribunal ruled that Tumuzgi is not helpless (as he sometimes does work), and therefore the decision to send his father to indefinite detention is reasonable. The Tribunal judge suggested in the hearing to the father that his son will be jailed alongside him in Holot. This way, the Tribunal argued, they won’t have to be separated.

This suggestion cynically addresses the father and son’s hardship. Israel must respect the basic right to a family, which means it must not tear apart families without a very good reason. Asking Tumuzgi to give up liberty (by being jailed in Holot) or his family (by staying outside) is an unfair demand and it does not honor the right of the father and son to family life.

In the administrative petition filed in late August against the Tribunal ruling, the Hotline’s lawyers, Carmel Pomerantz and Asaf Weitzen, the two argued that it is unreasonable to make a decision that totally disregards the right of the two to family life and to tear apart a family that shares a home with a summon. The petition to the district court also argued that it’s unreasonable to fully take into consideration the right of a 17-year-old to be with his father, while totally ignoring the identical need of a 19-year-old.