Jewish world embraces family reportedly beaten by Oz unit

In light of alleged attack on Woodcox family, foreign workers group calls on gov't to look into excessive force by immigration inspectors.

By RON FRIEDMAN
October 26, 2010 01:37
4 minute read.
Woodcox family

Woodcox family 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Support from all over the Jewish world has been pouring in to the Woodcox household in Ashkelon, following the attack that the family allegedly suffered at the hands of Oz immigration inspectors last week.

Oz officials, on the other hand, insist that their inspectors were the ones who were assaulted.

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The family’s former congregation, B’nai Jehudah in Overland Park, Kansas, a Reform synagogue, has raised upwards of $3,600 in three days to help the Woodcoxes. The family is living in poverty, and Jews from across the globe have called and written to express solidarity with it and voice their outrage at the alleged actions of the immigration unit’s inspectors.

The Kansas congregation’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff, sent an urgent letter to all his congregants on Sunday in which he briefly outlined the details of the case and urged them to show support.

“Many of you know Michael and Trina Woodcox, and their children. For those of you who don’t, the Woodcox family is African-American, came to us a few years ago seeking to learn more about Judaism. Despite living far from our building and despite the ridicule and confusion others in the black community expressed over their embracing of Judaism, they formally chose to become Jewish,” the letter read.

Nemitoff went on to describe last Tuesday’s incident, in which violence broke out between the family and the inspectors, resulting in bruises to nearly all the family members, including a woman seven month’s pregnant and a one-year-old child, and to two inspectors.

“Suffice it to say that the family is physically and emotionally bruised and battered. And it seems as though this all occurred because this wonderful Jewish family – who only wants to live in Israel in peace – was of a skin color that some found offensive,” continued the letter.

The Woodcox family, comprising seven people, is waiting for their petition for citizenship under the Law of Return to be authorized by the Interior Ministry. A ministry spokeswoman said the family’s legal status is being investigated by to see if their conversion is valid.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Trina Woodcox said she had received the money sent to the family from the congregation in Kansas and was continually receiving letters and phone calls from supporters.

The conservative congregation in Ashkelon, Kehillat Netzach Israel, has provided the family with warm meals and prayers.

“We attended Shabbat services at the synagogue and were overwhelmed by the expressions of love and support we received,” Woodcox said. “It is important to me to say to all the well-wishers that this experience has not shaken our faith in Judaism. The outpouring of love has only increased our faith.”

What the family has yet to receive is any formal response from the state regarding their complaint about the confrontation.

“We haven’t heard anything from the police or the Ministry of Interior since the incident took place. The only ones we’ve heard from is the United States Embassy, who wrote to me asking if we wanted their assistance,” Woodcox said.

“I’m not sure what the embassy can do, but if they can help make sure that the offending officers are brought to justice, that is all we can hope for.”

The family’s lawyer, Nicole Maor of the Israel Religious Action Center, said she sent out a formal letter, including hospital reports and witness testimonies, to all of the relevant authorities, but had yet to hear back from them.

In her letter to the Interior Ministry, Maor asked that the family’s immigration process be expedited in light of the incident and given the family’s difficult financial state, but had received no response to that request, either.

An Ashkelon police spokeswoman told the Post that the case was under investigation.

In light of the alleged attack on the Woodcox family, a foreign workers advocacy group, the Migrant Workers Hotline, has called on government agencies, including the civil service commissioner, the interior minister and the head of the Oz unit, to look into excessive use of force by Oz inspectors.

“The Migrant Workers Hotline has fielded four complaints of unreasonable use of force by Oz inspectors against foreign workers and asylumseekers over the last three months,” the group’s spokeswoman said. “All the attacks took place during routine document inspections and in at least two of the cases, the violence continued even after the people had been handcuffed.”

The NGO also raised concerns that there is no body in Israel authorized to oversee the activities of Oz inspectors.

“The unit functions without the oversight of any body that can inspect their behavior, criticize their actions or, if need be, take disciplinary action against them,” the spokeswoman said. “While in cases of police violence there is the Police Investigations Department, an external body that has the authority to investigate excessive use of force by police officers, it’s as if Oz inspectors, who belong to the Interior Ministry, are above the law.

“There is no point person at the Civil Service Commission, the body that formally oversees all government agencies, who is assigned the role and has the authority to investigate Oz inspectors and to whom plaintiffs can be referred,” she added.

“It is an unacceptable state of affairs when foreigners, migrant workers and asylum-seekers find themselves being bounced around from one place to another without having the ability to complain.”


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