After becoming stranded at Ben-Gurion Airport due to an alleged NIS 9,000 debt, an American couple’s journey to Israel has been transformed into a nightmare.
Jack and Suzan Baumann, from Miami, arrived on January 7 for a visit and hoped to soon make aliya, but unforeseen circumstances meant that their immigration process ground to a halt.
With nowhere to go, the Baumanns were forced to stay in a number of hotels, using up their funds. Last Tuesday, the couple abandoned their plans for aliya, and decided to return to Florida.
A nasty surprise awaited them at Ben-Gurion Airport, however, when Jack, 49, discovered that a no-exit ban had been imposed on him by a Haifa court over a debt of NIS 9,000. He was told he could leave only if he paid the sum.
Efforts by Jack to trace the source of the debt failed, and he spent several hours trying to navigate complex bureaucracy on the phone, as his funds dwindled. He and Suzan were forced to live at the airport for five days, during which his newly pregnant wife suffered a miscarriage in a bathroom.
When the couple asked about medical assistance, a nurse at the airport told them that they would have to pay money they did not have for an ambulance, and, fearing another debt, they remained at Ben-Gurion.
A second medical problem emerged when Jack began suffering from a bad infection of the root canal and sinuses, which began spreading up to his cheekbone and eye, causing severe pain and swelling.
“We have nowhere to go,” he said.
“Unfortunately, my family is dysfunctional and unable to help me. We are desperate, and we fear the cold streets are our next stop,” Jack said.
“I believe this is a case of mistaken or forged identity, because I was not in the country during the year the debt was incurred,” he said. “We have no access to shelter or food, let alone legal assistance, so we cannot track this debt down, and we cannot pay it.”
Jack, a chef by profession, lived in Israel in the past and helped
design the menu of well-known Tel Aviv restaurants such as Planet
Hollywood in Tel Aviv and Columbus in Herzliya.
“All we want to do now is return home – we have an open return ticket, but we cannot leave because of the debt,” he said.
The couple have not eaten properly or showered in days, have walked
many kilometers in cold rain seeking help, and say that without outside
help, their future looks grim.
“We have tried every emergency help available, including the US
Embassy, but were told they could not pay the debt, but only the plane
ticket home,” he said. “We have never been in a situation like this.”