Immigration officials and foreign workers in TA 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Givon Ramla prison is one of the ugliest spots in an otherwise pleasant
countryside. As in other jails, prisoners are isolated from the outside world by
a high wall topped by rolls of barbed wire. But unlike other detention centers,
there are no armed guards at the four corner towers, because there are no
dangerous criminals inside. Here, the inmates are the men and women whose
dreams, efforts and the sacrifices that they have made for themselves and their
families have been shattered.
They now await deportation after shelling
out $5,000 to $10,000 to brokers for the privilege of coming here from the
Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Eastern Europe and many other countries
and points beyond. They left their cities and villages where devastating
poverty ruled supreme and there was no chance for advancement, all in order to
provide for their children’s education.
There was no employment or profit
to be made from honest labor in their countries of origin, so they sought these
in Israel. There are over 100,000 foreign workers in Israel today, many
of whom provide round the clock service with no overtime. They take care of the
elderly and disabled, the needy and the terminally ill. There might have been
some instances of a trouble or complaints about a few individuals, but this
happens in every social profession. Over all, these workers offer good service
at a minimum wage.
On the positive side it must be stressed that while
working legally they enjoyed, by a special contract and legislation, all rights
of the ordinary Israeli worker that they hardly ever enjoyed at home. But once
those contracts expired, the country that exploited their devotion concluded it
needed them no more. Some lost their visas when they wished to change employers,
other when their wards died or their five-year residency visas
The law restricts the number of times a foreign caregiver can
change employers during the five years of legal employment, limits workers to
specific geographical areas defined upon their arrival and confines them to
working with a specific category of patients. This creates practical slavery.
While the authorities allow them to stay with some patients even much longer, or
until they die, not every caretaker is so fortunate.
have been many instances where employers have withheld or slashed salaries. Many
have been subjected to sexual harassment, physical abuse, inadequate living and
diet conditions and/or verbal abuse, but they were forced to to keep quiet in
order to retain their jobs and visas. Even where a worker had the right to
request permission to change jobs, he ran a great risk in doing so because if
his request was denied, he would have to leave the country.
there are many good and honest hosts who received excellent and devoted service,
and there are countless stories of real friendships that have developed between
honest, understanding employers and their caretakers. But many other employers
failed to understand that they were often dealing with young, inexperienced
women from outlying and primitive provinces who suddenly found themselves in a
modern, foreign country, speaking a different language and trying to meet
demands like feeding and taking care of a patient’s family.
caretakers are burdened with debts and financial obligations. They are expected
to send money home, to support their parents, to give their children an
education. All of them try to save money, but they often receive requests for
urgent aid from home. For all of them, the loss of visa and deportation means a
painful failure, potentially even a catastrophe for an entire
Visiting hours at Givon Prison are for just two hours every
Monday and Wednesday. Those same hours are allotted for employers to deliver
personal belongings to their former employees. The procedure can be very
complicated, and in at least one case an employer just left the belongings of
his former caretaker on the street outside the prison gate.
be done? There is no question that illegal infiltrators and tourists who
overstay their visas should be deported. But prisons should be reserved for
lawbreakers. They are hardly fit for the simple hardworking men and women who
came to Israel to perform vital, and often very unpleasant, tasks that no
Israelis wanted. Through no fault of their own they found themselves to be
fugitives, hunted mercilessly for deportation.
As a group the caretakers
should be separated from all other foreign workers and enjoy special privileges.
Neither the granting nor the extending of the caretakers’ visa should be an
automatic function performed by the usual immigration officials. Rather, good
caretakers should be given every consideration, and the conditions of their
sojourn in Israel should be decided by qualified people in a qualified body.
Furthermore, the duration of their stay should be left to the caretaker’s record
and his employer’s recommendations.
Many caretakers regularly attend
church services and maintain a strong belief in the Bible. They came to Israel
expecting Jews to treat them in accordance with the Torah’s instructive “You
shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman, or a
stranger in one of the communities of your land” (Deuteronomy 24:14). Our
country must act to right this painful wrong and stain on our collective
record.The writer is former director of
The Jerusalem Post archives.