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Hundreds of Dutch Israelis, some of whom have been living in the Jewish state for more than 30 years, were accidentally wiped off the National Insurance Institute's computer database last week following a technical glitch, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
"Since last Tuesday we have been receiving complaints from our members that they were suddenly notified by the NII that they were no longer recognized as Israeli citizens and were not eligible for social security benefits or health insurance," said Hanoch Weisberg, head of the Dutch Immigrant Organization in Israel, which represents more than 1,400 former residents of the Netherlands. "While on the one hand this is laughable, on the other it is very sad. Many of these people are over 65, they have been living here since the 1960s, have been to the army and paid their dues to society. It is very upsetting that a government body can let this happen."
According to Dutch law, depending on the individual's date of birth, some of its citizens are not permitted to hold dual nationality.
In the past, Weisberg said, many Dutch Israelis opted to live here under a special permanent residency status that affords them the same rights as other Jewish immigrants, except voting or holding Israeli passports.
"These people, some of whom have lived here since the 1960s, are inhabitants of Israel in every sense," he said. "They have many of the same rights and contribute to Israel in the same way as other citizens."
Weisberg said the organization's lawyers had already asked that the National Insurance Institute immediately reinstate these people's rights as citizens and issue an official apology.
"We are waiting to see if they will send out individual letters to each person retracting their original statements," said Ayala Polak-Moshe, a lawyer for the Dutch Immigrant Organization.
A spokeswoman for the institute confirmed that between 200 and 300 Dutch Israelis had mistakenly received letters revoking their permanent residency status. Letters had already been drafted apologizing and admitting the error, she added.
"We have already fixed the problem and deeply apologize to all those who were affected," the NII spokeswoman said. "We see them fully as citizens of Israel and believe the situation has now returned to what it previously was."
But for Miriam Nathans, a Dutch citizen who has been living in Israel since 1968 under permanent residency status, this "slight glitch" meant that she was forced to fork out large sums of money last week for essential medicines.
"When I went to the Maccabi [health fund] pharmacy, I was told by the pharmacist that I no longer live here and am not entitled to medicine via the national health basket," Nathans said. "I immediately went to the local NII office and they told me that a bug in the computer system had wiped out all of our information."
Although Nathans was assured the problem had been fixed, when she returned to the pharmacy the next day, she still had to pay for the medication.
Polak-Moshe said it was unclear how the NII would rectify such cases.
"The NII told us that whoever needed to be reimbursed for medical expenses could apply to a special committee within the Health Ministry," she said. "But we believe this to be a long and complicated process, which will be especially difficult for those who are elderly."
"This is their [the NII's] mistake and they should fix it," Weisberg said.