A family of African American converts on Wednesday accused immigration
inspectors of assaulting them in their house in Ashkelon, during an arrest that
took place Tuesday evening.
RELATED:PM calls for immigration crackdownMost Israelis approve of Reform, Conservative conversions
Sean Garret, who arrived with his wife’s
family in Israel from Kansas City in July, said they came to Israel in order to
live a full Jewish life after completing their Conservative
Charging that one officer kicked his pregnant wife in the
stomach, and that others beat him, he expressed amazement and dismay that state
officials had treated them so badly.
The Population Immigration and
Borders Authority spokeswoman said in response that it was the officers, from
the Oz unit, who were attacked, and she described the family as “impudent
According to Garret, he and his family – his wife, one-year-old
daughter, mother-in-law and two brothers-in-law – were sitting in their rented
apartment in Ashkelon on Tuesday evening when they heard knocks at the door.
When his mother in law, Trina Woodcox, went to open it, she was met by two
immigration officers who entered the house and demanded to see everyone’s
Garrett said that they provided the officers with their
documents, and the officers began making phone calls to their base office. Once
the calls were completed, Garret said that the officers told them that everybody
checked out except for Woodcox and Garrett himself, and demanded the two come
with them to the headquarters in Beersheba, claiming they were illegal
“I was in the bathroom trying to give my daughter a bath when
the officers barged in and attempted to grab hold of me and pull me out. They
then started asking to see all sorts of documents like marriage licenses and
birth certificates,” said Garrett.
According to Garret, the officers
physically escorted Garrett and Woodcox downstairs to a van parked in front of
the building and shoved them into the vehicle.
“At first they pushed my
mother- in-law into the car roughly, pulling her hair and dragging her by force.
When I tried to get them off her, two guys grabbed me and one officer started
taking swings at my wife, who is pregnant and was carrying our daughter in her
Arrett said that one officer kicked his wife in the stomach while
another one slammed him into the car and placed handcuffs on his
“They put the handcuffs on me extra tight, causing me deep cuts
and bruises. They then tied me to the seat with the handcuffs and began beating
me,” said Garrett.
Woodcox was left behind and the officers headed to the
headquarters with Garrett. On the way to Beersheba, the officers stopped at the
Ashkelon police station to file a complaint against Garrett for assault, while
he remained handcuffed in the van for half-an-hour.
“During the whole
ride, the officers took turns beating me and swearing at me. One of them called
me a mother f–––er and a f–––ing nigger.”
At the police station two
additional officers entered the van, which then made its way to
According to Garrett, after an hour at the headquarters, his
case was cleared up, the authorities realized that they had made a mistake and
he was driven back home.
“Nobody apologized or offered an explanation.
They just told me I was okay and sent me away.
This isn’t going to make
us leave or sour us on Israel. We came here because we wanted to live a full
Jewish life. I’m just amazed that we went through all that because of a
The officers’ version, described by PIBA spokeswoman
Sabine Hadad, was very different.
According to Hadad, the officers saw
the two brothers-in-law, young men in their early twenties, outside the building
and asked to see their documents.
She said the two took the officers up
to the apartment. The officers asked to see their passports and discovered that
they were residing in Israel on an invalid visa.
“Claiming that the
officers attacked them is simply ridiculous.
It was they who attacked our
guys, resulting in injuries to two of our officers. One of the men has a
criminal record both here and in the United States. The Ashkelon police also
didn’t believe them and refused to accept their complaint at the station when
they tried to file on Wednesday morning,” said Hadad.
According to Hadad,
the family’s legal status is currently being investigated by the Ministry of
Interior to see if their conversion is valid. “They are not entitled to
immigrate by virtue of the Law of Return,” she said. “All converts must be
approved in Israel. Right now they are American foreign nationals who are
waiting for approval.”
Hadad said that the Oz unit would not take the
event sitting down and that there is a limit to what foreign nationals can do to
Israeli officials. “They don’t deserve to be given a platform.
impudent. What do you think would happen to me if I attacked a US immigration
official over there?” she asked.
According to Nicole Maor, legal counsel
for the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement, the family made
two attempts to file complaints against the inspectors at the Ashkelon police
station, and was twice denied.
“That in itself is unheard
Fine, they can say they don’t believe them, but to refuse to accept a
complaint is outrageous,” she said in a phone interview.
She said that it
was impossible to begin legal proceedings before filing a complaint and that she
hoped the family would be able to do so as soon as possible.
currently collecting photos and compiling testimonies from the family members
and neighbors,” said Maor.
Meanwhile, the Masorti (Conservative) Movement has written a letter to Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Aharonovitch, demanding that they investigate the event and bring to justice the “violent officers.”
“The family decided to immigrate to Israel and is active in the Netsach Israel congregation in Ashkelon. Their dream is to live a full Jewish life here in Israel,” the letter stated. “However, their skin color is not white, but black."
"That was enough to cause the immigration police to come unannounced to their home in the night and confront the family, including the grandmother, the pregnant woman and the baby, with relentless violence, only later to discover that it was a mistake,” contends the letter, written by the executive director of the Masorti Movement, Yizhar Hess.
“Instead of embracing this family with warmth, the State of Israel abused them twice. It both doubted the family’s Judaism because they converted through the Conservative system, and it has raised its hand against them just because it is easy to do so against someone whose skin is not white,” wrote Hess.