US converts accuse immigration inspectors of assault

Family claims officers beat man, kicked pregnant wife in stomach in their Ashkelon home; spokeswoman says family lying, officers were attacked.

By RON FRIEDMAN
October 21, 2010 02:10
Oz unit members search for foreigners who have ent

oz unit inspector 58. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

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.

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 conversion.

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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 liars.”

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 passports.

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 residents.

“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 arms.”

Arrett said that one officer kicked his wife in the stomach while another one slammed him into the car and placed handcuffs on his wrist.

“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 Beersheba.

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 misunderstanding.”

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.

They are 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 of.

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.

“I am 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.


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