Think About It: From legal caregivers to illegal house cleaners

If Israel were a well-ordered state, and the Interior Ministry did what it is expected to do, Perez’s status should have been determined back in 2006, when Rohan was born.

August 18, 2019 21:54
Think About It: From legal caregivers to illegal house cleaners

Women pray at a church in Tel Aviv . (photo credit: REUTERS)

The expulsion of Filipina foreign worker Rosemary Perez and her Israeli-born 13-year-old son, Rohan, last week, raises many legal, moral and existential questions, which so far Israel has failed to address.

Besides being a particular case, it is part of a general situation of pandemonium in Israel’s policy regarding non-Jewish foreigners seeking to work or settle in Israel, this in addition to the issue of asylum-seekers.

Perez is reported to have legally entered Israel over 20 years ago, to take care of an elderly Israeli. That was around the time that I took on a Filipina to care for my mother in Haifa, after several years of employing Israeli caregivers 24/7 through an agency that supplied such services. The employment of Israelis cost NIS 16,000 per month, but I had little control over the quality of the women employed and their conduct.

After an agreement was signed between Israel and the Philippines in 1996 on the issue of admitting caregivers from the latter, the agency offered me the option of bringing a Filipina, at the cost of $1,000 per month. I chose her from a pamphlet, which provided the details, including photographs, of dozens of candidates; and after her arrival in Israel, I registered at the Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv as her employer.

After I decided to move my mother to a nursing home in Jerusalem, in association with the agency I helped find a new place of employment for “my” Filipina. I expect that she eventually returned to her husband and two children in the Philippines, whom she missed terribly (this was all before the era of mobile phones).

The whole process was very orderly and closely monitored by the Israeli authorities. I suspect that this is no longer the case, and the situation resembles a jungle.

As far as the reports go, Perez did not have a husband and children back in the Philippines when, 13 years ago, she gave birth in Israel to Rohan, whose father was Turkish and left Israel soon after his birth. As a result of Rohan’s birth, Perez lost her legal status and job in Israel, but nevertheless remained here and started working as an illegal house cleaner.

Incidentally, the situation is no less complicated if a foreign worker who gives birth in Israel actually marries the child’s father, also a foreign worker, and both remain in Israel. This further complicates everyone’s legal status, especially since Israel does not recognize such marriages – a highly problematic policy.

In the recent rounding up of Filipinas with their Israeli-born children, I know of one case where the Filipino father (he, too, a caregiver turned illegal house cleaner) was simply caught and either incarcerated or put on a plane to Manila – his mobile phone was apparently confiscated and after several days disconnected, so that it was impossible to find out what had happened to him. His wife and 12-year-old daughter, who until this summer went to school in Beit Hakerem in Jerusalem, are among those now awaiting deportation.

If Israel were a well-ordered state, and the Interior Ministry did what it is expected to do, Perez’s status should have been determined back in 2006, when Rohan was born. If, according to Israeli law, Rohan’s birth in Israel entitled him to some sort of legal status and rights, these should have been realized. If it did not, Perez should have been sent back to the Philippines at that point. What appears to have happened is that, with the knowledge of the authorities, Perez continued to live in Israel, her son grew up here and entered the school system, while she turned into an illegal house cleaner to support him. This went on for 13 years.

I do not know what happens in the rest of the country, but in Jerusalem it is almost impossible to find Israeli domestic help, except for students, who seek temporary employment as cleaners. Since several years ago my last Israeli house cleaner left for Eilat with her husband to live close to her daughter and grandchildren, I have become quite an expert on the availability of house cleaners – most of them former caregivers from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Romania and Moldova, whose original employer had died, or who had decided that caregiving is too difficult.

None of them are legal. Some have no papers at all, and do everything possible to dodge the immigration authorities. Others have official papers that are based on false information, or forged papers that they purchase from Israeli middlemen. In general, it appears that there are too many middlemen, who are making a living off these hapless foreign workers. Most recently I heard of middlemen who promise to arrange visas to European Union states for illegal workers who hope to legalize their status elsewhere. Only God knows what happens to them when they reach the EU, since once in Europe they are left to their own devices.

ISRAEL IS not the only economically stable democratic state that contends with such problems, though Israel’s definition of itself as the state of the Jewish people, in which the basic rights of other peoples are not defined (and this was the situation even before the Nation-State Law was passed just over a year ago), and the Jewish religious attitude toward gentiles (the Interior Ministry is in the hands of Shas) only complicate the situation, leaving very little room for compassion or human rights considerations.

The phenomenon of bringing in foreign workers from poor countries with dysfunctional economies and high unemployment rates to perform menial jobs in wealthier countries, with the intention of preventing them from becoming permanent residents or citizens, first emerged in Western Europe in the 1950s. The idea was that these workers should be given only temporary working permits, and that they should return to their countries of origin as soon as their work permits expired.

In West Germany such workers – many of them from Turkey – were called “guest workers” (Gastarbeiter). At first the Germans believed that by limiting the period of their sojourn in Germany, they could avoid these workers bringing their families over with them or forming new families in Germany, and the necessity to provide all the social and cultural services that this would entail. That today there are at least four million inhabitants in Germany of Turkish origin, most of them citizens and a growing number German-born, and that there are today 14 members of the Bundestag of Turkish origin, prove that these original intentions failed dismally, and never really had a chance to succeed.

In Israel’s case, certain categories of foreign workers – such as workers in construction and agriculture – do not appear to stay on in the country after their visas have expired.

On the other hand, the foreign caregiving sector appears to be the main source of house cleaners in Israel today, which in itself is not a job for which a foreign worker can obtain a visa, even though it is a job for which there is greater demand than supply in Israel.

Sooner or later, we shall have to seriously address this issue.

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