Muslim woman fights to convert and stay in Israel

Fears she will be murdered by family upon extradition to Morroco unless an Interior Ministry decision is overturned.

achoura abbadi 88.298 (photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
achoura abbadi 88.298
(photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
A Muslim woman from Morocco, who has been living in Israel for the last 10 years and dreams of converting to Judaism, is fighting an Interior Ministry decision to extradite her, where she claims she will be murdered by her family for deserting the faith of her birth. Sitting in the courtyard of the women's foreign worker section of Maasiyahu Prison near Ramle, Achoura Abbadi seems out of place among the sea of Eastern European and African faces. It is not only her Semitic features - olive skin, black hair and dark brown eyes - that set her apart from the others but also the small sparkling Star of David that hangs around her neck and her fluent Hebrew, peppered with standard Israeli phrases such as "motek" and "kapara." Abbadi, 49, came to Israel legally in 1996 to work as a caregiver for an elderly lady in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Kiryat Shaul near Haifa. It was during her two and a half years there that she started to become interested in Judaism. "I had a few Jewish friends in Morocco but here I met some very religious people," says Abbadi. "There were so many things that I did not know about the religion. I liked the fact that the people I met seemed to really care for one another and for their religion. Even though I was born and raised a Muslim, I started to feel more Jewish." Abbadi bought herself a copy of the Old Testament and started to keep Shabbat. In 1999, she left the North and moved to Jerusalem. "I wanted to get closer to the religion," explains Abbadi, adding that she was searching for the reasons that attracted her to Judaism. It was while she was living with a religious family in the capital that Abbadi says she had her "calling." "I had a dream about touching a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll), even though I had never really seen one before, and I woke up very emotional," she says. A few days later, the family's son invited her to a Sefer Torah dedication ceremony. "We celebrated the arrival of the Sefer Torah and it was very moving," continues Abbadi. "I got to kiss it and pray next to it. That was the message I needed from God to become a Jew. Not long afterwards I went to the rabbinate." The Chief Rabbinate told her they had to check her status with the Interior Ministry and that she would need certain documents from her country of birth and would also have to renew her Moroccan passport if she wanted to stay in Israel. "That is when all my problems started," recalls Abbadi. It was 2000, just a few weeks before the recent intifada broke out, she says. "Diplomatic relations between Israel and Morocco had broken down and I did not know where to turn, I got the home phone number of a person who had worked for the Moroccan embassy in Israel and called him up. I explained what I needed and he told me never ever to call him again," says Abbadi, adding that she even undertook the arduous journey to Gaza to renew her passport in the Moroccan Consulate there. However, the Interior Ministry would not accept a passport with a stamp from the Palestinian Authority, she says, meaning that for the last six years she has been in Israel illegally. It was not long after, she says, that news of her plans to convert reached her family back home and "a cross was put against my name." "The last time I spoke to my family was in 2001," says Abbadi, who is one of 17 siblings. "My sister-in-law told me never to call the family again. And when I sent a friend there to collect my belongings, my family said I was no longer their daughter." "I have hurt the honor of my family by leaving Islam, I have gone against the religion," she continues. "I am scared if I go back they will kill me. I would rather be in jail than die in a lynch." Abbadi says she is now caught between two worlds and has nowhere left to turn. "I feel as though I am not accepted anywhere," she says. "I am not a Jew like I should be and I am no longer a Muslim. I am lost in the middle." Since arriving in Maasiyahu six months ago, Abbadi has tried every avenue possible to have her story heard. The Hotline for Migrant Workers helped her to petition the United Nations for special refugee status. However, after meeting with UN representatives, her request was denied. "They said it was not a political issue," says Abbadi. "If this is not a political issue then what is?" She has also written to the interior minister, the prime minister and the president, all of whom expressed sympathy for her case but legally cannot help her. "[Abbadi] lived here illegally for six years," commented an Interior Ministry spokeswoman. "The court has ruled that she must be deported, there is little we can do about it." Abbadi also spoke to Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar in a bid to re-start the conversion process she abandoned six years ago when the intifada broke out. A source at the rabbinate said, "We are familiar with the details of this case and are sympathetic to her situation but the truth is there are many illegal workers who claim to want to convert simply so they can stay in Israel. What worries us is that she has not been in touch with us since 2000." He added, however, that the joint committee of the Interior Ministry and the rabbinate has yet to meet and make a final decision on Abbadi's status. But Abbadi's lawyer, Na'amanhe Hatem said he is still hopeful that the Supreme Court petition filed earlier this month will be successful. "We are fighting this extradition on humanitarian grounds," he said. "I just hope that the Supreme Court will not say this is another foreign worker situation because Achoura's case is special." "I call on the State of Israel, the minister of the interior, and the prime minister to see the Jew inside me," finishes Abbadi. "If anyone has any sympathy left I ask that they let me become a Jew and stay in Israel."