Would-be convert faces deportation

Achoura Abbadi, who has tried to convert for 10 years, to be deported this week.

achoura abbadi 88.298 (photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
achoura abbadi 88.298
(photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
Achoura Abbadi has run out of options. After spending the best part of 10 years in Israel trying to convert to Judaism, the Moroccan-born woman - who believes she has Jewish roots in her North African family - is set to be deported by the Interior Ministry in less than a week. However, unwilling to return to the Muslim country of her birth and with no valid visa in her Moroccan passport, Abbadi is unable to seek refuge in a third country in order to undergo the required conversion process in the Diaspora and return to Israel as a full-fledged Jew. "I have no rights to go to any place," lamented Abbadi, 53, who arrived in Israel legally as a professional caregiver but has spent the past seven years here illegally. "The only place I can go is Turkey, but I don't have any money, I don't know anyone there and I can't even speak the language. What will I do? Live in the airport?" Abbadi has spent more than six months in Ramle's Maasiyahu Prison and has appealed to the High Court of Justice over the past year to be allowed to stay in Israel on the basis of her tenuous Jewish heritage and desire to convert. Nevertheless, she was informed in May that she must leave the country by August 2. Despite her impending deportation, Abbadi remained optimistic until this week, believing that if she could find a Jewish community in another country and a rabbi willing to convert her there, she would eventually be able to fulfill her dream to return to the place she has called home for the past decade. "A friend of mine found a rabbi willing to convert me in Canada and put forward a request for me to visit her there to undergo the conversion process," explained Abbadi, who says her "calling" to Judaism came in 1999 when she had a dream about touching a Torah scroll, even though she had never seen one before. "I am crazy about Israel, and will do anything to get back here." However, on Monday the Canadian consulate turned down her request for a tourist visa on the basis that she has been living in Israel illegally for years and does not have a country to return to after her visit. "I just don't know what to do, I have no options left," said Abbadi, not bothering to hold back her tears. "Either I leave next week or they [the immigration police] will throw me back in prison and I just can't go through that again." Abbadi said she has been a persona non grata in her biological family since her parents and siblings discovered that she was planning to convert to Judaism. "The last time I spoke to my family was in 2001," said Abbadi, who is one of 17 children. "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 and I'm scared if I go back, they'll kill me." "While [Abbadi's] is an extreme example of the system not working in her favor, we hear this kind of story about 1,000 times a year," commented Seth Farber, director of Itim, an organization that assists people navigate the bureaucracy of Jewish life in Israel. "I understand the need to ensure that individuals are not taking advantage of the conversion process in order to reap the civil benefits, but the judgment call on those who want to convert should not be made by lawyers or government officials who are unfamiliar with the personal backgrounds of those applying." According to Farber, those who want to convert to Judaism in Israel must meet with a committee made up of Interior Ministry lawyers, representatives from the Prime Minister's Office and Conversion Authority rabbis. This committee decides whether the individual honestly intends to become a Jew and is not simply using the process to take advantage of the country's civil benefits. If an applicant's request to convert is Israel is denied, the individual must then find a Jewish community in the Diaspora willing to 'adopt' him or her and facilitate a conversion. "This is a really tragic story with really no legal solution," admitted Yoav Loeff of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. "We would really need to check a little deeper into her situation but, at this point, I don't see any options left for her." Loeff suggested Abbadi try for political asylum either in Israel or in another country, but that, too, is an avenue she has exhausted. With hours of free time as she sat in jail, Abbadi, with help from the Hotline for Migrant Workers, petitioned the United Nations for special refugee status and explained her situation in letters to the interior minister, the prime minister and the president, all of who expressed sympathy for her case but said they could not help her. Mickey Bavly, a UN representative in Israel, said the international organization was familiar with Abbadi's case but that his "hands were tied" in helping a person who did not have rights to political asylum. "Maybe there is a conflict within her family, but this person is not in danger politically," he said. "All the relevant bodies have been approached in this matter and there seems to be no room to grant her [Abbadi] political or humanitarian asylum in Israel," said Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabene Haddad. "We are talking about someone who lived here illegally and the court has ruled she must be deported from Israel. It's the role of the United Nations to decide if she is in danger, and they have decided."