51 members of Hebrew Israelites Community ordered to leave Israel by Sept. 23

Interior Ministry turns down appeals against deportation orders issued in April; recipients, some born in Israel, are demanding legal status, plan to take case to court

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Members of the Hebrew Israelites Community of Dimona dance during festivities marking the Shavuot festival in the southern Israeli town of Dimona, May 26, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)
Members of the Hebrew Israelites Community of Dimona dance during festivities marking the Shavuot festival in the southern Israeli town of Dimona, May 26, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

Around 50 members of the Hebrew Israelites Community of Dimona, some 3,000 strong, in southern Israel have been told that they must leave the country by September 23, for lack of legal status in Israel, or risk forcible deportation by the immigration police.

In response to appeals asking to be allowed to stay, the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority wrote to each family that neither residency in Israel for a long period nor work in the country were sufficient grounds for a change of status.

The letters were received on Thursday, although they were dated August 9.

The recipients plan to appeal against the decision to a court in Beersheba.

Earlier this year, 17 letters were sent to the families numbering 51 individuals in total, some of whom were born in Israel and some of whose children have served in the IDF.  They were told to leave within 60 days but were given the right of appeal.

The community, which believes it is descended from an ancient Israelite tribe, began arriving in Israel in 1969, following the late Ben Carter, a Chicago steelworker who renamed himself Ben Ammi Ben Israel and claimed to be God’s representative on earth.

The late Ben Ammi Ben-Israel, spiritual leader of the Hebrew Israelites community. (Screen capture: YouTube)

All 51 people who received deportation notices entered Israel from the US as tourists and remained in the country, illegally, once their permitted three-month stay was up.

Some are adults who were born in Israel, according to Ashriel Moore, who is coordinating the campaign to stop the deportations. Of these, some have their own children. Those who are not eligible for US citizenship or have given it up are stateless and have nowhere to go.

According to its website, the community, which permits polygamy, does not subscribe to any religion “because religions have only divided men.” It does, however, observe the Sabbath and Jewish holidays mentioned in the Torah, circumcises its male children eight days after birth, and requires women to observe the biblical laws of purification.

It is not recognized as Jewish by Israel’s religious authorities.

The African Hebrew Israelite community, also known as ‘the Black Hebrews,’ seen during celebrations for New World Passover, which marks their exodus from the United States, in the southern Israeli city of Dimona, on July 18, 2016. (Corinna Kern/FLASH90)

Many community members were granted permanent residency in 2003. From 2004, its youth has been serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Those who complete military service are eligible to apply for citizenship, and most requests are approved.

In 2014, then-interior minister Gideon Sa’ar announced that permanent residents could acquire citizenship if they relinquished their American nationality. (Those who had performed military service were eligible to apply for citizenship without giving up US passports if they had them.)

Moore, aged 30, the son of one of the community’s founders and an Israeli citizen thanks to his IDF service, said that community members pay taxes and are fully integrated into state schools and Dimona’s life in general.

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