Immigration police began touring employment areas in the southern city of Dimona on Sunday looking for 51 members of the Hebrew Israelites Community who were ordered to leave the country by September 23 on the grounds that they have no legal status to stay.
“The enforcement of the deportation has begun and today a few immigration officers came to randomly check all the business areas of the community,” a Hebrew Israelites spokesman, Ashriel Moore, told the Times of Israel.
Earlier this year, 17 letters were sent to the families containing the 51 individuals, 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.
In response to their requests to be allowed to stay, the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority wrote to each family last month that neither residency in Israel for a long period nor work in the country were sufficient grounds for a change of status.
The September 23 deadline passed without any community members leaving the country.
Following the Interior Ministry’s rejection of the appeals, the community turned to the Beersheba District Court, which asked it to clarify why a class action suit was being requested.
The community’s response is ready and due to be submitted to the court, Moore said.
All 51 people who received deportation notices either entered Israel from the United States as tourists and remained in the country, illegally, once their permitted three-month stay was up, or are the children of those who did so.
Some are adults who were born in Israel, according to 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, he said.
The 3,000-strong 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.
According to its website, the community, which permits polygamy, does not subscribe to any religion “because religions have only divided men.” They do, however, observe the Sabbath and Jewish holidays mentioned in the Torah, circumcise male children eight days after birth, and require women to observe the biblical laws of purification.
The community is not recognized as Jewish by Israel’s religious authorities.