Members of the Hebrew community have been informed in recent days by the authorities that they must leave Israel within 60 days, following their rejected applications to the Interior Ministry to establish their status as permanent residents. The candidates for deportation have lived in Israel without an official status for years, and some were even born in the country. Similar requests from a large number of members of the African Hebrew Israelite Nation of Jerusalem (a.k.a. Black Hebrew Israelites) are still pending.
According to the Population Authority, the Black Hebrew community numbers about 2,000, but the community claims that the number is much higher – as high as 5,000. The Black Hebrews live mainly in Dimona, in southern Israel, but there are also clusters living in Yeruham, Mitzpe Ramon, Arad, Tel Aviv, and T’veria.
The group was founded in Chicago by a former steelworker named Ben Carter who called himself Ben Ammi Ben-Israel (he died in 2014). In his early twenties, Carter was given the name Ben Ammi by Rabbi Reuben of the Chicago Congregation of Ethiopian Hebrews. According to Ben Ammi, in 1966, at the age of 27, he had a vision in which the Archangel Gabriel called him to take his people, African Americans, back to the Holy Land of Israel.
When they arrived in Israel from Chicago, Illinois in the late 1960s, the Black Hebrews claimed that they were the only rightful inheritors of the land of Israel, refused to convert to Judaism, and asserted that the Israeli Jews around them were not descendants of the biblical Israelites. Needless to say, this did not make them very popular in Israel. Tensions between the group and the Israeli government grew in the 1970s, with the group—officially considered illegal aliens—suffering from unemployment, inadequate housing, and attempted deportations. Ben Ammi did not improve matters when he declared in 1985 that “the greatest conspiracy ever conceived in the minds of men was the creation of a National Homeland for Jewish People.”
Things became worse during the Corona pandemic. Last March, the Dimona municipality reported that “about half of the 350 verified patients are members of the Hebrew community. There is indeed a problem with the members of the community, they refuse to be tested and vaccinated for ideological reasons. Efforts have been made in recent weeks to convince them and currently, the issue is in the testing stage, following which we hope they will also be vaccinated. In Mitzpe Ramon, for example, they have already started getting vaccinated.”
According to Haaretz (עשרות מחברי קהילת העבריים מיועדים לגירוש לאחר שביקשו לקבל מעמד), among the members of the Hebrew community, some hold citizenship, some hold only permanent residency, and some have no status. The Population Authority claims the latter were not included in the list compiled by the community itself.
Black Hebrews activist Raphael Ben Israel, who works to receive state recognition for the group in danger of deportation, told Haaretz that they number more than 100. According to him, when he applied on their behalf to the Immigration Authority, he was asked to submit an updated list of their names. A year later, he said, deportation action has been filed against the same people.
Yoel Lipovetsky, head of the Population Administration at the Immigration Authority, told Haaretz: “Those without status are people who have lived here for years in violation of the law, just like any other illegal resident.”
“They decided to stay in Israel illegally for many years,” Lipovetsky said. “When they submitted the applications we started examining them, and saw that they were illegal residents in every sense of the term, so we asked them to leave the country. I don’t know what they consider regulating their status. Maybe they think that anyone who violates the laws of the State of Israel can raise their hand and say, ‘Hello, I’m here, so give me citizenship.'”