Jews face deportation from Israel

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The Independent Online
IF Yitzhak Rabin had glanced up from his Cabinet meeting on the Palestinian deportees yesterday, and looked out of the window, he might have noticed that the policy has started a strange new trend.

On one side of the road was a young man, sitting on the pavement, wearing a gas mask. Next to him was another shouting into a disconnected telephone, apparently trying to get through to the Prime Minister. 'Come on Yitzhak, answer the phone. We are also deportees, you know,' screamed Imad Tafish, a Druze Arab from Galilee.

Farther along was the now familiar protest against the deportation of the 400 Palestinians. And then came the latest demonstration - against deportation of Jews. 'Once a Jew always a Jew,' said one poster. 'Stop the deportation of Jews,' said another. 'Let the people stay.'

This protest centres on the case of Shirley and Gary Beresford, threatened because they believe Jesus is the Messiah.

Like most Messianic Jews, they deny that their faith in Jesus lessens their 'Jewishness'. They also deny that their beliefs amount to a conversion to Christianity, as their Orthodox Jewish critics claim.

Indeed, the Beresfords say they became more Jewish on discovering Jesus. It was this that led them to come to Israel in 1986 from Zimbabwe and to observe Jewish law - the Halacha. Since their arrival they have become almost Orthodox in their Jewish practices, observing Jewish not Christian holidays, keeping the Sabbath and hanging no crosses in their homes. Gary Beresford even wears a yarmulka, and tzitzit (prayer strings) hang from his waist.

However, when the couple applied for immigrants' visas to stay in Israel they were turned down under Israel's Law of Return, which allows citizenship to all Jews settling in Israel if they meet the definition of a Jew. That states applicants must be born to a Jewish mother or have converted to Judaism. The Beresfords were born of Jewish mothers, but the Israeli interior ministry, later backed by the Supreme Court, ruled they were members of another religion because they believe in Jesus Christ.

Their case has become a test for other Messianic Jews threatened with deportation or denied entry.

'These people are in a no man's land. They are being deported from their land. The country is letting in Bosnian Muslim refugees and banishing Jews. It is the biggest deportation scandal of all,' said David Stern, leading the protest outside the Prime Minister's office.

His words chimed nicely with those coming from other protests down the road.