TEL AVIV (Jul. 2)
Israeli and U.S. authorities reportedly have reached an “interim solution” to the problem of some 3,000 stateless Black Hebrews, which will give them the option of returning to the United States or accepting temporary Israeli visas.
The community has been living illegally in squalor near the Negev development town of Dimona for more than 20 years.
The group of black Americans, originally from the Chicago area, came to Israel in the 1960s, claiming residence rights as Jews. Their numbers increased as other sect members arrived in the country as tourists and stayed on illegally.
They refused to convert to Judaism, asserting they were the “true Hebrews” and that Israelis were not, in fact, authentic Jews.
The Black Hebrews renounced their U.S. citizenship and demonstratively turned in their American passports to the U.S. Embassy. They could not therefore be returned to the United States, though about 100 have been expelled from Israel over the past two decades.
As illegal aliens, they are not entitled to work permits, social services, health benefits or schooling.
They have lived on a subsistence basis at an abandoned immigrant absorption center, isolated to the point of burying their dead secretly in unauthorized burial plots.
Residents of Dimona and other Negev towns complain frequently that the Black Hebrews have a “negative influence” on their children.
The United States has now offered to renew the Black Hebrews’ U.S. citizenship and issue them new passports. On that basis, the Interior Ministry will grant them official status in the form of work permits for up to two years.
More than 100 are reported to have applied for new U.S. passports. Interior Ministry officials say no decision has been made how to deal with those who refuse to accept the offer.