Smuggled across the mountainous border separating Iran and Turkey, Pourya and Samana Hajaran undertook the perilous journey to Istanbul nearly a year ago, hoping to make their way to Israel.
Instead, the Iranian husband and wife find themselves trapped in a frightening legal and bureaucratic maze.
Pourya, 22, the son of an Iranian Jewish mother and Muslim father, was quickly given permission to go to Israel after arriving in Istanbul. Israeli officials at the consulate told Pourya that he would be able to bring his wife over once he made aliyah.
After arriving in Israel, however, he was informed by the Interior Ministry that his request to be reunited with his Muslim wife who allegedly planned to convert to Judaism once in Israel had been rejected for unspecified security reasons.
Last week Samana Hajaran, also 22, was arrested by Turkish police for being in the country illegally. She is facing the prospect of being deported back to Iran, where reportedly she could face severe punishment.
“I’m very scared for her,” said Pourya Hajaran, speaking by telephone from the Israeli port city of Ashdod, where he is living in an immigrant absorption center. “My life, from morning until evening, is just crying for her. I really don’t know what to do for her.”
“She’s in a very bad place right now. There’s no warm place to sleep. No place to shower,” he said in halting Hebrew he learned in an Israeli ulpan. “They told her that she might be going back to Iran, which would be very dangerous for her.”
Pourya Hajaran grew up in the city of Hamadan, nearly 200 miles west of Tehran. Having a Muslim father and Jewish mother put him in a unique theological position according to Islamic law he is a Muslim, while Jewish law accepts him as a Jew.
Hajaran said he and his two brothers and sister were raised by their mother with a strong sense of Jewish identity. Following his father’s death six years ago, Hajaran’s mother and sister immigrated to Israel, where his mother has several relatives.
Hajaran met his wife in Hamadan, where she was studying to become a medical lab technician at the local university. After they decided to marry, Hajaran contacted a rabbi in Tehran, who explained to him that Iranian law forbids a Muslim from converting.
Unsure what to do, the couple eventually married in a Muslim ceremony, with the thought that eventually they would go to Israel, where Samana would convert.
When Hajaran learned a year ago that he was about to be drafted into the Iranian army, the couple decided to make the risky illegal crossing into Turkey and ask for permission to go to Israel.
Sabine Haddad, spokeswoman for Israel’s Interior Ministry, said the ministry was ready to reunite the couple, but could not because of security concerns put forward by the Shin Bet security service.
“If there wasn’t a refusal on security grounds, then we would be ready to bring her here,” she said.
According to a statement from Israeli security officials, the entry of foreigners from “dangerous countries” is based on esta! blished security assessments.
“According to the set security standards, this case does not allow us to grant entry. However, individual cases can be examined as exceptional by the authorized bodies in Israel,” the statement said.
Sarah Lewis, a lawyer with the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, who has been handling Hajaran’s case, said she believes Samana’s legal and human rights are being subordinated to generalized security concerns.
“There’s no question here that under the Law of Return she’s eligible to come to Israel and make aliyah as the wife of a Jew,” Lewis said.
Cases of Jewish immigrants making aliyah with their non-Jewish spouses are not unusual, Lewis said, although this is the first time she has dealt with an Iranian couple in that situation.
“I think things have gotten complicated and bureaucratic, but the end result in this case could be horrendous,” said Lewis, who has petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice to reassess the Hajaran case or order the Interior Ministry to ask Turkey to hold off on deporting Samana until the court hears her case.
On Wednesday, the High Court ordered the Interior Ministry of Interior to ask Turkish authorities to delay deportation proceedings until the court can hold an emergency hearing on Samana’s case in the coming days.
Besides forbidding the conversion of Muslims something that technically is punishable by death Iranian law also forbids Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men. Although the Hajarans had a Muslim wedding, the fact that Pourya is in Israel could complicate life for Samana if Turkish authorities send her back to Iran.
“I think it’s a pretty probable case that she would be picked up and interrogated if she were to return,” said Amy Slotek, a legal adviser with the Istanbul-based Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, which advocates on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey. “You could definitely argue that there is a danger ! for her to return.”
In the next few days, Hajaran is set to begin his military service in Israel, something he said he is happy to do for his new country.
“All I’m asking from the government of Israel is that it help me,” he said. “The Israeli government can give her a visa, and God willing they would do that and she can come here.”