Visa violation. This was the reason why Linda Finamore could not enter Israel this summer as she tried to come back to what has been hers and her family’s home for the past eight years. Out of her period of living in Israel, Linda stayed most of her time on a tourist visa. Only for 18 months Ministry of Interior made it possible for her to get a volunteer visa. An A3 clergy visa was even further out of her reach being just a volunteering teacher at the Christian ‘Jerusalem School’ in Bethlehem.
Furthermore, sometimes the process of renewing her visa in the office of Ministry of Interior took so long that she would have periods of staying in the country without a legal visa just waiting for bureaucracy to do its job.
Traveling out of the country and coming back again to gain another three months was a costly affair as Linda was living in Israel with her two children and her husband, who was also a volunteer.
Since July 2006, Linda had been in Israel on a tourist visa, and as she traveled back to the country from America this summer, she came alone. She had a feeling that something bad would happen. And after ten hours of interrogation at Ben-Gurion Airport, she was put on a plane and sent back to where she had just come from. Reason: In Linda’s visa history there were holes.
The pastor in Linda’s local congregation, Alex Awad, is not sad because the amount of people attending worship has now decreased from 30 to 26 members. He fears that Israel is shooting herself in the foot deporting good friends of the country.
“Israel needs people like Linda. She was an amazing teacher and has had a positive impact on the Palestinian community where she worked,” emphasizes pastor Awad.
Linda was sent to work in Bethlehem by the American denomination ‘Assemblies of God’ – one of the largest Protestant movements in the world, generally in favor of the State of Israel. This ought to count for something in Awad’s opinion.
“Why doesn’t the Ministry of Interior look deep into the situation at hand to see what is good for the country? Linda was here for eight years. They know she is not a threat to security of the State,” he says.
Awad was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Bethlehem, but lost his Palestinian residency as he went to America to study in the 1970s. He managed to come back to his homeland in 1993 and now lives in Beit Safafa with his family, but only on a clergy visa.
“My own background is also a big reason why I feel with Linda,” he explains.
Awad himself admits there is nothing unique about Linda’s story. She is not the first and certainly not the last person who must pay a costly price for Israel’s distrustful and slow-working bureaucracy.
“If you fail to keep up with all this bureaucracy, you stand to loose. But when I look at Linda’s story, I’m thinking: Sure there were minor visa violations, but this is not a crime that should keep a teacher out of the country. She was doing something good. She’s a peacemaker and a reconciler. And in every way she sacrificed a lot to volunteer in Bethlehem.”
Awad is not trying to get Linda and her family back. He wishes to get the attention of the Ministry of Interior:
“Look at the big picture: Ease up on visa applications for people who are not a threat to security, but are making an actual contribution to the long term peace and coexistence in this land. I’m not saying that security matters shouldn’t be addressed, but don’t overdo it to the point where you are blind to other important matters.”
“Israel is good at fighting her enemies. She doesn’t have to be good at fighting her friends,” says Awad.
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