I love reunion scenes in movies: a mother and child embracing each other after a long journey that kept them apart; two lovers reuniting after a war ends; Lassie returning home.
But nothing on the screen compares to reuniting a real family that has been torn apart.
Last month, I shared with you the story of Aipokoro Molato, a 53 year old auto mechanic from Addis Ababa who was wrongfully imprisoned and threatened with immediate deportation. This happened because no one from the Interior Ministry told him that he has the right to stay in Israel because his children served in the IDF.
Within days of our Legal Aid Center for Olim (LACO) taking his case, the Interior Ministry agreed not to deport Aipokoro until his hearing. But they insisted on keeping him in jail.
Two weeks ago, the court granted our request to free Aipokoro on bail, which was set at NIS 10,000. It was bittersweet news for the family. They had already spent more than NIS 40,000 trying to help Aipokoro, and were financially tapped.
We couldn’t bear the thought of Aipokoro staying behind bars any longer. It was Thursday morning, and with government offices closed the next day, we had only hours to act.
Cue the theme song from Mission Impossible.
We headed straight to the bank and withdrew NIS 10,000 in cash. A member of our staff was waiting in a taxi and rushed the envelope to LACO attorney Nicky Maor, who was already at the bail bond office. Nicky pleaded with the clerk to call prison officials to let them know that Aipokoro’s bail had been posted, and that he should be released immediately.
I called Aipokoro’s daughters–Brachah, Tasfanish and Kochavah–and told tell them to meet their father at the prison. But none of them had a car, and the jail is in the middle of the desert, not easily accessible by public transportation.
We needed to complete our mission. I cancelled my plans to go to the Jerusalem Pride march, which I have never missed before. I got in my car, made three stops to pick up all three daughters, and drove them to the prison.
It may have been the setting – the barren landscape filled with prisoners, barbed wire and police towers baking in the Negev sun. Or the sharp realization that there is no white father in Aipokoro’s predicament among the jail’s 1376 other detainees. Or the dignified welcome and understated beauty of Aipokoro’s three daughters. Whatever the reason, witnessing this father’s reunion with his three daughters filled me with awe. I choked up and cried.
Aipokoro’s is recovering from his 43-day prison ordeal. His appetite has come back. His passport was returned to him. He is spending time with his new grandchildren. But it’s not over yet. The clock is ticking, with less than 45 days for him to obtain and file the necessary paperwork from Ethiopia in support of his immigration application.
We are cautiously optimistic and await news that Aipokoro has been given the permanent residency status that he and his family are entitled to under the law.
P.S. – Thank you to the 191 supporters who have already contributed to our campaign against Lehava. We will continue to update you about our progress.
Anat Hoffman The Pluralist 18 August 2015