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Thanks for the Oscar… now wave goodbye

Film about Israeli school wins award - but its pupils may be deported

It has the plot of a happy-ending Spielberg flick, but the denouement of a Coen brothers angst-fest.

The news that the film Strangers no More, about a school for the children of migrants in south Tel Aviv, got the Best Short Documentary award at the 2011 Oscars this week brought delight to Israel and the Jewish world - not to mention its pupils and staff.

But then came the twist: 120 of the pupils are among 400 children of migrant workers across Israel currently under threat of deportation by the Interior Ministry. And one of the reasons for the celebrations at the school was that the publicity that the award has attracted may help prevent the deportation.

The film, produced and directed by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon, follows the lives of three pupils at the school, called Bialik-Rogozin.

Children from 48 countries, many of them born in Israel, study at the school. Over the past decade, Bialik-Rogozin has tried to bolster the children's identities and help them to integrate into Israeli society.

This week, as the children and teachers were celebrating the Oscar, head-teacher Karen Tal was at the awards ceremony in Hollywood. But none could forget the deportations that hang over the school.

Miryam Shapira, deputy head-teacher, said: "The film shows a beautiful story of children who become part of our society, and I hope that it will also help those who watch it understand that all of them should be allowed to stay here and fulfill their dream."

Judith, a 15-year-old student, born in Israel to Nigerian parents, said: "It is nice to win the Oscar but the best prize would be to let my friends stay."

Intense lobbying on behalf of the migrant workers has succeeded in changing Interior Ministry rules on the deportation of children and reducing the number of children about to be deported by two-thirds, but the ministry still plans to deport 400 who do not fit the guidelines in a few weeks.

This week the ministry announced that a special facility for the children had been prepared at Ben-Gurion Airport through which the children would be processed and sent back with their families to their countries of origin. Rotem Ilan, chairman of "Israeli Children", an organisation campaigning to allow them to stay, said that "if these children are good enough to win an Oscar and bring Israel credit, they are good enough be part of our society."

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