This weeks education seminar focused again on Israeli Politics and Society, but this time we went to Tel Aviv. I learned a lot more about society this time, as opposed to last Monday when we focused more on politics. The day focused on immigrants, refugees, and all the problems that go along with it. What happens when a country that was created by refugees after a genocide are forced to put limits on refugees now entering the country running from another genocide?
Our first stop was at the Rigozin Elementary School, a place where children of foreign workers attend school. We met with a woman who, in my opinion, was our most passionate speaker yet. She is 62 years old and has already ‘retired,’ but cares so much about this cause. Remember last week when I spoke of the Haredi Jews being in power and not considering everyone “Jewish?” Unfortunately in Tel-Aviv live a lot of illegal immigrants, these adults and children are in fear every day of being deported back to their native country.
Some of these ‘children’ are now 17-18 years old and have lived in Israel since they were little; they feel they are Israeli because this is the society they grew up in. For example, we were told a story about a boy from the Philippines who was raised in Israel and may be deported back to the Philippines. He doesn’t know the language of the Filipinos and knows nothing about their culture, how is he going to be deported back there with no money, no knowledge, and no resources? This is the story for many of the children at this school.
Examples of areas where these immigrants and refugees come from are Russia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Philippines. In a video we watched one young mans interview where he said all he wants to do is be Israeli and join the IDF when he graduates high school, but unfortunately fears this will never happen because he’ll be sent back to his native country. Many of these people don’t consider themselves Israeli, but because they were raised in Israel, they also don’t consider themselves members of the country they came from. Thus so many of them have no clue how to identify themselves.
Recently an HBO documentary entitled, “No More Strangers” was filmed at this school about these issues. It will be released some time in the future but is now in the editing phase.
After we left the school we walked to a park where we had lunch. A sandwich later we were standing in the park listening to another speaker. He was a volunteer from the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC). This is a non-profit organization committed to helping African refugees integrate into Israeli society. The speaker gave us a background on African refugees in Israel, and told us exactly what a refugee was. I realized yesterday that there is quite a difference between a refugee and an immigrant.
A refugee is someone who was kicked out of, or fleeing from their country because of armed conflict, civil war, and/or fear of persecution. There are currently 27,000 refugees in Israel, and 10,000 of them have entered in 2010 alone !! The rate is increasing rapidly. As someone living in the United States you may think to yourself, how can Israel not allow these people to enter the country when Israel as a country was built by refugees just a short time ago?
Back again to the topic of Haredi Jews, this group of people are in power in Israel and they do not want these immigrants. We were sent an article that touches upon ‘myths’ (I say this because there may be some little truth to them) the Israeli Government feels about the situation of these refugees and immigrants:
1. They are prone to criminality (whether because of their culture/race or due to want).
2. Migrant workers take jobs from Israelis
3. The refugees entering Israel from Egypt are in fact illegal migrant workers that face no danger back home
and a newer myth: 4. Claimed that migrant workers are having children as an “insurance policy” against deportation
If you want to read the article in its entirety you can click here
After we were introduced to the reality of the situation in the park our speaker led us through the neighborhood where the majority of these people are currently living. This is considered the poorest area of Tel Aviv and one of the poorest areas in all of Israel. I really enjoyed walking through it and being able to see all of these different cultures coming together into a small amount of neighborhoods. Although the United States is considered a ‘salad bowl’ of different ethnicities and cultures I feel, see, and experience it more in Israel. I think because this country is so small it is more apparent to me, but I really am enjoying experiencing the diversity all around me. Technology is not the only thing that makes the world feel small.
Eventually we ended up inside the home of the African Refugee Development Center. We all sat in a room and had a discussion, first touching upon when someone enters a new country what do they need to fit in and survive there? Shelter, food, clothes, healthcare, language/education, work/money, support/advocacy, documentation, security, and psychological support. Who provides this? In Israel all is provided by non-profit organizations and the people themselves, none is provided by the government. In the ARDC half of the money comes from the United Nations, and the other half comes from private funding. Our speaker told us that around this time of the year (November – December), not a lot of money is left, and many times it comes out of the pockets of the volunteers. This is a time I really wished there was a tree that had money growing off of it.
In this world there are currently 18-35 million refugees. In the last 10 years Iraq and Afghanistan have produced the most, and we can thank the United States for playing a role in this. Due to Israel’s location there are more refugees in places like Egypt (2 million), Chad (3 million), and also Somalia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, etc. But since Israel is a first-world country, this is the ideal place, and the number of refugees is increasing rapidly.
Other problems that the ARDC deals with are abortions. On average, one or two are done a month. This is because of the problems at the border when crossing over into Israel, many times the females are raped. Usually what happens at the border is a Bedouin will bring the refugee to the border and at night tell them where to jump to get into Israel. In places like Egypt when someone tries to cross the border they will be shot. 1/5 are killed, and too many get hurt during this process.
In China refugees are always shot dead trying to cross the border, therefore this has stopped people’s desire to try to enter China. In China and Greece (due to poor economy), no refugees try to come. Everywhere else in the world it is impossible to try and stop them from coming.
Our speaker ended the discussion by providing sympathy toward the matter. He said that in Israel around 80,000 – 90,000 refugees can be taken in. Israel is the leading expert in dealing with victims of genocide because they are pioneers from the Holocaust. Here people can be provided with crucial resources such as psychology, assimilation, etc.
Our speaker ended the discussion with a short and yet extremely touching, story. Three years ago around the time of Passover he was sitting in a room with volunteers and refugees at the office of the ARDC. They were recounting the story of Passover — when Jewish slaves escaped persecution from Egypt. This story happened 3,000 years ago. Some of the refugees in the room escaped persecution from Egypt just three years, three months, three weeks ago. It was decided in this moment to have a Seder together where they could all discuss each and every story. Even though these refugees were not Jewish they could celebrate Passover in a more recent and personal way.
What started out as a small idea turned into a huge event. Orthodox Jewish boys from Yeshiva decided to join, nearby kibbutzim donated tables and chairs, a well-known DJ volunteered to provide music, and many other people chipped in. The park where we ate our lunch was provided by the government as a site to host this Seder. The night of the Seder 1,000 people showed up, and it was just as successful last year. This year they are continuing the tradition and our speaker invited all of us to come. I think we now know where I will be celebrating the beginning of Pesach this year.
If you want to read a book on refugees entering America, I highly recommend “What is the What” by Dave Eggers. The speaker from ARDC suggested it to us and I read it last year and not only couldn’t put it down, but was able to learn a more personal, first-hand account about being a refugee in the United States. It is a memoir from a man (Dave Eggers helped to write it) who came from Darfur, Sudan (where there is a current genocide) and how he built a life for himself in America. Let me just say that it wasn’t easy, and Israel is not the only country that experiences these refugee-problems.
After our speaker we made our way to a nicer area of Tel-Aviv and were split into groups and given worksheets to find three different historical sites. After this we talked about what we found and how we felt about Tel-Aviv as a city. I personally love Tel-Aviv, I think it is hip, modern, and artsy. Some people feel it is too touristy, but to me it still feels like Israel. Here was a building I walked by that I enjoyed the construction of:
We were given some free time to roam Tel-Aviv on our own where I did some browsing shopping and ate a tasty dinner. We ended the night sitting on a bench and having a nice discussion before the bus came to pick us up. Here are Ariel, Jen, and I pre-picture, an action shot at its finest: