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Sunday 25 November 2007

The Pluralist Newsletter

The Pluralist
Newsletter from the Israel Religious Action Center

November 18, 2007
Shalom Friends of IRAC. As promised this edition features a story about
IRAC's work on behalf of the African refugees in Israel. Take your time
to read the entire story which has a compelling message. "Thou shall not
stand idly by the shedding of the blood of thy fellow man" (Deuteronomy
19). This is also the guiding principle of our humanitarian aid project
Keren B'Kavod. If you would like to support this project, we would love
to hear from you. L'shalom, Anat Hoffman

In the Spirit of "Never Again"
IRAC Aids African Refugees in Israel
On October 16th, Sharona Yekutiel, the Director of Keren B'Kavod, the
humanitarian aid program of IRAC, together with a number of volunteers,
visited a shelter for African refugees in Tel-Aviv. In a crowded, filthy
room they found a group of over 100 men, women and children, living in
deplorable conditions, without basic hygiene and health accommodations.
It was there they met Johnny Israel, a 14 year old refugee from Nigeria
Johnny is one of the 40 teenage boys, ages 14 through 17, who are
staying in this shelter in Tel-Aviv. Like many of the other boys in the
shelter, Johnny is an orphan who witnessed the murder of his parents by
militant Nigerian rebels. Afraid of being forcibly recruited to one of
the local militias, the boy and his younger sister who had been
violently raped fled to Egypt where the girl was hospitalized in serious
condition. Johnny understood that they would not be safe in Egypt for
long, so he took his ill sister and embarked on a journey to Israel by
foot. Sadly, she died on the journey, but Johnny was able to cross the
border to Israel, where he was picked up by the IDF and later
transferred to Tel-Aviv. Unfortunately, Johnny's story is typical of the
horrors the African refugees have been through.

The Situation of the African Refugees in Israel
Human rights agencies estimate that there are approximately 2000 African
refugees in Israel today, over 400 of whom are children. Most are from
Sudan, primarily Darfur, where horrible genocide is taking place. The
rest of the African refugees, who've also escaped ethnic cleansing,
political strife and economic distress, come from the Ivory Coast,
Nigeria, the Congo, Eritrea and Somalia. All the refugees in Israel make
their way into the country on foot from Egypt, which has a Sudanese
population of about 30,000, many of whom are refugees from the Darfur
The Israeli government has yet been able to find a solution or even
articulate a cohesive plan on how to address and rectify the situation
of the African, and in particular, Sudanese refugees in Israel. Many of
the men are kept in Ktziot Prison in Southern Israel while the women and
children are being dispersed throughout the country, but municipalities
are not equipped to handle refugees nor do they want to see themselves
as the long term solution. Many Israelis have offered assistance,
clothes and other donations. Some have even welcomed refugees into their
homes in kibbutzim around the country, offering them a temporary
shelter. Others, who are less fortunate, have been neglected by the
Israeli authorities after their release and are now arriving in Tel-Aviv
in search of work
These refugees live in extremely difficult conditions. Those who are
able work while the rest stay in buildings that are not fit for human
inhabitance. They live with very little food, unfit sanitary conditions
and overcrowded sleeping accommodations. Keren B'Kavod staff and
volunteers have visited two of the three large buildings where between
80 and 120 people live in the basements with one toilet and one shower.
It is in one of these shelters that they met Johnny Israel. Most are
refugees who have arrived in Tel-Aviv in the past few days and are
staying in these "half-way houses" until better accommodations are found
for them. These people have faced unimaginable horrors both in their
home countries and in their dangerous journey to Israel where they had
hoped to find peace and safety

Keren B'Kavod's Ongoing Help for African Refugees
Throughout the past year and a half, Keren B'Kavod has been working in
cooperation with the Hotline for Migrant Workers to help these African
refugees. Last May, during the Shavuot holiday, we launched an extensive
campaign to raise awareness and encourage the Israeli public to reach
out to the African refugees. The campaign was designed to motivate
Israelis to assist these survivors of the genocide in Sudan and other
atrocities in Africa. Particularly, in light of the Jewish experience
and history of the Holocaust, IRAC full-heartedly believes that we must
unite and do all in our power to help these African refugees who have
come to Israel seeking safe refuge.
Specifically, Keren B'Kavod has been helping refugees and foreign
workers with health insurance, providing volunteers with transportation
to prisons, distributing food, clothing, blankets and baby products.
This work has been supported from donations from Reform Congregations in
the United States and Israel. Israeli congregants have also donated tens
of thousands of shekels, food and clothes as well as volunteered. In
addition, IRAC is working with a coalition of human and civil rights
organizations to advocate in the Knesset on behalf of the Sudanese
refugees to prevent their deportation back to Sudan or Egypt where they
will most certainly be killed.
What we have learned is that the most difficult time for the refugees is
when they first arrive. Therefore we are now providing the refugees with
a "Care Package" to meet their most basic needs upon arrival. These care
packages include a blanket, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap and shampoo,
toilet paper, underwear, flip-flops, a jump-suit and a box of
chocolates. Keren B'Kavod strives to meet the needs of the Sudanese and
other African refugees and help them find a place of peace and dignity
(kavod) after all the horrors they have faced.

Protesters, refugees call for better treatment of asylum-seekers
By Tamara Traubmann, Haaretz Correspondent
Hundreds of people, including refugees, their Israeli supporters and
human rights activists, took part in a march in Tel Aviv on Friday to
protest the state's treatment of refugees and to demand they receive
education, health care, welfare and other social benefits. The march
began on Rothschild Boulevard and ended outside the Cinematheque with a
"protest carnival," partially aimed at illustrating the social and
cultural wealth the refugees bring to Israel.

Exploitation, or jail
By Nurit Wurgaft
It's evening, and four Eritrean refugees have finished their work day at
the greenhouses. They're back in their dwelling at Moshav Sharsheret, in
the northern Negev: two tiny rooms in a shack. They work at Tiv Shtil
Nursery. To wash up after the grueling day, they have to go to the
showers of the Thai workers, in the shack next door. Their shack has no
shower or toilet. Or refrigerator. They can cook, in the dark: Their
rooms have no electricity. The table bears the remains of a pita and a
soft drink from the moshav grocery. "On weekends we cook rice," they say.

Contributors to the newsletter: Sharona Yekutiel, Coordinator, Keren
B'Kavod Rachel Canar, Director of Development and Communications Rita
Konaev, Development Associate


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