Sudanese Tel Aviv
The war in Darfur region of Sudan began in February 2003. Since then the genocide of the local African population by the Arabic government has gained strength. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed. All the young Darfur men live under constant surveillance as potential rebels. Some of them managed to escape to other countries like Israel
About 8000 Sudanese people who escaped from civil war and slavery live in Israel
About 600 of them have one-year A/1 temporary resident visa
About 10 people have B/2 Work visa
The rest have 2(A)5 — 2 month visa
1 person has refugee status
17 sudanese refugees are studying in Israeli Universities
2 hospitals take care of refugees in Tel Aviv. they are sponsored by the municipality and NGOs
There are 9 social centers that raise money for medical help and higher education for the community members. They were built by people from 9 sudanese Darfur tribes: Fur, Zaghawa, Masalit, BaRgo, Tama, Burno, Jabol, BErty, DajU
Arabic and English are the official languages of Sudan but the majority of Sudanese don’t know English. There are almost 600 tribes that speak over 400 different languages, to understand each other they use Arabic.
Yasol — Hey man! An informal and friendly way to approach someone. A very common Sudanese expression.
You will not see Sudanese women in restaurants, clubs or other venues, they never ever go out.
You may see Sudanese men walk holding hands and hug a lot. It’s a common behavior between friends that doesn’t usually imply any homosexual attraction.
The food in restaurants is traditionally eaten with hands, but don’t use your left hand, it’s considered impolite and is believed to open the door for evil.
• Bashir’s place (44 Yesud HaMa’ala St)
A Sudanese club doesn’t look like a usual club. It’s just a big hall with rows of plastic chairs and big plasmas on the wall — and that’s it, no tables, no bar. Here the community members gather to have coffee or juice, smoke shisha, talk and watch TV. Usually during the day it’s almost empty but in the evening the place is packed with people from all over Africa especially if there is an important football match. If you happen to come here, try traditional coffee, the one with ginger is delicious.
The restaurants have no names and are known in the community by the name of the owner. Sudanese food is greasy and sour and usually includes meat and okra. The traditional thin bread kisra goes with meat, yogurt sauce or foul — mashed beans garnished with olive oil, eggs and cheese. The price for a plate is 20-45 NIS.
• Isa’s place (6 Salomon st)
• Bagry’s place (21 Neve-Sha’anan St)
• 11 Bnei Brak St
• 17 Bnei Brak St
Kahwa — a set of coffee and popcorn. Coffee is served in little cups Finjan and Jabanah — handmade clay jars with cloth bungs which prevent the sediment from getting to the cup. Goes with a glass of water to wash the public spoon after stirring the sugar.
P.S. Taj Jemy
Taj Jemy moved to Israel from Darfur in 2008 running from the civil war. He is one of the few refugees who managed to get higher education in Israel, he holds a master’s degree in political science. Now he tutors other young Sudanese for university entrance exams and makes a living working in an exchange office in the Tel Aviv Central Bus station
“I know I’m not welcome here. I have no status for nine years, every two months I have to purchase a visa that doesn’t give me any rights. I have no health insurance, no work permit, I can’t open a business, can’t have a checkbook to rent an apartment legally, I can’t travel anywhere. And despite my degree, the only job I can get here is a cleaner, a construction worker or a cashier.
And as we have no status, people call us all kinds of names — criminals, infiltrators, rapists, thieves. In reality we’re none of those. Check the police reports — the crimes among the refugees are way less common than among the locals. We gather together to help each other. We raise money for education for our children and for medical treatment for those who need it. But no one sees this positive side, only the negative.
Southern Tel Avivians organize demonstrations, they attack us physically, insult kids and women, once they beat up an Eritrean woman with a kid, a kid almost died. Instead of this they should work with us to make the government give us the status so that we could at least look for a chance outside this neighborhood. But now it’s the government that pushes us in the ghetto.
The Israeli government is playing a policy of no policy. They just don’t want to deal with the problem. Now they try to force us to leave making us pay 20% taxes from our meager salaries. They are making our lives here so miserable so that we decide to leave ourselves. But we can’t go back to Sudan because we’d get killed there. So Israel concluded a secret agreement with Uganda and Rwanda — they accept refugees from Israel and receive weapons from Israel as a bonus. As a refugee gets there, Israel takes away the visa and the person loses any legal status. So people have to run away from these countries to Kenya or South Sudan, to Egypt, some of them try to go to Europe and die in the sea on their way. So the circle continues.
Most of my life in Sudan I felt fear of being shot or put in a prison at any moment. Only here in Israel I felt relief. More than that, I got my bachelor and master’s in political science here — something I could never dream of. So I’m very happy in Tel Aviv. And I feel very grateful to Israel. But my life here is a daily challenge. I’m not expecting any changes for the better, all the policy of the state is against us. I really hope to exercise my profession one day and to be a part of the changes. I believe in democratic Sudan. It may take long, but dictators never last forever.”
There are many international NGO helping refugees and Sudanese in particular. There is also an organization Bnai Dafur that was established by the local Sudanese community — http://bnaidarfur.org/
Text Asya Chachko
Photo Masha Kushnir