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An Open Letter from the African Refugee Development Centre

This is an open letter from Nic Schlagman in response to a letter by Aron Adler last week that was circulated widely around the Jewish world.

Dear Aron,
I take comfort from reading your kind and heartfelt words about your experiences patrolling the Egyptian border, and your feelings on the importance of offering dignified refuge to those who have suffered as we suffered.

Like you I am an oleh, although from the UK, l and have been living in Israel for 6 years now. Many of my friends do the same reserve duty on the border, and show the same kindness and compassion to those they find stumbling out from the night, often injured, from the nightmare of their past life and their journey to Israel.

My involvement in this story begins when they arrive in Tel Aviv. For the past 3 years I have been involved in running shelters for pregnant women, single mothers, and children, first as Shelter Manager and then as Humanitarian Coordinator for the African Refugee Development Center. I do this partly in honor of the people who assisted my grandparents and great grandparents when they arrived in the UK, just before the Holocaust swallowed up those who stayed behind.

I know that the work that ARDC does, staffed full of volunteers from across the Jewish and non-Jewish world, does justice to the stories we grew up hearing. It is clearly the only right thing to do to survivors of modern day genocides and state sponsored oppression.

I do not feel, however, that we can say with the same clear heart that we are proud of the response of our nation, our country. The Israeli neighbors near our shelter are prone to shout abuses at the residents and the volunteers for bringing black people into their neighborhoods; local rabbis print posters demanding that real estate agents refuse to rent properties to Africans; schools and nurseries refuse African children from entering their classrooms; and hundreds of men sleep every night in the parks and abandoned buildings of South Tel Aviv whilst receiving no humanitarian support at all from the state or the municipality.Between you receiving them on the border with hot drinks, blankets and lifesaving medical treatment and them arriving to our shelter, there are a number of worrying issues that cannot help but keep people like us awake at night.

After leaving you, they are taken to Saharonim detention facility in the Negev for processing. There are people who have been detained in Saharonim for years, with no access to claim asylum and no independent oversight of this closed military site. Women who arrived pregnant from the horrors in the Sinai are held there until their pregnancies become so advanced they cannot have an abortion, adding to our list of challenges having to counsel and support women having to bring these children into the world. There is no gynecologist on staff at Saharonim despite our regular reports and advice.

A recent article in Haaretz partially described the process at the Saharonim prison: “Attorney Omer Shatz of the human rights group Anu Plitim (We are Refugees), says the tribunal at Saharonim “cannot be considered a court, certainly not one that rules on the freedom of asylum-seekers. The best evidence of this is the fact that these tribunals are located inside a prison, far from the public eye.” Its judges, he says, are not subservient to the Judicial Ombudsman, “and as opposed to criminals, who are allowed a public defender, these victims come before the tribunal without representation.” Until this article, the media had never been allowed inside this prison for refugees.

Once released from detention our refugees are released onto the streets of Tel Aviv with a visa that specifically prohibits their right to work. All Eritrean and Sudanese refugees (86% of the refugees in Israel) are refused the right to enter the Refugee Status Determination procedure despite the well documented slaughters in Darfur and South Sudan and brutal human rights abuses committed by the Eritrean government. This prevents them from getting access to the basic rights that refugees receive in the US or the UK. Our refugees are now forced to survive on the charity of others or take illegal black market work with no guarantee of payment. With no insurance for the all too regular injuries that occur to construction and agricultural workers who are not trained in the equipment they use, our refugees are dumped in hospitals and left to pay enormous hospital bills, all the while employees know they can just go the next day to find more willing and uninformed workers.

As a law student you are only too aware of the behavior mandated on our government as signatories of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Indeed Israel was one of the very first countries to sign the document, which was written in the most part to provide a legal framework for the world to deal with over 1 million of our fellow Jews held in camps across Europe after the Holocaust. We continue to encourage the government to adopt the convention as national legislation, a role one day as a lawyer you will be able to assist us with. Without this the 45,000 refugees in Israel will remain without rights and without a future.Most worrying of all, is the legislation currently going through the Knesset. Our Parliament has discussed imprisoning anyone who enters the country illegally; including refugees of genocide; a penalty of up to 5 years imprisonment for Israeli citizens who assist refugees (that is you and me); building a closed detention camp for up to 10 000 refugees in the desert; and building a wall along the border that will prevent those asking for asylum to ever get through the door.

To think that my own government would discuss a bill that would criminalize me for my work and send me to prison for assisting vulnerable victims of genocide and oppression. My family was in shock when they read the proposal. How do I explain to them that this is the response of the country of the Jews, the victims of countless expulsions and attempted genocides?We must be proud of the work of our soldiers on the border whose gut reaction is to offer the hand of support and aid to the tortured faces we meet, we must be proud of the families and teachers who have embraced the stranger in their land and welcomed them into their homes and classrooms. We must also face up to our Interior Minister who says “infiltrators” pose “an existential threat to Israel”, and falsely claims they arrive carrying diseases. We must face up to politicians who score cheap points in poor neighborhoods by ratcheting up xenophobic sentiment, and to a government that does not invest a single shekel in humanitarian or medical support to these poor souls.

I am writing to you because the letter you wrote last week has travelled the globe, arriving in the inboxes of Jewish community leaders and congregants alike and I am sure you would like to paint as honest picture as you can.

I kindly invite you to visit our center and shelters to learn more about the situation so you are able to develop your beautifully written words to continue telling this complicated story.

Our story is a heavy burden to carry and more than a life’s work to do. We must face it honestly and know, in the words of Hillel, that we did not do to others that which we would not have done to ourselves.

Nic Schlagman Program Manager                                                                                                ARDC Golomb Street 52 | Tel Aviv | 66171                                                                                Office: 03 537 4617 | Mobile: 0544 427647

15 comments

15 Comments so far

  1. A. December 1st, 2011 2:31 pm

    Tell that heartwarming story to the prostitutes who work in the area and suffer rapes, stabbings and murders on a daily basis by your beloved African “refugees”.

  2. John December 1st, 2011 5:59 pm

    Which prostitues, dude ? You mean the African ones who could not get a work permit or a medical care and have to do such a horrible work in such dangerous areas to feed their children and pay such horrible medical bills ?

  3. A. December 1st, 2011 6:05 pm

    Oh dear.. Do you even live in Israel? The prostitutes aren’t African. But Africans are their main clientel because that’s where both live. If you havn’t even been in the area don’t bother answering, please.

  4. Netta December 1st, 2011 7:21 pm

    So your saying Israel shouldn’t let refugees in (maybe just Africans?) because Africans (all of theme?) beat prostitutes?
    I mean I think this is an important problem that needs to be raised but how can this be an argument against letting refugees in?

  5. David December 1st, 2011 10:59 pm

    Thank you for these words Nic. It’s important that people get to know the reality of the situation here. While the occasional individual kind effort might be made by a soldier on the border, the prevailing social attitude, which is backed by the religious, social, and governmental authorities tells a different story. Aron’s letter was news to me, as I’ve only heard soldiers talk about shooting refugees at the border and beating them. While that may be difficult for people to accept, it is not so far from the attitudes expressed by the society and government, which treat African refugees as sub-humans. You can even see it in the ridiculous talkback (by “A”) that is emblematic of the ignorance of society – “the prostitutes who suffer rapes, stabbings, and murders”? It’s hard for Israelis to accept facts such as those that show the rates of violent crime are higher among Jews than Africans…or that it’s usually Jewish men who are frequenting and abusing sex-workers, not their impoverished African-refugee neighbors. Africans are living a life of refugees who have lost their families and homes and live in isolated ghettos in the toughest parts of town. The situation is not at all unlike the one that greeted Jews in various moments of flight throughout the past two centuries in both the US and Europe. It’s a shame that Israelis are unable to see how immigrant communities have strengthened the culture and economy of nations like the UK and the US, but much of it is a logical consequence of the pursuit of an ethnically pure state that has obsessed the majority of the population.

  6. Avram December 2nd, 2011 11:34 am

    Who is this ‘David’ character?

    “as I’ve only heard soldiers talk about shooting refugees at the border and beating them”

    I’ve not heard of this yet … Care to offer links? I hope you’re not using ‘night time’ border crossings as an example to slander our soldiers on a heated border.

    “It’s hard for Israelis to accept facts such as those that show the rates of violent crime are higher among Jews than Africans”

    Please post the ‘facts’ from a credible website. Thanks in advance!

    “but much of it is a logical consequence of the pursuit of an ethnically pure state that has obsessed the majority of the population.”

    Ahhh yes … Are you one of those Gilad Atzmon folks? I hope these aren’t the fans Nic is hoping to attract with his piece.

  7. Avram December 2nd, 2011 12:09 pm

    Wrt my second point – I’m just curious as the Israeli police rarely bothers with the African issues, much like it rarely bothers with the Arab village crimes (Haaretz article in the last two weeks) or the ‘ultra’ Haredi areas of Jerusalem. Hence, I’ve never seen stats that can back up your argument conclusively within the Israeli population base. So do share …

  8. Netta December 2nd, 2011 3:39 pm

    http://www.knesset.gov.il/mmm/data/pdf/m02625.pdf
    This is the crime report from the knesset research body, couldnt find it in english it has all the info about the subject.

  9. Tamar December 2nd, 2011 9:13 pm

    The email letter of “Aron Adler” has gone viral, and I’ve received multiple copies the past month, and seen the letter on multiple websites. Yet verifying the source of the “letter” has been impossible, so far. I believe the “letter” is a hoax. An equally important reason for Nic’s open letter in response.

  10. Avram December 3rd, 2011 5:31 pm

    Thanks Netta – I will try to read this week. But I seriously surprised they have any stats on crime (for good or bad) for this population sector.

  11. Netta December 3rd, 2011 6:19 pm

    I’s only for this sector it was made to answer this question.

  12. nicschlagman December 4th, 2011 11:59 am

    Thanks for the many varied responses to the article.

    A – there are no nightly beatings, murders and raping in neve Shaanan. I am here every day, work regualrly with the police and volunteers from Elem who work specifically with prostitutes in the area and can say this as fact. There are worrying trends incresing about refugee use of prostitutes and also there is violence against women here but not demostratably more amongst the Africans using the prostitutes according to any social worker i have spoken to.

    Avram – i am no Sand man – violence is not higher amongst the African community in Tel Aviv, particularly if you look at stats reflective of socio economic levels. Neve Shaanans baddies are sadly mostly Jews who have bottomed out as a rsult of drugs and alcohol. It is a big problem for Tel Aviv that very little is being done about.

    Soldiers on our border are almost always very polite to refugees they meet. MOI officials less so – markedly.

    The important thing about the letter i hope is that it makes us think about an issue with no easy answers

  13. Avram December 4th, 2011 12:11 pm

    Nic –

    I didn’t say there was, or wasn’t violence – I just didn’t believe there was much evidence to back up his claim (just like we don’t REALLY know what’s happening within the Haredi and/or Israeli Arab communities). Wrt the crime level – I’d take your word over ‘David’s’ any time, and wrt your last sentence -> We can add that to the list of 10,301,400 things that need to be worked on in this country (being serious sadly).

  14. Netta December 4th, 2011 8:00 pm

    Avram,
    A research was made to back up the claim that the crime rate among Africans is lower than among Israelis in Elat, Tel-Aviv and Ashdod.

    I don’t think we can state as a fact that soldiers a nice or not nice to refugees or infiltrators how cross the border, more than that i don’t think it matters that much since it’s not about the individual it’s about the system and the system is fucked up.

    I don’t know this for a fact but I do believe that there are nightly rapes of prostitutes and homeless woman in Neve Sha’anan and the park based on articles and testimonies that i heard and read.
    (I leave in Neve Sha’anan and not always feel the most comfortable in the street at night).
    But again this is a subject that the police needs to deal with. There are defiantly more refugees how don’t rape and beat women than those how do and there is no reason to shame a big community for the crimes of a small number of it’s members

  15. amie December 4th, 2011 11:26 pm

    ” the government, which treat African refugees as sub-humans.” David, I have little experience about the degree of hostility from society at large in Israel, but as far as government, from what I have seen of the way the migrants are treated at Saharonim, and discussions within government, it is with great sensitivity and care. If you want to read an alternative view of this from my experience see

    http://hurryupharry.org/2011/12/02/a-response-to-nic-schlagman-on-saharonim/

    “I believe the “letter” is a hoax” Tamar the letter is genuine- it is vouched for by Yisrael Medad on his site, I know Yisrael Medad and I know he is genuine. (And Alex Stein could vouch for me, he can see who I am).

    http://myrightword.blogspot.com/2011/11/idf-humanity-on-border.html

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