I found myself staring into the eyes of the men, women and children we had been working with all week. Over one hundred asylum seekers. They stood shoulder to shoulder around the perimeter of the room, waiting for their interviews. Shuffling their feet. Talking in low whispers. Holding numbers on little pieces of paper that they had nervously creased and rolled until translucent. They waited to tell us their stories- about their families in Darfur, their difficult journey to Israel, their summons to prison. We were mapping the African asylum seeker community in Arad in the face of hard times imposed by new Israeli government policies.
We labored through many languages and long hours. Translators from the community ran laps between intake stations. Brothers helping brothers. Small paper cups filled with hot coffee kept us going into the night. That this simple documentation of their existence was so meaningful to these men and women faced with almost sure deportation or imprisonment was humbling. It was more than just information typed into a computer; it was a safeguard, one more potential step towards refugee status and the basic rights that come with this determination.
Still, the future of this strong and hopeful group of people is uncertain. They protest peacefully in the capital in unprecedented numbers. They reach out to the international community, hoping their stories will inspire action.
Our quick departure feels painful and unfair. How easy it is for us to move between countries. To pursue higher education. To see our families. We continue to check the news and eagerly read communications from our partners in Arad and Tel Aviv. The person to person connections we made during these long days have made a lasting impression on all of us. Our thoughts are with our friends in Israel, and we are committed to sharing their stories. We are thankful for this time together, which has inspired renewed passion for social justice and shed new light on a complex issue we all care about.
By Jes Walton
With the intensity and rapidity of the last few days in Arad, this post was put on hold, which in hindsight was beneficial because it has given me a chance to reflect after a few calmer days. Our last few days in Arad were marked by a complete spectrum of emotions—anger, sadness, jubilance, and exhaustion. First, we completed our work at the bomb shelter, with a beautiful memorial being the distinguishing feature that now welcomes people as they enter the door. We were also able to put the finishing touches on our projects for the Student for Refugees organization; my group was focused on developing activities for the children of the community. But the most moving part of our last few days in Arad had to be working at the democratic school mapping the asylum seeking community as they started receiving invitations to the detention center as Israel’s laws were changing. We heard so many touching stories and personal accounts of people who made the trek across the Cyanide desert and this experience came full circle after we attended a press conference and peaceful demonstration in Tel Aviv where we saw them fighting for their rights. This asylum seeking community is so positive and hopeful that they will succeed in their plight and it was uplifting to see that even after just a few days of protesting, their support grew exponentially. We all hope to continue our work with them while back in the states, starting by raising awareness on the issue.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms—to choose ones attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose ones own way.” Victor Frankl
By Rebecca Gustine