During our trip last week to Palestine and Israel, our delegation of artists and activists, including Dream Hampton, Ferrari Sheppard, Remi Kanazi, Professor Robyn Spencer, and Bill Fletcher Jr. were able to travel to South Tel Aviv to see first hand the organizing being done by the African migrant community.
Last week over 30,000 African refugees participated in protests in Israel. They also began a general strike that is going on it’s second week. Journalist and documentarian David Sheen connected us to an Israeli woman who is assisting the steering committee made up of Eritreans and Sudanese. We learned how, despite facing severe poverty and racism, their strategies have been successful. Here are 5 that really stood out for me.
1) Unity – Although the neighboring countries Eritrea and Sudan have a history of conflict, the refugees who risked their lives to come to Israel, primarily from these 2 places, have forged ties based on equality and respect. Committees are made up of a equal number of participants from each country. Their operational unity was said to have shocked the Israeli government.
2) Support Women Leaders – When we arrived in Tel Aviv, we witnessed the planning of the march that was recently lead by women and children. An African women, who was one of the main organizers, had all the men step to the back and the women come up front. Although some of the men were nervous because of the violent treatment they received from the Israeli army and police, they supported the march and it was a success.
3) Self Funding – The African refugees are not relying on NGO or non for profits to fund their movement. They are putting the little resources they have together collectively to get as many people that want to participate the proper travel. This is strictly a grassroots movement.
4) Not Relying on Social Media – Because many of the refugees don’t have access to the internet, they had to employ other methods of getting the word out. Committed folks have knocked on doors and taken flyers to as many areas as needed. The result was 30,000 of the approximate 60,000 refugees participating in the protests.
5) The Power of Strikes – The African refugee community in Tel Aviv end up working most of the low wage jobs in the fancy hotels and restaurants. One observer we spoke with said, ” they clean the dirt of Israeli society”. Once they decided to go on strike, their employers got nervous and asked the government to give them work visas.
There are still, however, serious issues that the African refugees in Israel are facing, including indefinite detention and racist attacks. Last week a man named Mordechai Zertzky stabbed a Eritrean baby in the head with a pair of scissors. Also, the Israeli Government has taken a hard line against the refugees with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu going as far as to call them, “infiltrators” that, “threaten the Jewish character of Israel.”
These protests are in their initial stages and are indeed inspiring, however international pressure must be put on the state of Israel to function like a true democracy with regards to the African refugees and the unjust occupation of Palestine.