24 October, 2009
Arad, Israel - On an unusually cool Friday night in Arad, a sleepy town in Israel’s Negev Desert, a meeting took place in the reception room at the Hotel Inbar. Although not covered by news outlets or given any type of attention by the world at large, it was historic in a sense. In fact, many outside of the room did not know of its existence to begin with. The meeting was a tribal gathering for Arad’s Dinka community, a faction of the South Sudanese population that has sought asylum in the Middle East’s only democracy.
From suits and ties to traditional tribal dress, with half a dozen languages being spoken between the participants, the sheer diversity was overwhelming. The meeting was a first step in uniting the Sudanese community of Arad. Said a representative of the Committee of the Nuer Tribe in Arad (another South Sudanese sub-group), “We need to be leaders in Arad. In Israel. But first, we need to be united with each other.”
The meeting was complete with celebratory song and dance in which community members holding Israeli and South Sudanese flags sang along with excitement.
“We want to show the Israeli people that we want to be a part of their community and that we also want to defend Israel just like any other Israeli. We are misunderstood as a people of problems, but we are truly a people of peace,” said Mr. Joseph Kuc, the Vice General Secretary of the Dinka Tribe.
The Sudanese community in Israel is a mixture of refugees mainly from the south and west of the country. While some of them are fleeing the genocide in the western province of Darfur, others are fleeing deplorable conditions and government persecution in the south. Of the approximately 700 Sudanese refugees in Arad, there are significant populations from ten different tribes. They represent Christianity, Islam, and several different tribal religions.
The experience for the thousands of Sudanese in Israel has been rife with threats of deportation and difficulty in procuring social services. The fact that their home country of Sudan has technically been at war with Israel since 1948 only complicates matters further.
“It is difficult for them, but we do what we can,” said the priest presiding over the event, a man introduced as Father Salvamir from Poland. “It is difficult work for us, too.”
When asked what is the most integral part in becoming members of the Israeli society, the Chairperson of the Dinka Community - Brother Bieth Akuei - responded by stating that “We need to talk to each other. To let the Israeli people know who we are and to understand who they are.”
Although scheduled to conclude at eleven o’clock PM, the festivities were forced to an end by the hotel at quarter past ten. Despite the premature ending, the community leaders were quite satisfied with the progress made at the meeting. “It's representative to how self determination is the first step in solving problems,” said Noah Berman, an American volunteer with Young Judaea’s Year Course program and a member of Garin Tzedek, a Year Course subgroup committed to educating their peers and helping the cause of Sudanese refugees in Israel. "Even though we have a ways to go, it is nice to see the progress that is being made in the normalization of the Sudanese community in Israel."
Photographs from the event provided by Sean MacDonald