Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Adam Abdallah's Speech

Before Section II left Bat Yam, Adam, the English teacher at the Darfuri family center, passed along a speech he was about to give about the background of Darfur and his own personal story.  In the past several months, all of Garin Tzedek in Section II felt inspired by working with Adam, and it's only fitting that everyone should know why:

If you want to know what it feels like, ask a patient not a doctor. (Arabic Proverb)
My name`s Adam Abdallah and I belong to Fur tribe; the largest tribal group in Darfur.
Darfur ,which means the house of Fur, was named after the Fur tribe. It was a kingdom until 1916. It lies in the extreme west of Sudan. The Republic of Chad, Libya, and Central Africa are the neighbouring countries. The area of Darfur is approximately 196,404 sq miles and it occupies one fifth of the area of Sudan. It is larger than Egypt and it equals the area of France. So many tribes live there such as Fur, Masalit, Zagawa, Borno, Dajo, Arabs, etc..
There are some tribes intermixing with Chad, Libya, and Central Africa . Darfur Region has never been known to refuse people from outside Darfur. Thus it became an intermixture of different tribal and ethnic groups. These inhabitants, with all their different Arab and African roots, are 100% Muslims. This made the region more colourful.
Some experts describe the Darfur conflict as a tribal war, saying that it is just between the farmers and the cattle breeders. If it is just as they say, why is the government involved in that fight ?
Since I was a child, our parents in the village often told us not to leave the village while they were away for fear that we might be kidnapped. That was in early 1960s. In the country, it is quite usual that adults do not stay at home during the day. They either go to the farms or to the neighbouring villages for one reason or another. Children were kidnapped by the above mentioned nomads. Soon after that, it was in early1980s, another phenomenon emerged: Armed Robbery. People in military uniforms, from cap to boot, robbing on the roads, attacking and burning homes and villages, raping women and girls, even burning children alive, looting animals and killing these simple and traditional peasants in the cases of resistance. There was also a deliberate destruction of crops and cattle. Community leaders, merchants, teachers, and the most outstanding people were targeted. They have been detained, tortured, and killed. It`s been six years since the war started, and Darfurians have become either displaced or refugees in other countries. Despite the international demands to end the brutality, the government of Sudan and its Janjaweed continue restrictions on humanitarian assistance, attacking aid workers and expelling aid organizations. Diseases spread and the situation is totally worse.
My personal story:
I was born in a small village called Sulo.This village no longer exists. My father died when I was a primary school boy of 7. It was my mother alone who brought me and my seven sisters up. When I graduated from Khartoum University in 1988, I went back home to work as a teacher and support my family. I was appointed as a community leader. The same year, in november 1988, a war started between the Arabs and the other tribes in Darfur. On 25/11/1988 my village was attacked. It was early in the morning while we were fast asleep. The Arab miltia surrounded the village and set fire to the houses. Of course, houses in Darfur are huts. They`re made of grass and straws, so they are easy to burn. 154 people were killed and dozens of them were injured. My mother was killed that day and I was wounded. Others ran away to the mountains and other villages to seek protection. Everything was taken from the village: goats, sheep, camels, cows, horses, donkeys, all possessions and even hens. Farms were burnt. Nothing was left. In a couple of days the people of the village came back and rebuilt it. Some of the people are still missing. There were a lot of widows and orphans. The third and last attack was on 29 January 2004. It wasn`t only my village which was burnt this time, but also the other ones. The government did this systematically. All the villages in the region were burnt down to ground. I decided to leave Darfur. I set out for Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. I thought it would have been safer for me. As soon as I got there, I was empolyed as a teacher for high schools. But suddenly, the government began arresting Darfurians, imputing that these Darfurians supported Darfur rebel groups. I felt that my life was in danger. I fled to Egypt. I started my journey to Cairo on 8 March 2004. I got my travelling documents by bribing the police officer. I arrived in Cairo on 11 March 2004 and I immediately went to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for protection. The date was set for the first instant interview: 25/7/2004. By 1/6/2004 the UN announced that there would be no more interviews for Sudanese claiming that Sudan and the Sudan People Liberation Movement /Army (a rebel movement in southern Sudan) have signed  peace agreement. But I made an appeal explaining that Darfurians have not been concerned with that peace accord. I stayed in Cairo for four years waiting for the first instant interview. Finally I decided to come to Israel. My wife and I and our two children started the journey from Cairo to Israel through El Arish. On 4/7/2007 we came to the Israeli Egyptian border. The journey took us four days. At the border we faced a very high barbed wire fence. I managed to climb it, but it was too hard for my wife and the children to climb. While I was trying to help them get in, the Egyptian troops arrived and caught them. They were taken to prison in El Arish. They stayed in prison for twenty five days. My wife was pregnant. She was tortured and she lost her baby due to that. Eventually she joined me. In conclusion, I would like to thank the government and the people of Israel for hosting us.

Despite Adam's warm regard for Israel, it's important to remember that the Darfurian refugees who arrive here are not necessarily treated well: many people in the society don't want them here, and the government often takes actions that impede their moving here, such as the IDF's previous policy of "Hot Return," which allowed border patrols to immediately return any Darfurians who have crossed the border within the last 24 hours and haven't gone farther than 50 kilometers into the country.  The government also makes moves against their staying here, such as the infamous "Gadera-Hadera Law," which prohibited African refugees and foreign workers from living in the central area bound by Gadera in the south and Hadera in the north, essentially blocking out Tel Aviv.  Thus it's clear that, while Darfurians have found a shelter in Israel, it is not necessarily a cooperative one.  Israeli society is very conflicted about the issue.

A Bittersweet Goodbye to Bat Yam

This past week Section II moved from Bat Yam to Arad. Last week we went to the center for the last time and said goodbye to our friends we have made in the Center. Adam was sad to see us go and really appreciated us coming for the past 2 months.Cera, Nathan, Ittai, and Emilie also had to say goodbye to the children's house and the families. It was sad.
Over the past 3 months Section II has done a lot in Bat Yam. We raised awareness by having a movie night with Adam's story as well as other Sudanese refugees highlighted in the film. Adam and Nick from ARDC also came to speak to us one Dessert and Discuss. We raised a lot of money from the Shabbat Dinner and selling snacks in between classes every day and attending the fundraiser at the Dancing Camel. And we hopefully made a difference, even if it was only a small one, in the lives of the Southern Tel Aviv Darfuri community. Section II Garin Tzedek also had a couple events to build kehila such as Rikud Night and a Tiyul.

Now we are in Arad and there is a lot of potential here. Currently we have Ittai and Laura working in Ganim, and David working in construction for their volunteering. Cera and Emilie are going to do social work for the Sudanese and work with the families trying to help them with specifics needs. Also the Business Track hopped on the Garin Tzedek train by making their business project in Arad helping Sudanese set up a business for themselves. At this moment it is projected that the Business Track will help them set up a coffee shop, so they can help employ themselves and gain some entrepreneurship.

Altough as a section we are sad to leave Bat Yam, Arad is full of great opportunities for the Garin and we are already on the path to taking advantage of them.