As some of you may have heard, just last night I was celebrating with refugee friends the defeat of Bibi Netanyahu’s deportation plan. They would be given refuge in Western countries or in Israel. Their lives, in short, would be saved.
After many, many sleepless nights and demonstrating and activism and awareness, I was so delighted to finally feel victorious. To have literally saved lives. And all in partnership with the refugees themselves, who were ecstatic.
We had this brief moment of love and joy in the streets of Neve Sha’anan where we pumped up the music and paraded with the news. Refugees learned of the news from us as we walked down the street. You could see them smiling from ear to ear.
It was, for a brief moment, perhaps the single most positive step the progressive moment had made in either Israel or the U.S. in the past year. And against great odds.
I came home feeling happy and relieved. Perhaps one of my best moments in this country. Only to find that Netanyahu had paused (and later cancelled) the agreement. Specifically after meeting with “activists” in my part of town. Including a woman pictured kissing Bibi’s hand. They wanted every last black person gone. No deal with the U.N., no “half-assed” measures. They don’t want to incentivize other “infiltrators” to come.
I can empathize with their frustration- their (our) neighborhood is frankly smelly, neglected, and poor. And they are taking it out on the wrong people. The refugees didn’t cause these problems- they’ve been here for years. In the early years of Tel Aviv, the municipality didn’t even provide social services to Hatikvah. The hard-scrabble people here did it themselves, which is amazing. And also has literally nothing to do with African refugees. This neighborhood, my neighbors, will continue to neglected as most poor people are. Whether we live amongst Sudanese people or not. Neighborhood investment can’t come at the expense of human lives- regardless of their race or religion. It’s wrong.
Now Netanyahu is preparing to reopen the detention center, circumvent the Supreme Court ruling barring deportation, and ship my friends to their deaths. I’m sad, I’m furious, I’m tired of this back-and-forth game.
It also frankly makes it hard to live in my neighborhood. I wonder how many of my neighbors support the deportation. Sometimes I’m afraid to ask. I’ve been yelled at before walking home from rallies. I did discover two neighbors who support the refugees, which was reassuring and also a reminder not to stereotype an entire part of the city based on a bunch of wacked-out media personalities and corrupt officials. Because if I don’t have some counterexamples to the hatred, I just start hating my own Jewish neighbors.
So tonight, fed up with the bullshit, I decided to take a rather brave step. I live in a neighborhood where there is no- and I repeat no- pro-refugee signage. No leaflets, no posters, no banners. You will see those things in other areas of South Tel Aviv, but there are no hipsters on my street. I am “the American”. The most common sign in my neighborhood is for a rabbinic study session or pictures of Shas Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. In my part of town, the Likud is the left wing. The other voters are often going for Shas. It’s certainly a complex place, not black-and-white, and it’s also a rather right-wing part of town. The most right-wing part of Tel Aviv by far.
In this context, I recalled an Arabic word I learned the other day. Some Sudanese guys from Darfur opened up a brand new produce shop. Beautiful, clean, friendly. I bought some fruit and talked to them in Arabic. Of course, also about the deportation. They asked if I was a “naashit”. I couldn’t place the word, but with the help of some explanation and Google Translate, I learned it was “activist”. And I said “yes!”
My refugee friends taught me the word activist. In Arabic. And tonight, it was time to put it into action closer to home. Closer than a rally, a Facebook post, or even a blog. Having no idea how my neighbors will react (I still don’t know while writing this post), I hung a huge- I mean huge- banner that says “South Tel Aviv Against the Deportation”. Right beneath my windows.
Seeing as how it’s on the rear side of my house, I’m not sure how many people will see it. But people will- because it’s huge and I can see people’s windows from my own. So somebody, at least one person, will notice.
And that is a good thing. Because I’m not just hanging this sign for the refugees. I’m hanging it for my two neighbors who agree with me. And perhaps others who are too afraid to speak out due to our own community’s aggression.
I may not be originally from Yad Eliyahu or Shchunat Hatikvah or Israel. But I am a human being, I’m an Israeli citizen, and I live here now.
The merchants of hatred say they represent my neighborhood and I say “no”. You represent yourselves. I am going to speak my voice. I’m going to stand up as a member of the Hatikvah community, of South Tel Aviv and say “not. in. my. name.”
If you want to send innocent people to their deaths, God help your conscience. I will not be silent. And even when I’m not talking, I will still be speaking with every glance you take at my big motherf*cking sign.
Love your neighbor as yourself. Damn straight- my refugee neighbors deserve all the love they can get.