Migrant Workers in Israel: A Portrait
By Mary Slosson
Godwin Chijioke moved to Israel five months ago from eastern Nigeria.  He works as the supervisor of the public bathroom in Levinski Park, in the heart of South Tel Aviv.  The area is home to many migrant workers, who come from countries ranging from the Philippines and Thailand to Sudan and Nigeria.
He sees his job as much more than just keeping the toilets clean, though.
“These people, most of them lack the know-how.  Most of them doesn’t know about the W.C. in the places where they come from.  ‘What is this?’  So I teach them.  I tell them how to use it.  They appreciate it.”
Chijioke says that a good life can be made anywhere, and no one country is best.  Life, he says, “is how you make it.”
There are some structural hindrances, however, according to Chijioke.  “Money rules the world.  With cash, one can start up something interesting.  Without cash, vision is nothing.  With cash, your vision is realized.”

Migrant Workers in Israel: A Portrait

By Mary Slosson

Godwin Chijioke moved to Israel five months ago from eastern Nigeria.  He works as the supervisor of the public bathroom in Levinski Park, in the heart of South Tel Aviv.  The area is home to many migrant workers, who come from countries ranging from the Philippines and Thailand to Sudan and Nigeria.

He sees his job as much more than just keeping the toilets clean, though.

“These people, most of them lack the know-how.  Most of them doesn’t know about the W.C. in the places where they come from.  ‘What is this?’  So I teach them.  I tell them how to use it.  They appreciate it.”

Chijioke says that a good life can be made anywhere, and no one country is best.  Life, he says, “is how you make it.”

There are some structural hindrances, however, according to Chijioke.  “Money rules the world.  With cash, one can start up something interesting.  Without cash, vision is nothing.  With cash, your vision is realized.”

Arabic: Israel’s silent official language

By Jon Dillingham

Though Arabic is one of Israel’s two official languages, it’s virtually non-existent in official Israeli life, and even met by contempt within Jewish Israeli society, explains British journalist Jonathan Cook.

Cook, a former reporter for The Guardian and The Observer, now writes for Abu Dhabi’s The National as the only foreign correspondent based in Nazareth, where he’s lived for almost a decade. 

Cook’s position in the Arab heartland of Israel puts a different perspective on his reporting: namely that the post-1967 conflict over the occupied territories is best understood as a reflection and continuation of the larger conflict begun in 1948.

Israeli inequality sustained by citizenship laws

By Jon Dillingham

Israel uses the rule of law, namely two separate citizenship laws for Jews and non-Jews, to divide and oppress its minorities, says British journalist Jonathan Cook.

Cook, a former reporter for The Guardian and The Observer, now writes for Abu Dhabi’s The National as the only foreign correspondent based in Nazareth, where he’s lived for almost a decade. 

Cook’s position in the Arab heartland of Israel puts a different perspective on his reporting: namely that the post-1967 conflict over the occupied territories is best understood as a reflection and continuation of the larger conflict begun in 1948.

**The “loyalty oath” to which Cook refers to in the video was taken out of a law passed in the Knesset on March 28, 2011, a week after the interview.

The underlying philosophy of Upper Nazareth

By Jon Dillingham

Nazerat Illit, or Upper Nazareth, is a Jewish enclave built above the Palestinian Arab city of Nazareth in the Galilee, northern Israel. The “illit” city (the Hebrew word illit means both higher physically, but also “elite”, or better, in a moral and philosophical sense) was built on confiscated Palestinian land and, according to British journalist Jonathan Cook, serves two purposes: to stop the expansion of the “Arab capital” of Israel and to act as a mitzpe (“lookout”) to literally watch over Nazareth’s Palestinians (the municipal government building overlook the city).

Cook, a former reporter for The Guardian and The Observer, now writes for Abu Dhabi’s The National as the only foreign correspondent based in Nazareth, where he’s lived for almost a decade. 

Cook’s position in the Arab capital heartland of Israel puts a different perspective on his reporting: namely that the post-1967 conflict over the occupied territories is best understood as a reflection and continuation of the larger conflict begun in 1948.

Nazareth complicates Israeli narrative

By Jon Dillingham

British journalist Jonathan Cook explains how Nazareth’s religious mix doesn’t fit in with the common perception that all things Israel can be understood as Jewish vs. Muslim.

Cook, a former reporter for The Guardian and The Observer, now writes for Abu Dhabi’s The National as the only foreign correspondent based in Nazareth, where he’s lived for almost a decade. 

Cook’s position in the Arab heartland of Israel puts a different perspective on his reporting: namely that the post-1967 conflict over the occupied territories is best understood as a reflection and continuation of the larger conflict begun in 1948.

Discovering the Bahai Gardens

By Janine Rayford

Bahai Gardens in Haifa

“Wow, what is that?” This question sprang from my mouth the moment I first saw the Bahai Gardens in Haifa, Israel. My classmates and I had just gotten off of the bus in the German Colony area and were on our way to a restaurant that sits on the street just below the breathtaking monument.  Since it was nighttime all I could make out was an organized pattern of lights seeming to ascend into the sky. 

I had never heard of the Bahai Faith, prior to my visit to Haifa.  After a bit of research I found out that Bahai is a relatively new monotheistic religion founded in nineteenth century Persia and that the Bahai Gardens (or Terraces of the Bahai Faith, or Hanging Gardens of Haifa) are gardens that surround the Shrine of Bab.  Bab was the founder of Babism and forerunner to the Bahai Faith.

Intrigued by this new information, I decided to get a daytime look and spend my lunch hour at the brilliant edifice.  The gardens are a landscaper’s dream (or nightmare, in terms of upkeep).  Layers upon layers of perfectly manicured lawns, sparkling fountains and pruned foliage scale the side of Mount Carmel.  Guided tours take awe-struck visitors from all faiths up and down the stairs and throughout the flower-lined terraces.

A colleague and I listened in on one tour guide as she described how the Israeli government dealt with the Bahai community during the establishment of the Jewish state.  Holy places, like the Bahai Gardens, would be preserved, but the Bahai had to stop their missionary activities and limit for the number of followers allowed to remain in the new nation.  Leaving the gardens, I couldn’t help thinking that in Israel, religious politics plays a part in everything, even the flowers.

Jerusalem, March 2011
By Robyn Price

Jerusalem, March 2011

By Robyn Price

Separate But Equal?

Photos and text by Robyn Carolyn Price

These two women, Aumhasan and Muti, were born, raised, and married in the Israeli city of Lod, just a short drive away from Tel Aviv.  In 2010, the Israeli government finished construction on a wall to separate the Arab population of Lod from the city’s Jewish population.  Citing security issues, Israel said that the city, once described as a melting pot, needed to build as wall as a means to protect the Jewish residents from Arab crimes. The Arab residents, however, liken the wall to ethnic segregation.

"Look at the conditions that we are living," says Muti.  "Look at the infrastructure.  For our kids there is no garden.  There is no library.  There is nothing they have that makes a normal life.  They play in the street. There is no transportation.  It is very difficult for buses to come in here. And we are paying the same money as the Israelis, but we don’t have any services."

According to an article in the Economist, ”a study by a liberal Israeli group called Shatil (“Seedling”) estimates that 70% of Arab homes in Lod lack legal status.” Therefore, “many municipal services, such as street lighting and rubbish collection, stop at the boundaries.” 

On the other side of the wall, there is a different narrative.  The Jewish community is not denied services such as waste removal, paved roads, and a standard quality of life. According to the Economist, “Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, encourages building for Jews to proceed with abandon;” while the Arab residents in Lod say that they are denied building permits and many of their homes are demolished.

"Mixed neighborhoods," according to Sheera Frenkel in an NPR report ”have become a rarity.  Highly guarded, Jewish-only building projects have sprung up across the city, most of them sponsored by religious Jewish groups.”

"There is one street separating us and them," says Muti.  "They can build and they have all the services.  They have all these streets and infrastructure.  It is one street separating between us and them.  And look at them and look at us."

Kibbutz Metzer 2002 Attack and the Recent Fogel Tragedy

By Rosalina Nieves

On November 10, 2002, five people were murdered, including two young children and their mother, on Kibbutz Metzer in the Israeli Arab-dominated Triangle area near the Green Line in northern Israel.It was during the Second Intifada, and one year later the Israeli Defense Force confirmed that the killer was a member of the Palestinian Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

 

On March 11th, 2011, five members of the Fogel family were stabbed to death in their home in Itamar, a West Bank settlement located southeast of Nablus. No one has been arrested in connection to the murders but many believe the perpetrator is Palestinian.

 

As I was heading to Kibbutz Metzer, I couldn’t help but to wonder what the mood would be like. Nearly nine years ago, it had been the scene of a vicious attack similar to the one in Itamar. I wondered if the recent killings had opened up old wounds and if our conversation would be dominated by geopolitics and the region’s conflict. Almost every Israeli Jew I had encountered this week called the murders a “terrorist attack” and blamed the Palestinians for what had happened.  So, why wouldn’t someone who was witness to a similar crime feel the same way?

Once at the kibbutz, it took only a few minutes before our host Dov Avital made mention of the 2002 attack.  He didn’t call it a “terrorist attack” or even blamed the Palestinians, but rather explained it as a personal tragedy. The people killed that night were his neighbors and friends who along with him and the rest of Kibbutz, lived peacefully with the neighboring Arab village of Meiser.

To my surprise he made no comparison between the 2002 attack and the recent Fogel tragedy. In his opinion, the attacks were motivated by two different reasons.

The kibbutz had a been the target of an extremist Palestinian organization whose sole purpose was to disturb the peace between Jewish and Arab neighbors. The attacks also were a protest against the wall that had divided up neighboring Palestinian lands and a means to incite anger and hatred among the kibbutzniks.

“Metzer isn’t a colony or a settlement, and it not in the West Bank,” explained Avital.  “Itamar is an illegal Jewish Settlement and the people living there are as racist as they get.”  

He didn’t justify the killings but rather attempted to add another perspective to what dominated the media.

Avital Claimed that the Jewish settlers in Itamar had a reputation for being racist, and he compared them to the Ku Klux Klan. He suspects the killer may have been incited by the volatile situation in Itamar and thinks it may have been personal.

“You can’t compare, of course they were both hideous crimes where lives were lost, maybe for certain politicians they even serve as propaganda, but for us it is not the same,” says Dov. “We lived in peace and continue to live in peace with neighbors and we understand it was an isolated incident caused by one person, the killer.”

Architecture Students Design the Future of Israel

By Janine Rayford

Hagar Admi

When Hagar Admi thinks about the political future of Israel, she thinks in terms of blue prints. 

Admi, an architecture student at the Neri Bloomfield School of Design and Education in Haifa, contests that art, specifically architecture, is inherently political.

“It’s all about society in architecture, AS you plan for people,” Admi interjected at a discussion on coexistence through art when photography and animation students explained how politics are not a factor in their work.  “It’s not just art.  Everything in Israel is political.”  

For the Tel Aviv native, design and architecture is about planning for the future of Israel, whatever that may be.  She and fellow architecture students are working on a project that directly addresses the possibility of a two-state solution.

“Designs take into account what could happen, what should happen,” said Admi.

The project, focusing on the Israeli coastline, allows design students to engage the social and structural implications of Israeli politics.  The coastline community may become home to a major railway station, connecting settlements to the cities.

“The way that politicians divide Israel, it doesn’t work.  They just draw a line, they don’t employ architecture.” 

Admi rejected the political apathy of some of her fellow art students.

“When you put up a building you plan something, its going to stay for a really long time,” said Admi. “It has an effect on people’s lives. I think that architecture can actually change things. Maybe I’m naïve?”

By Bethany Firnhaber
Ancient “graffiti” on the walls of the Eastern Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, a church built over the site of the well where Mary is said to have been drawing water when she was visited by the angel Gabriel telling her she would bear the Son of God

By Bethany Firnhaber

Ancient “graffiti” on the walls of the Eastern Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, a church built over the site of the well where Mary is said to have been drawing water when she was visited by the angel Gabriel telling her she would bear the Son of God

By Bethany Firnhaber
Mezer, a kibbutz (collective Jewish community) 45 minutes north of Haifa, is known for its reputation of peaceful, productive coexistence with its Arab neighbors in nearby Meiser. The names of the two locales are so similar that on this sign, the Arabic script in the middle puts the word for “kibbutz” in parentheses next to the word “Mezer” so there is no confusion.

By Bethany Firnhaber

Mezer, a kibbutz (collective Jewish community) 45 minutes north of Haifa, is known for its reputation of peaceful, productive coexistence with its Arab neighbors in nearby Meiser. The names of the two locales are so similar that on this sign, the Arabic script in the middle puts the word for “kibbutz” in parentheses next to the word “Mezer” so there is no confusion.

I don’t love to speak about politics, but we live here - we eat and breathe politics.
Dr. Sharif Sharif, archaeologist in Nazareth, Israel. 

"The religious" v. secular in Israel from a migrant POV

I met Nina, a caregiver, while reporting on migrant workers in Israel.  Nina fit the typical description: female, Filipino, Christian, came to support her family back at home and had an uncertain future.

She recounted her experience to me and I was surprised by how it parallels a sentiment I’ve noticed.  I’ve been told this repeatedly as well:  There is a vast divide between religious and non-religious.  Both non-Jews and secular Jews see the relatively small but very powerful Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews as problematic.

In context of the migrant workers, the right-wing government swayed and controlled by Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox chipped away at migrant workers’ rights and protections.  It even continues to defy Israeli Supreme Court rulings.  Secular Jews find it downright infuriating.

So, back to Nina.  Her first employer was “the religious,” she said in her broken English. She was constantly harassed, worked overtime, never got a full-nights rest and wasn’t able to live out her own ethnic and cultural customs, like eating seafood.  It was “very difficult.” Touching her heart she repeated, “It was very difficult here [inside].“

On the other hand, she praises her most recent employer, a secular Jewish family.  There she values having a private room and her own bed, being respected and appreciated.

This Thursday the Knesset is going to vote on the first round of a law that will give the Ministry of Interior powers to severely control migrant workers.  This legislation is moved forward by the Right, including ultra-Orthadox Interior Minister Eli Yishai. 

For migrant caretakers like Nina, it already undermines their ability to receive overtime, get representation, and even a caregiver’s right to any romantic relationships or become pregnant. 

The new law will allow limitations on where migrants can work and limit how many employers they can have, essentially giving employers more power to leverage against migrants.

The Secret Cost of Home Demolition

By Mary Slosson

When a Palestinian house is demolished, the bill is sent to the family whose home was turned to rubble.  The only problem is, there’s no longer any address to which that letter can be sent.

Hani Khawaja, 54, a lifelong resident of the Arab neighborhood in Lod — just outside of Tel Aviv — received such a bill after his house was recently bulldozed.

His story was told via the help of translator and guide Khalil Aby Shehadi, who lives in the same Arab neighborhood in Lod that is known as the “Railway Station Neighborhood” because the train tracks run adjacent to the corrugated iron homes.

"To demolish a house, it costs a lot of money.  It’s about half a million shekels, that’s about $150,000.  When they come, they bring the police with them.  They close the two entrances to the neighborhood," said Shehadi.  "We can’t go to school, we can’t go to the hospital, we can’t go anywhere.  At 4:30 in the morning, they closed the neighborhood.  They put police everywhere, on horses, on cars, on foot.  And helicopters.  There were 250 policemen."

The helicopter cost 1,000 shekels per half hour.  Cleaning the rubble costs another 70,000 shekels.  

"They – he and his small children, tried to take everything out of their house.  They took them out by force," continued Shehadi.  "They destroyed the house with everything in it.  Schoolbags, books, everything!  Refrigerator, everything!  Everything, yes."

Khawaja’s blacksmith salary of $1200 a month leaves him unable to pay for the razing of his house.  And so he doesn’t pay.  He won’t pay.  Somewhere in the Israeli administrative system, Khawaja is slowly racking up fees and travel restrictions.

He is not alone.  There are 1400 other demolition orders in his neighborhood.