Women against deportation: The International Woman Day of Maan

On the International Woman Day, March 8<sup>th</sup>, Arab and Jewish women, refugees and asylum seekers, gathered in Jaffa to express their firm objection to the planed deportation of African refugees […]

On the International Woman Day, March 8<sup>th</sup>, Arab and Jewish women, refugees and asylum seekers, gathered in Jaffa to express their firm objection to the planed deportation of African refugees and asylum seekers, initiated by the Israeli government. The event was held by WAC – MAAN at the Arab – Jewish Theatre in Jaffa. The place was packed with Arab women from East Jerusalem and the Triangle, representatives of organizations unionized in WAC – MAAN, human rights organizations and asylum seekers.

The event was moderated by Hanan Zoabi Manadre, the chairwoman of WAC – MAAN. She welcomed the participants and explained that as a union, WAC cannot stand aloof while the Israeli government plans to deport thousands of asylum seekers. Mandare asserted that a workers’ union which takes care of the bread and butter of its members and ignores the brutal oppression of groups of other people, is betraying its mission.

“In these days, we witness some dramatic political events in the Middle East. Millions of refugees are forced to escape Syria, Iraq and Africa – each nation and its own tragedy. I takethe opportunity to stress especially the fate of civilians in Eastern Ghouta, Syria, whle the world, including the Arab states, remains silent.

Hanan Mandra Zuaobi – WAC-MAAN

Only a few eyes remained dry following the speech of Asma’it Merhatziyon, who fled from Eritrea and is working today in the Aids Israel Organization. Asma’it spoke in Hebrew, a language she learnt upon arriving to Haifa, Israel, with a group of asylum seekers who received Hebrew lessons at the WAC – MAAN center there. “I am so excited to see here Arab and Jews who are united in solidarity, it empowers me. When WAC – MAAN enabled us to use their office, it was a real lifeline. We didn’t just learn Hebrew but also started to learn about our culture, to grasp what we’ve been through once we left our homeland.”

Asmait Meharziyon, Aritrean refuge seeker

“I arrived at Israel in 2011 because I was persecuted in my own homeland, I was jailed twice because of my beliefs. At first I arrived at Sudan, but there they decided that I should return to my homeland following an agreement with the Eritrean government. I managed to flee again, this time to Libya. I was jobless and had to work, but there too my life was undermined and shaken due to the Libyan Civil War. The only way to escape the war in Libya was to flee to Israel.”

Asma’it related to her hardships in Israel. “When I came here, life was difficult. I did not know a living soul, I didn’t even have underwear to change. In the past I was a student and in Israel I began studying at “the University of Life”. From Haifa I moved to Tel Aviv, organized the center for Eritrean women, and now I’m working for AIDS Israel Organization. During my work I meet refugee women who had experienced torture and rape on their way to Israel; like me, they were thinking of starting a new life, but instead, went through seven years of instability. However, I refuse to give up; I need to fight for myself, for the future of my community and of my newborn daughter. I have learned that it is not easy to be a woman.”

The Rana choir from Jaffa sings in Arabic and Hebrew

The women of <em>Rana</em>, a Jewish-Arab choir, sang three songs to the enthusiastic audience. The choir sings in Arabic and Hebrew, thus delivering the message of a shared society and solidarity, a message that was reflected in the optimistic atmosphere prevailing among the audience as well as in speeches delivered during the evening.

Ayana Ardel, teacher and poet – Yad Beyad school

Ayana Erdal represented a group of teachers from the Hand in Hand Centers for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel, who unionized in WAC – MAAN. Erdal is a teacher and poet. She was also active the unionizing process. She read one of her poems, “We were mothers”. The poem was translated into Arabic and read during the evening. Three Arab pupils from the Hand in Hand high-school in Jerusalem, and who commemorated the International Woman Day at their school read texts they wrote about being refugees.

 

Michal Sade – Physicians for human rights

Michal Sade, who represented Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) who unionized with WAC – MAAN, spoke about the collective agreement signed by WAC – MAAN for the workers. She then explained the work carried out by the PHR stuff, aiding Palestinians living in the occupied territories and providing them with medical treatment. The PHR, she added, has launched a public clinic in Jaffa to help people who live in the area and lack medical insurance, among them many asylum seekers. “We meet the victims of the torture camps in Sinai, including women who were tortured and raped. It is hard to describe how much the threat of deportation inflicts women, even if they’re not on the list to be deported immediately,” she said.

Hamutal Sadan – Hotline for imigrants and refugees

Hamutal Sadan spoke on behalf of the Hotline for Refugees and Emigrants (HRE). She emphasized the importance of exposing the situation of 7,000 female refugees who constitute 20 percent of the asylum seeker population in Israel. These women, she added, raise their families and live in constant uncertainty while their partners are exposed to immediate risk of deportation.

 Lisa Catz, poet and translator

Lisa Katz, a poet read “The Laborers”, a poem written by Eli Eliahu.

Wafa Tiara, the coordinator of WAC – MAAN Women & Work project

Wafa Tiara, the coordinator of WAC – MAAN Women &amp; Work project, emphasized in her speech the absurdity of the situation where asylum seekers are being deported while at the same time the Israeli government encourages the importation of migrant workers to do the same jobs the refugees do, for the benefit of corrupt manpower companies.

Hedva Yisachar – Worker Hotline

Hedva Yisachar spoke on the behalf of Workers Hotline (Kav laoved) which defends asylum seekers vis a vis their employers. There are employers, she said, who exploit the weakness of asylum seekers and don’t pay them for their work. Yisachar said that during 2017, the Workers Hotline dealt with 1,400 applications, 60 percent of which were by women. “We have managed to get 7 million Shekels,” she told the applauding audience.

Tirhas Mahri and band led spontanious dancing

The evening was concluded by singing of the Eritrean singer Tirhas Mahri and her band that led to spontaneous dancing of women from the audience.

A very mixed crowd

It was a thrilling event, marked by the determination, optimism and solidarity in the struggle against the deportation of refugees and asylum seekers, women and men, and for securing their rights and status.

*  Translated by David Merhav

 

אודות Wac-Maan