Hoppa, Hoppa, Hoppa, This Is Not Europa

In addition to the conflict with Palestinians, there is also a conflict between Jews in Israel. Arab Jews have significantly fewer opportunities than European ones. In Tel Aviv, where the dichotomy is clearly visible, Shula Keshet is fighting against Jewish racism.

Published also in Dutch on De Groene Amsterdammer

Zina, a refugee from Sudan, has a daycare at home. Shapira, South Tel Aviv

The Golden Tape

A confused hooker is dancing alone in front of an empty stage; her skirt drops off her waist revealing scars of severe drugs use. A typical mix of African refugees and Philippine work immigrants, hookers and local shop owners are watching her. A neighbor feels sorry for her and hands her a towel to cover herself. The scene is amplified by massive police presence, blue lights and walky-talky sounds everywhere. Visitors start to come together in front of the stage which is build in the middle of what used to be ‘central station’ of Tel Aviv. They join the scene until a police woman intervenes and escorts the dancing hooker out of the hurdled area, giving the stage back to the DJ who’s warming up the crowd by playing old popular Israeli tunes under the glittering letters ‘The Golden Tape’.

A confused hooker is dancing alone in front of an empty stage; her skirt drops off her waist revealing scars of severe drug use. A typical mix of African refugees and Filipino migrant workers, hookers and local shop owners are watching her. A neighbor feels sorry for her and hands her a towel to cover herself. The scene is amplified by a massive police presence, blue lights and walky-talky sounds everywhere. Visitors start to come together in front of the stage, which is built in the middle of what used to be the ‘central station’ of Tel Aviv. They join the scene until a policewoman intervenes and escorts the dancing hooker out of the crowd, giving the stage back to the DJ who’s warming up the audience by playing popular, old Israeli tunes under the glittering letters: ‘The Golden Tape’.

Darkness has fallen on this neighborhood that once used to be crowded everyday with people and bursting full of smoking buses and cabs. Now a new, monstrous central station is built just a few blocks further, leaving this area vacant, like a scary collection of empty streets, dodgy business and brothels. I used to run here with my mom to catch a bus to my grandmother’s village. First we would grab some fruits for the trip from the luscious market stalls and swing through the loud sounds of Mizrahi music.

Mizrahi1 — meaning ‘from the east’ – became a name for Jews who emigrated to Israel from northern African countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Libya, and Arab countries such as Yemen, Iraq, Iran and Syria. The Mizrahi communities created unique musical styles, which combine traditional songs with elements of Arabic, Turkish and Greek music. In the streets of southern Tel Aviv, Mizrahi music used to flourish. Occasionally my mom, a Yemenite immigrant, would stop for a second and enjoy the passing sound of a new Yemenite song, raising her hands and snapping her fingers in celebration of the sounds of her childhood. In this neighborhood artists and songs broke out into the public and became famous. Some of the greatest voices of Mizrahi music lived here. Mizrahi music was however denied by Israeli radio and mainstream labels. Therefore it was sold on tapes, with photocopied sleeves, stacked in the big market stands, which were covered with posters promoting the musicians. We would recognize them later in our weddings and family events, where they would perform and claim their fame as ‘soul singers’ for the Middle Eastern community.

Gradually more people gather around the stage, the crowd becomes a mix of young and old, immigrants, Mizrahi activists, hipsters and locals. Shula Keshet, a social activist and head of My Sister, a Mizrahi feminist movement, and a resident of the south of Tel Aviv, is opening the event: “Here, in the backyard of Tel Aviv, Mizrahi music started blooming despite being excluded from the Israeli music industry!” The crowd sheers enthusiastically for Shula’s opening words. “Tonight is not just a concert. It’s a celebration of Mizrahi cultural heritage. And, it is a tribute to the southern neighborhoods of Tel Aviv. Preservation of our Mizrahi culture is crucial. And the south of Tel Aviv is the best place to do that.”

Once the band finally starts its performance and inflames the crowd with its songs, all the lyrics come to my mouth. These are songs we all grew up with, but when I left my hometown, I never heard them anywhere else in Tel Aviv.

What started as an awkward overly policed scene of a bad film has finally grown into a warm block party, which gives a face and acknowledgements to the local residents of one of most deprived and underdeveloped areas of Tel Aviv. Soon, I find myself dancing among old Yemeni women and North African immigrants. The Filipino couple that were filming from a balcony with a phone have now made their way to the front of the stage; and the disoriented hooker has been dressed again and found her way back to the center of the dance floor.

Shula Keshet

Shula’s parents belong to an Iranian Jewish community called ‘Anusay Mashad’. Mashad is the second largest Shia city in Iran. In 1839 these Jews were forced to convert to Islam. They did, but swore to keep their orthodox Jewish tradition in secrecy. They illegally emigrated from Iran to Mandatory Palestine in the 1930s. “Don’t forget they were not in a simple situation in Mashad,” Shula explains. For 2000 years they have been chanting daily ‘Next year in Jerusalem’. Since they didn’t want to mingle and they had to hide their identity, many fled to Europe and the USA, and some came to Israel. Shula’s parents bought a house on Matalon Street in Tel Aviv in 1959. It was a residential neighborhood with a primarily Mizrahi Jewish community filling in the gap between the white European north of Tel Aviv to the Palestinian Jaffa, in the south.

“Neighbourhoods like southern Tel Aviv have become fertile ground for right-wing and fascist voices” — Shula Keshet

There’s always been migration of individuals from Arab countries, but after the state of Israel was founded in 1948, big waves came to Israel throughout the 50s and 60s. This changed the demographics of the country drastically: in 1948, 80% of Israeli Jews were Ashkenazi, today 47% are. The new Jewish/Arabic immigrants were well received by the European Zionist Jews, who’d already set up structures and institutions in their new country. Specific programs were designed to receive the newcomers. Yet, they have been trying to reeducate them according to European standards from the start, ignoring the Arab and non-western roots and cultures from which they came. Opinions differ in the heated public debate about these early times: some think it’s a cultural misunderstanding due to the density of immigration and the incapability of the systems to absorb so many, others are convinced it’s a racist attempt to clean the Mizrahi culture from its Arab attributes.

Regardless, Mizrahi culture in Israel has been structurally ignored and its narratives erased. There has always been discrimination towards the Mizrahi Jews: many suffered a severe decrease in their socio-economic status aggravated by their cultural and political differences with the dominant Ashkenazi community: the Jews from Europe. Most Mizrahi came with no belongings and had no Western education, so they became collectively poor and didn’t benefit from the financial growth that Israel experienced in later decades. In fact, recent statistics show a serious gap in education and income between the second generation of Ashkenazi and Mizrahi people.

In Tel Aviv there has been a clear separation between north and south. In recent decades, Tel Aviv developed into a beautiful metropolis and became a center for culture and booming tourism. The UNESCO even acknowledges it as world cultural heritage site because of its unique Bauhaus architecture. The typical white houses award Tel Aviv its nickname: ‘white city’. Shula is appalled about this name and revolts: “There is the white city and the black city.”

She declares Rothschild Boulevard as the stitched line, a border. South from that line development didn’t arrive. The contrast is big: sewage running in the streets, pollution, and a lack of health and education facilities. In recent years the contrast grew due to the arrival of working migrants and African refugees. “In an area that is designed for 5,000 residents there are now 50,000 people, mostly undocumented, mostly men.” Tensions run high between the ‘old’ Mizrahi communities of the area, who are fighting against the newcomers, and the problems that have arrived with them.

Shula blames the Ashkenazi institutions, referring to the local and state government, dominated by white, European Jews. “They have been discriminating and marginalizing the Mizrahi Jews all along. Now they are using our neighborhoods as a backyard to put away all the immigrants. That’s why you find here in the south the Ethiopians, the Sudanese, work immigrants from the Far East – in tens of thousands. And you’ll see the Ashkenazi human rights activists, who are coming to support them, while the police make sure they are not seen in the rest of the city. And they call us racist!”

Beit Achoti

I’ve met Shula a year earlier in a community meeting about women’s safety, with residents of the different neighborhoods of southern Tel Aviv. Almost 50 women were squeezed into a small space, a double window street level space, which is used as the center for Beit Achoti. This name literally translates as ‘The house of my sister’. It is the home base of the Mizrahi group My Sister, founded in 2000 in response to all feminist organizations in Israel being Ashkenazi. My Sister aims to give voice and visibility to women from weak and transparent communities.

The evening is initiated by Tel Aviv city hall as part of the application of UN resolution 1325, on Gender, Women, Peace and Security. This resolution acknowledged that so far as women are excluded, they are not making decisions about peace and security, despite making up 50% of the population. 1325 focuses on the potential of women and the power they can bring to solving conflicts and ending confrontations.

The space is too crowded, the air dense. Voices demand to keep the door open. Young and old women of all colors represent the diverse ethnic blend of people in this area. Shula’s naturally loud voice dominates the chaos and turns to proclamation, opening the event by welcoming the members of the city board and the chair of the committee for the promotion of women in the city, the lawyer, Gabi Lasky. Shula compliments them for their choice to hold this event in the south.

Talking about this part of Tel Aviv, Shula says: “In the context of 1325, this is not a deprived area, it is a conflict area. On top of the domestic violence, there’s also much violence in the public space, in particular, attacks and rape in a high percentage by men. Remarkably, this is met by the roaring silence of the white feminist movement, though they know how unsafe it is here. For them it is politically incorrect to talk about the African refugees causing it. It’s crazy. So, what I am saying is: Welcome everyone, let our voices be heard, together we can – Inshallah – bring the change, we are all looking for.”

Then the moderator of the evening introduces the ‘talking stick’ to the crowd, designed to make sure only one person speaks at the time. The stick goes out into the room for a round of introductions:

My name is Nitza, a neighbor, first time here.”

My name is Shifra Biton, from the south of Tel Aviv, a member of the local activist group: The Not Nice Ones.

Marhabba, I’m Sukis Yahel, a Palestinian Jaffa resident.

Shalom, my name is Maria from Kongo, I am here for 15 years. I am promoting a sex boycott on men.

The stick arrives at Gabi Lansky, the human rights lawyer and one of the initiators of this meeting. She is a petite blonde and fashionably dressed woman. She holds up the stick aware of the fact she stands out of the crowd: “I am very excited to see women here who know so much about 1325, from a political angle, and an academic angle. And also women from this neighborhood, who live here everyday. This bridge between theory and practice is huge.”

“Can I say something?” Shula interrupts Gabi with her adamant voice. “I’ve heard someone say the word ‘voices from the field’. We are not ‘the field’, I am from here, born and raised. We are centers of knowledge. From us you learn everything. It’s not that you come here to visit and listen, and teach us.”

Shula’s words are well received by the crowd. The stick is captured by an other local: “My name is Miriam. My family and I are from this area. I am a simple person, with no education, no profession. I had enough of people coming from the outside to look at us, the locals, as if we are animals. And I use to tell you everything, what’s on my heart. Always. You’d come and ask: who was raped, who was attacked, why so much garbage in the street? What about the street lights at night? I ask you now: Are you doing something with what we are telling you?”

Shifra grabs the stick from Miriam: “Yes, we are the lab rats. The mayor of Tel Aviv wants to stand up to his words about peace, equality and security? First he needs to make us equal to the people of north of Tel Aviv. There you can walk the streets at 2 am and feel safe, but here you can’t. I don’t feel safe! After 10pm they turn off the lights. Then it becomes pitch dark in the street. I lock the doors of the car as African immigrants try to force themselves into the car. I am scared for my kids. First the police jump on them, brutal as they are not only to blacks, but also to Mizrahi Jews. Then I’m afraid for sexual harassments from the insane amount of homeless, foreign workers who are hanging in the public gardens, attempting to catch our kids.”

Shifra continues: “I hear words that are not even in my lexicon. I want to understand what you are talking about and I have to whisper in Shula’s ear and ask: what does this word mean?” Shifra feels inferior, but she is impressive in her brutal honesty and street knowledge. “We need your help. Our kids need your help!” she cries.

Frustration grows in the crowd, while embracing Shifra’s painful monologue. The only man in the room is asking for the speaking stick and is trying to move the discussion towards the pragmatic: “I am appointed by the mayor to be the head of services and I am here to invite you to apply and submit your ideas and requests. Yes, yes, concrete things. We are achieving change.” He is trying to assure the aggravated voices with an example of the latest feminist victory: “We have now made sure not only male lifeguards are on the beach, but also women! That’s an achievement!”

“We don’t care about the lifeguard at the beach, we are here, frightened for our lives!” Shula is shouting in disbelief. “You are hallucinating! You want to know what to do? You can start by turning on the lights at night!”

Shifra, on the left, next to Shula in Beit Achoti (My Sister’s Home), the home of the Mizrahi group ‘My Sister’s Home’

Shifra Biton

Shifra Biton’s house is located in the center of Hatikva, one of the neighborhoods in the south of Tel Aviv – and one of the toughest ‘slums’. Its residents, especifically those from Yemen and Iraq, made it notorious for its refusal to surrender to discrimination. Ofra Haza, one of the first Yemeni singers who rose out of the ‘tape scene’ into the mainstream, and became an international star, originated from this neighborhood. In contrast to the well-conserved Bauhaus architecture in the north of the city, most houses in Hatikva are made of sandstone and are now in decay – some unsafe for their residents.

City hall doesn’t renovate, though the value of the ground is already rising. “They want us to leave by our own will,” Shifra speculates. “Once we are gone, they will build highrises for the rich. However, we are survivors. We will not give up on our places, we are not stupid.” All of the neighboring areas, Shifra explains, have real estate issues. “People claim they bought their houses before the declaration of the state, so they don’t have the right papers. Or they have odd lease agreements with the state, which give no clear conditions for future generations.” These are typical problems for Mizrahi communities, who often lack legal understanding. Most of them couldn’t read or write and those who did master Arab dialects faced huge language barriers. Today the local government is selling such properties to tycoons, leaving long-term residents to deal with the new owners in courts for compensations.

“90% of the population of this neighborhood is poor,” Shifra states. “We – all Mizrahi’s – are fighting for our daily bread. No Ashkenazi is coming to live here, though lately some new Russian immigrants and students came. And now we have also Eritrean, Sudanese people here. This is Babylon! This last wave of immigrants has really hit us heavily.” Shifra explains: “If I would like to work in house cleaning, I’d have to lower my prices to those of the immigrants as they charge half. A single mom like me can’t live from the welfare, you need extra, but it has to be ‘black’, else it will come off your allowance of 2500 shekel. It’s survival.”

In her social housing apartment, Shifra had to build a ramp that allows her to push her 16 year old son, who is 100% paralyzed. She is caring for him and her four other kids – alone. She feels blessed that her father has always helped her. “Now my mother does, from a simple salary of a clerk. The welfare system is useless for me. Even more so since they keep threatening to take my children away. Instead of helping me, they make me insecure. I want to see them dealing with what I have to deal with. I am strong, I fight them.”

The smell of fried schnitzels is spreading in the house. There’s a happy chaos of kids and friends inside. Mizrahi communities statistically have more children per family. Therefore, they need more means to support these children to grow and study. It’s a cultural difference that is always questioned by the welfare system. I know for a fact that European nurses questioned my grandmother’s ability to raise such a large family at a young age. Her methods were met with great suspicion. Kids of Mizrahi women were taken to hospitals, some even disappeared. Leading up to one of the most divisive issues in Israeli society: the Yemenite Children Affair, which includes the disappearance of hundreds, possibly thousands of Mizrahi babies and toddlers. In the last few years this same issue has raised its ugly head, with allegations by Ethiopian women concerning forced birth-control injections that remain unresolved in court.

Many Ashkenazi leaders have expressed these cultural differences in racist comments. Former prime minister, Golda Meir for example, made poor remarks about Mizrahi family planning. In 1971 she was quoted reacting to a Mizrahi man who told her that making a lot of children was his way to support Israel: “Israel thanks you. Now stop making children and concentrate on the ones you have already.”

Shifra is most worried about her 14-year-old son: he roams the streets of the city and she simply doesn’t know where he is. She is anxious he will join the high juvenile crime statistics of the neighborhood. “These kids have nothing to do, but hang in public gardens, smoke and fuck. And then they tell us our kids don’t fit in the education system.” Shifra’s mother sitting on the couch all this time cuddling with her grandchildren. “He is a good boy!” she argues. She blames all the Africans: “They all walk around here, drunk, and we are scared. Didn’t you hear about the elderly woman that was beaten by one of those Africans? He killed her with one clap, she was just coming out of the supermarket.” A month ago, a Sudanese man walked into bedroom of Shifra’s mom in the middle of the night. Luckily she was awake and able to escape and call the police. Shifra tries to soften her mother’s remarks and offer some consideration. “There are so many Africans here, and they are so desperate.”

Shifra’s 17-year-old girl interferes from the kitchen: “Yallah grandma, what is wrong here? You go to Ramat Aviv, in the north, no one says hello to you. Here you walk in the street and everyone greets each other with hugs and kisses.” Shifra agrees: “Yes it’s true, we support each other. A week ago the husband of a neighbor left and she had no money to do the Brit Mila for the new born. We all got together and arranged it for her to do it at home by the biblical rules of the ceremony. This is our Mizrahi culture: we chip in and support. But this is not the solution for what’s going on here!” We are here buried between the Russians who brought the drinking, and the northern Africans who brought the violence and drugs. We can’t win,” says Shifra in a rare moment of vulnerability.

Shapira Neighbourhood, South Tel Aviv. Nearby Zina’s house.


“We don’t need to be separated, we are just people like you,” says Zina (this is not her real name), a refugee from Sudan who has been in Israel for more than 10 years. “We want to mingle. Maybe you should get to know us. We are like you, just black.”

Zina lives in Shapira, another neighborhood in the south. She is a refugee who has documents. Every 2 months her visa gets extended. And this has been going on for 10 years. In a ground floor, dark apartment she is holding a daycare in her living room which contains 6 baby cots. Toddlers are running around. It’s modest and simple, clean and warm. Immigrant’s crèches have been in the news lately, because of tragic incidents in which infants died. This is caused by ignorance and negligence of both parents and caretakers. Zina says that many of the children who recently died were sick. The mothers know but can’t afford to take them to the doctor. “They [the mothers] think: if I take the child to the doctor, I will lose a day, then maybe I lose my job. They prefer to take their kid to the daycare. And then this happens.” These daycares grew out of necessity, in an African community, which is undocumented. They have no access to public care, or to children’s subsidies.

Zina leans against the bright blue wall, on the floor in front of the big fridge. Her biggest challenge now is city hall: they want to shut her down. “My ‘gan’ [Hebrew for kindergarten] is not like a business: I just help people. ‘Gan’ means for us being together. Leaving the children with a woman you know. We are happy together. They give me 600 Shekel for the month, sometimes just 500. I say ‘beseder’ [Hebrew for ok]. They tell me: I have no husband, I am alone. I have to work all day. What should I say? Baruch Hashem [Hebrew for Bless God]: we have enough to eat and to help others.”

“I don’t want to go back to Sudan. I have children. It’s not safe there. I had some family, but I don’t know where they are now. Look at our kids. They are happy. Our life is good here. Our kids have a chance to finish school. I never had a chance to finish school.

Zina was 10-years-old when she left Sudan on foot. She stayed in Cairo for a while, and then came to Israel through Sinai. Zina is soft-spoken and shy, which seems to contradict the fearlessness and willpower it must require to travel to faraway places. She describes bodies squeezed in the back of a car, men and women dressed as veiled Muslim women. Her husband - who in the meantime entered the space - starts crying, and she is rushing to the end of the journey. “After we climbed the border wall, the Bedouins said to me: run, run you are safe, you are in Israel.” With a smile she is telling me horrific stories. In fact, she is telling a love story. She followed her love. She knew her man was in Israel and that’s what kept her going through months of travel, enduring hardship and not knowing what was coming.

In the background the kids are quarreling – in fluent Hebrew. It is evident that these communities are fighting each other for the very limited resources in a deprived, neglected area only a few kilometers away from one of the world’s most privileged and well-kept metropolitans.

This Is Not Europe

At Shula’s house, on Matalon Street, the radio is playing Margalit Tzanani, a Yemen born singer who is now titled: ‘The Queen of Mizrahi music’. Shula is singing along to the memorable phrase: ‘Hop, hop, hop, this is not Europe’. She remembers well that Ehud Barak once called Israel ‘a villa in the jungle’. He meant Israel is a Western jewel in the center of the Middle Eastern, Arab, Palestinian jungle. Shula claims: “The jungle is in the villa. We are the jungle. They look at the Palestinians as animals, but also at us, full of contempt. Rejecting Arab culture.” That is, she thinks, the root of the problem: the European, white vision that made the Jewish pioneers do wrong to both the indigenous Arabs and the Arab Jews. The conflict and trauma is between East and West, according to Shula, not between Muslims and Jews.

“Whilethe international critics, and specifically the European public opinion, focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they do not consider it a result of European history, more specifically of European colonial mentality. And they certainly don’t care much for the Mizrahi Jewish narrative, for those Jews who became victims of this colonial operation. Generally, the West doesn’t see its part in the mis-education of the Middle East, as it has continuously been trying to export its convictions and morals to the region.” Shula feels that Europeans simply cannot understand the regional conflicts here, due to their mentality and language barrier. They do harm by offering solutions, which, again, stem from European standards and logic.

Shula is trying to find a place for the Mizrahi identity within the international, anti-racism movement and in the bigger post-colonial narrative. She rejects the politics of identity: “We are women of color. Women of color are not only African. They are Spanish, Arab…Our struggle is the only one which is about ethnicity and class and points the finger at white privilege, in our case the Ashkenazi Jews. The Palestinian struggle is only positioning Arab and Jews, the Ethiopian struggle is only positioning white and black. They don’t have the understanding of the complex ethnical identities, which is a result of suppression. The color of our skin is not the only definition of color, but also our ethnicity. Arabs in the States went to court to appeal against their identification as white. They are not white. The Middle East is not white.”

“We are experiencing the destruction of our neighborhoods. For the immigrants, it’s just a station of transfer. Not for us. Still, we shouldn’t let the weak communities work against each other.” Shula is doing a lot of work here to meet and introduce the different communities to each other – in order to reduce these racist sayings and feelings. In Beit Achoti, they organised dialogue events between the old residents and the refugees. “We need to be united against the gentrification process of these neighborhoods,” Shula adds, “against the wealthy people trying to cheaply buy houses here. They want us all to leave, so that they can have another part of the ‘white city’. The way I see it: gentrification is the new occupation!”

Shula is working to activate and organize the residents of south Tel Aviv. The ground level Beit Achoti is always open for passersby. When a homeless woman comes in, she is invited for a drink. And when she is disturbing the conversation time and time again, she is being answered with patience and understanding – that’s how Shula meets all women like Shifra and Zina.

Shula met Shifra during the ‘social revolution’ in 2011.Together they brought the revolt from Rothschild to south Tel Aviv, to Hatikva, to the heart of social housing crisis. Together they did actions like changing the names of the streets to Mizrahi names. They put names like ‘Baba Sali’ streets or Ofra Haza. Shifra told me how heart warming it was to no longer have Rothschild, no more Ben Gurion, because for them these streets with the names of Ashkenazi Jews are a reminder of discrimination, racism and injustice. “They think we are stupid, that we don’t have special, smart people, whose name must be on a street plate.

In recent years, the renaissance of the Mizrahi narrative has been gaining momentum: supported by their numeric advantage and new interest in their culture, the Mizrahi became a group of interest. Shula: “For many years the white intellectual left ignored the Mizrahi. They’ve built their political presence from a mono-cultural, white public space. So neighborhoods such as in the south of Tel Aviv became fertile ground for right-wing and fascist voices to come and find ears. Netanyahu and his right-wing allies have scapegoated the African refugees as responsible for the plight of the south of Tel Aviv.” Frustration, fear, and mis-education drove Mizrahi voters into the open arms of conservative, right-wing movements. “We have put this issue and critique on the political agenda of the left.”

Shula draws a clear picture in which everyone is choosing the victim he or she is ready to embrace. It’s all about interests. “It’s easier for the white, left-wing to embrace the African refugees,” she explains, “than to admit that the Mizrahi community here is also a victim. Because acknowledging us will mean they have to give up their privileges: break down the Rothschild wall and let us live in the same conditions, in the same schools. And that the refugees will come to their areas or be spread in the Kibutzim.”

Mizrahi culture is breaking through to TV screens and radio, having its voices heard. But Shula wants this to be translated into power. “If someone thinks that since we see some Mizrahi faces on TV and we hear about some of this issues - if someone thinks this will now solve the problems, he is wrong! It’s a big mistake. Because still the people who are living here in poverty and are walking in the mud are the Mizrahi, the Palestinians and the Ethiopians.”

In the last televised refugee crisis, that broke in January 2017, when the government threatened “voluntary” deportation of all African refugees to Rwanda and Uganda (against the principle of non-refoulement in international human rights law). Shula saw an opportunity to gain media attention and started a campaign against the deportation of all residents from the south of Tel Aviv, the African refugee community and the Mizrahi. This resulted in a massive campaign, demonstrations which united all the diverse groups of the south, African refugees and immigrants, Ethiopians, Eritrean, Sudanese, Palestinian residents, Mizrahi and human right activists. All walked together to save their neighborhoods. An impressive and hopeful change for the area now leaves trails in special grassroots initiatives parking concrete solutions on the local government’s desk. Shula lobbies for these plans. She links the refugee struggle against deportation to the struggle of south Tel Aviv’s poor, mostly Mizrahi, resident’s battle against the ongoing gentrification of the area. She sees the solution in rehabilitating the area, and scattering the refugees all over the country to secure work and share resources. A Mizrahi-refugee alliance is born.

Shula is outspoken and chooses no sides, always blunt and surprising in her opinions. She believes there is no fast way to solve any conflict on its own. “The Mizrahi problem is tightly linked to all the other conflicts and the solutions are depending on each other.” The old colonial institutions and state racism have to be dismantled first and then solutions, which we cannot imagine yet, will be easier to make up. This is not something the West can achieve from its privileged position. It’s not going to work here. This is the Middle East.

  1. Mizrahi is a term transferred to the descendants of the Jewish communities that had existed in the Middle East and North Africa. Originally, the term “Mizrahi” was the Hebrew translation of Eastern European Jews’ German name: “Ostjuden”. In the 1950s in order to distinguish them in the Jewish sub-ethnicities, the Israeli officials — who themselves were mostly “Ostjuden” — had transferred the name to them (even as the surname “Mizrachi” which was coined to them by the immigration clerks, despite having other surnames prior), even though most of them arrived from lands located Westwards than even Central Europe. Many scholars claim that the transferring of the name “Mizrahim” towards the Oriental Jews was the same derogatory act that the Westjuden had done to the Ostjuden, labeling them as “second class” and remoting them from possible positions of power.

Text By
Nirit Peled
Published on
De Groene Amsterdammer
In Collaboration
Simon van Melick
Photos By
Nirit Peled
Translation EN—NL
Menno Grootveld