The people of south Tel Aviv are a mosaic of Israelis, Sudanese and Eritreans, along with a large Asian community and others. Despite some hostility from Israeli residents towards the Sudanese and Eritrean communities — hostility which can get a great deal of media attention — we asylum seekers have personally experienced a great deal of warmth from Israelis. In this sense, south Tel Aviv has been like a school to us; and its people, our teachers.
They taught us to help strangers with love and compassion. They opened their doors to us and have given us shelter. They gave us water to drink from their cup. Perhaps those who have themselves been marginalized have a greater level of compassion and empathy for those who suffer now. They have been a comfort to us and have become our closest friends. They are family to us now and they have become a part of our lives. Israeli colleagues at work have tutored us in Hebrew. For those of us who do not know their culture or their religious holidays, they wait for us to adjust, learn, integrate, at our own pace. They have been patient and empathetic and are willing to give us time to learn by ourselves, in our own way.
For these reasons, we are deeply saddened to see our Israeli neighbors struggling on a daily basis. They have suffered for many years. Jobs are scarce, rent is exorbitant, many struggle to make even minimum wage, and the cost of living is sky high. Public amenities are crowded, overused and outdated. Graffiti paints the buildings like nightclubs during the day, and drug addicts and homeless people live in abandoned warehouses.
For years, we have struggled to find a solution for the asylum seeker community. Activists have asked the government to process our asylum applications in accordance with international standards and provide access to basic public health and welfare services, but so far the government has denied these requests. Now, the Israeli government has begun to implement a new law against Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. This new law forcibly deducts a massive 20 percent from our salaries in lieu of a pension fund, and an additional 16% from our employers. This money is deposited into a bank account that will only be available to us (supposedly) when we leave Israel. The hardest part of this law is that there is no mercy even for the most vulnerable members of the community, such as single mothers, survivors of human trafficking and torture, and mentally and physically disabled individuals. These members of our community are struggling just to make ends meet. The additional deductions will make this impossible.
Additionally, the employers’ deductions will affect Israeli businesses and their ability to make a profit. They are faced with the difficult decision of whether to pay the additional fees to retain existing asylum-seeker employees who have been working for them for years and are trained and reliable. This will hurt many of the local business-owners in south Tel Aviv, whom we have grown to consider our close friends and family. Many of them will have no choice but to raise their prices to cover their losses, thereby affecting all Israelis, and tourists, and the economy as a whole.
As a community, we have raised a number of questions. What are our chances of surviving under this new law? Will we be able to find and retain stable employment? How will our Israeli neighbors in south Tel Aviv staff their businesses affordably and sustainably?
If the government is truly searching for a solution for both asylum seekers and Israelis of south Tel Aviv, then they must not implement this new law. It will never make the government of Israel or the people of south Tel Aviv stronger or more sustainable; it will do just the opposite. More people will live in poverty because of this law. More people will become homeless in south Tel Aviv as a direct result of this policy. It will make the neighborhood unsafe, as crime rates increase, and the neighborhood will become more unstable place for all its residents. More importantly, this law is a violation of our basic human rights.
We as a community are therefore asking the government to cancel the new law for the sake of the children, mothers, disabled men and woman and for the sake of basic human rights. As citizens of Israel with the power to elect your representatives and to hold them accountable, we ask that you contact your MKs and request that they act ethically and with integrity, and that they stand up for the rights of all residents of south Tel Aviv.