Contrary to what one might think, Israel is not a very welcoming country for foreign workers. And I’m not talking about Arabs, to whom we opened our doors for all these years and who came to harm us three weeks ago. I’m talking about “our” Filipinos and, more broadly, Asians, such as Thais, Chinese, and others.
These people travel across the world to come and earn a living, save money, and send it back to their families back home. Each of these individuals holds specific visas, and if they wanted to change their lives, improve their incomes, or work in more fulfilling fields, they are forbidden from doing so. They are regularly checked by the border police and deported like dirt if their visa has expired.
“Our” Filipinos can only come to Israel to work as caregivers. They take care of our elderly because Israeli nursing homes are often sad and incredibly expensive. They often sleep in small, cramped rooms within the homes of the elderly they care for. They have almost no days off, and when they do take a break, they must find a replacement and pay them out of their own pockets, all for a meager salary.
I have had the opportunity to meet dozens of these Filipinos in Israel, who have deliberately chosen to live in our country despite the wars and conflicts. I admire them.
I have met “undocumented” Filipinos, bright individuals with several years of university education, nursing or hospitality degrees, who could provide real solutions to our needs. I have met Filipinos with green thumbs who could work in our fields and harvest our vegetables. But as soon as they stop taking care of our elderly, they become undocumented.
Three weeks ago, a young Filipino woman named Camille Jesalva, who has been in Israel for 18 months and hasn’t seen her own son since, courageously saved the life of a Holocaust survivor. She had planned to return to the Philippines in recent days but decided to cancel her flight to Manila to stay with her “Israeli grandma.” And she will likely never have the right to receive a single shekel from the terrorism victims’ fund. Even after saving the life of a survivor of Nazi horror! And I’m not advocating giving her a medal… But a honorary citizenship for her and her family, and a substantial financial bonus! I don’t think she’ll want to live here with her family: her country is the Philippines, but offering her this Teudat Zeut would be the least we could do!
And this is just one example. We think back to our beheaded Thai workers and our Nepalese brutally murdered, as if they were Israelis, as if they were Jews. To be honest, in my eyes, they are. They are like us, they suffer like us, with us, and for us.
I would like to add, for those who may have forgotten, that during the Holocaust, the Philippines was one of the very few countries in the world to offer refuge to Jews, without asking for anything in return.
It is time for Israel to change its legislation regarding Asian workers, to welcome them with open arms, provide them with social services equal to those of Israelis, decent salaries, and the opportunity to work in more fields than currently allowed. It’s time to open our arms to those who love us and bring their kindness and expertise. When we finally get around to judging our elected representatives for all the faults that have precipitated us towards the catastrophe we’re living through, when we’ve elected other people, no matter whether they’re right-wing or left-wing, religious or secular, we’ll all have to stand up and fight for our Asian brothers. They deserve it. And then, perhaps, we can begin to look them in the eye again.