|Refugees and Veteran Israelis Join Forces|
|Written by Tamara Symonds|
At the final course meeting of Power to the Community, the participants turned away from the timelines, maps, and to-do lists posted on the wall and faced each other.
"We always had a desire to make change in our community, but now we have the skills, knowledge, and personal relationships that will enable us to do so," said Congolese participant Oscar Olivier.
A collaboration between the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC) and Achoti ("My Sister," a Mizrachi feminist organization), Power to the Community aims to bridge the divide between African refugees and native-born Israelis. In July, Power to the Community wrapped up a two month course in community organizing. During the workshop series, three SHATIL consultants taught strategies for activism and helped the group build an action plan.
Asylum seekers in Israel face difficulties ranging from the possibility of (sometimes indefinite) detention, high unemployment, and daily experiences of racism. Addressing these problems will not be easy. Yet, participants were hopeful. "Through this course, we learned a step-by-step method to bring people together, even if they have different interests," said Eseva, another participant.
Last year, south Tel Aviv, where many refugees live, made headlines when an anti-refugee protest turned violent. Mobs smashed car windows, vandalized property, and attacked refugees with clubs. Since then, the racial tension has persisted.
Now that the learning part of the project is over, the group intends to use the campaign season – municipal elections will be held in October – to advocate for reforms such as improved street lighting and police responsiveness.
The group chose to work on security issues largely because they are relevant for residents of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. As a next step, Power to the Community aims to recruit native-born Israelis who may be wary of working with refugees, and vice versa: refugees who are reluctant to interact with Israelis. Through discussions and role-play activities throughout the course, participants learned and practiced different strategies for broadening their coalition.
Now, they will test their methods in the real world.
Three of the participants, including Oscar, will take over the facilitator roles. SHATIL will continue providing advice and assistance. As Israeli participant Inbal explained, "This group is valuable because it will be run by the community, for the community."