Five Calls for Freedom in Israel this Passover

6 April 2017

As Israelis sit down to celebrate the Passover seder, a public housing activist, a homosexual, a Palestinian, a Bedouin, and an African migrant will still be striving to enjoy full human rights in Israel.

These five individuals are asking for what many of us take for granted: the right to education, to travel, to work, and to marry whomever they want.

“A great restriction on my freedom is the ongoing poverty among the single mothers at the hands of the state,” said Avigail Biton, 41, a resident of Dimona and a mother of three.” Because I choose to study while I work at a low-income job it means that I am not eligible for support that I would get if I were unemployed.”

For Favi Shalit-Reitman and his partner Omri the challenge this year has been finding a way to officially marry as homosexuals. Be Free Israel, an NIF grantee, helped them with a festive ceremony in Israel. This ceremony, however, is not recognized by the government. To be registered as married, they had to travel abroad for the wedding.

“We feel like second-class citizens,” said Shalit-Reitman, 33. “Those who don’t fit into the molds that the state has defined have to turn the world upside down in order to fulfill their dreams… In the end we are citizens in the same country and we are following the same laws and fulfilling the same obligations.”

Not all of those under Israeli jurisdiction are citizens. Millions of Palestinians and some 40,000 African asylum seekers are affected by Israeli laws and regulations.

Ramzi Ismael, 27, from Eritrea is held at the Holot detention facility for African migrants in the remote Negev desert. He worked in Israel for six years before he was ordered to report to Holot and wait there for a work visa. The more than 3,000 migrants living there were told a solution would be found for them if they stayed for a year. But that deadline is approaching with no official news for most of them. Ismael tries to study in his spare time but internet and computer access is limited.

“I want to be a free man,” said Ismael. “There is nothing more important in life.”

Palestinian filmmaker Ahmad Bargouthi, 40, from Ramallah traveled recently to Israel to discuss his documentary movies. After being held at a checkpoint for two hours, even though he held a valid permit, it was difficult for him to think of cooperation.

“Getting a permit to go to Jerusalem for me is like going to Paris,” he told NIF. “I imagined that [Israelis] are all soldiers and they are preventing me from crossing the checkpoint. To be honest, most Israelis don’t know anything about that.”

Salima Al Sageira, a Bedouin Israeli woman says she has no garbage removal since her village of Rakhma is not officially recognized by Israel even though the residents were forcibly moved there in 1950. Any new structures built in the village of 300 families are demolished, she said.

“I am really worried that my children won’t have a roof and walls,” said Al Sageira, a mother of six.

And dreams? Do they have dreams for the coming year?

“I hope the Jewish Israelis will have freedom for Passover and that I will have my freedom,” Al Sageira said.

Biton, a single mother living in the Negev, explains the larger task for her society.

“I hope to be a significant educator,” said Biton. “I especially hope that we will become a more fair society for all human beings irrespective of religion, ethnic group, color, gender, and sector. We still have a lot of work to do.”

Photo Credit: Eyal Fried, Favi and Omri pictured