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A feature in Ha'aretz newspaper, From Khartoum to the Kibbutz could serve as a reminder of what Zionism is really all about. Two refugees from Arab persecution in Darfur, in Sudan. found their way to Israel through Egypt, and ultimately were rescued and given a home by Kibbutz Tze'elim. This good deed can be added to those of the Kibbutzniks who are helping Palestinians harvest their crops and repairing the damage done to olive trees by settlers, and to that may be added the role of the Kibbutz movement in organizing rescue efforts for earthquake victims in Turkey and genocide victims in Kossovo.

What were these two youths fleeing?


M., who is 16, managed to escape when his village was attacked almost three years ago by Arab militias. Like many others, he wandered from village to village and town to town until he reached the capital, Khartoum. There he was told by a group of survivors that his parents, sister and two brothers had not been so lucky; they had all been killed.

...The story of A., who is 17, is very similar to that of his friend. He fled for his life, along with his family, when his home village of Kurma was attacked in 2003. His first stop was at a refugee camp in a nearby village, Nalma, where they arrived one night after a massacre in that village. "Everyone was dead there," he says. "There were men, women and children and we saw all the bodies. There were many bodies. I saw my father was in shock. He was never the same after that." A few days later, the camp where they were staying was attacked. In the flight from the camp at night, A. lost touch with his parents, brothers and sisters, and to this day has no idea whether they survived or what happened to them.


Why did the Kibbutz people rescue them?


Why do they do it? "Because we can't just stand on the sidelines," says Yankele. "As Jews, as people who were themselves refugees that no one wanted, we have a special obligation not to look the other way but to take care of those who have fled from the valley of death." He believes the state should care more for refugees in its midst and absorb them like it absorbed the Vietnamese boat refugees in the 1980s.



Next time someone tells you, "Zionism is racism," remember these two refugee boys, remember what they fled from, and remember who gave them a home.

Israelis as a whole may rush to take credit for these acts of humanity. In fact however, they are mostly due to the decency and involvement of the kibbutz movement and its members. Once the cornerstone of Israeli society and Zionist pioneering efforts, the Kibbutz and Labor Zionism were long eclipsed by the settler movement, which claimed to be the vanguard of pioneering Zionism. Changing government policies and economic realities moved agriculture and the "conquest of labor" off the Israeli national agenda and out of the forefront of Zionism. The kibbutz idea however has not died. It has undergone, and is undergoing, a transformation. From time to time, we hope increasingly so, the "moribund" kibbutz movement surprises everyone pleasantly with its vitality, commitment to humanitarian ideals and its ability to project a positive image of Zionism, and remind us all what Zionism is supposed to be about.

Ami Isseroff

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/705462.html
From Khartoum to the kibbutz

By Nurit Wurgaft

Two teenage refugees who escaped the massacre in Darfur traveled via Cairo, Sinai and Israeli jail to finally find refuge at Kibbutz Tse'elim. 'This is our family,' the two say, but their future is still very uncertain

When they arrived at Kibbutz Tse'elim, M. was surprised. Not because the kibbutz was so different from anything else he'd seen but, on the contrary, because this little spot in the middle of the desert, with cowsheds and chicken coops, reminded him of Kelkel, the village where he was born in the Darfur region of Sudan. "I expected everything in Israel to be Western and strange, and to see only large cities," he says.

Another surprise awaited him when he was invited to drink tea in the kibbutz's Bedouin tent. The tent reminded him very much of the refugee villages he had passed on his way, but the smell of smoke from the campfire and the taste of the tea that was cooked there reminded him of home. When his friend, A., who is also from Darfur, explained to him that the tent was a tourist attraction, M. burst out laughing. It was the first time he had laughed for many days.

M., who is 16, managed to escape when his village was attacked almost three years ago by Arab militias. Like many others, he wandered from village to village and town to town until he reached the capital, Khartoum. There he was told by a group of survivors that his parents, sister and two brothers had not been so lucky; they had all been killed.

M. who was only 14 at the time, began working in a supermarket, in the fish department. He worked there for seven months until he was arrested by the local police on suspicion of participating in a demonstration against government policy on the Darfur refugees.

He had actually not participated in the demonstration and was released after interrogation, but he was scared of staying in the city and so he asked the friends with whom he was living, also refugees from Darfur, to help him get to Egypt. There, he was told, it was easier to get by and he could request refugee status from the United Nations. His friends helped him attain a forged passport. One of them, a truck driver, drove him close to the border and from there he took a boat to Aswan and then a train to Cairo. All the money he had saved from working in the supermarket went on this journey.

On arrival in Cairo, he found refuge with an elderly person from Darfur who had been living for decades in Egypt and who continued to help refugees from his country by opening his home to them. M. stayed there for three days until he found work and a place to live. He lived in the Egyptian capital for a year and four months and then went to el-Arish in Sinai. From there, he was told, it was easy to cross the border into Israel which is a more refugee-friendly country.

On his last stop on the way to Israel, he met A., another young refugee from Darfur. "We were the only two Africans there," M. says. "He asked me where I came from and I told him, and from that moment we realized we were from the same tribe and we started traveling together."

Sleeping on the stairs

The story of A., who is 17, is very similar to that of his friend. He fled for his life, along with his family, when his home village of Kurma was attacked in 2003. His first stop was at a refugee camp in a nearby village, Nalma, where they arrived one night after a massacre in that village. "Everyone was dead there," he says. "There were men, women and children and we saw all the bodies. There were many bodies. I saw my father was in shock. He was never the same after that." A few days later, the camp where they were staying was attacked. In the flight from the camp at night, A. lost touch with his parents, brothers and sisters, and to this day has no idea whether they survived or what happened to them.

Like M., he joined a long stream of survivors who stayed alive, he says, thanks to the generosity of the villagers they encountered on their way. "Everywhere they gave us food and water, and some of the people stayed in those villages." He continued on foot and hitch-hiking until he reached Khartoum, where he was given board and lodging by some workers in a bakery from Darfur. He might have stayed there but the situation became more complicated and unsafe as increasing numbers of refugees streamed into the city, he says. He himself was captured by a group that held him prisoner for eight days, during which they gave him no food and beat him. When he was released, his friends from the bakery were able to help him get to Cairo.

In Cairo, he slept on the stairs of the UN center for refugees, along with hundreds of other refugees like him. Food, he says, was not a problem because those who worked and earned something shared their food with those who had none. But he was unable to find work. That is why, when he was offered work in el-Arish, he immediately jumped at it. He worked with two other people for a month, taking care of the home of a businessman there, until they discovered their employer had no intention of paying them. An argument broke out during which the employer took out a revolver. The threat had the desired effect and they fled to Israel.

'Let them send us to Sinai'

M. and A. were caught together while they were trying to cross the border in September 2005 and were taken together to jail. I first met them both three months ago, in the Tsohar jail for illegal migrants in the western Negev. M. did not smile then, and he hardly spoke. His older friend, A., who was suspicious and bitter, spoke for them both. "Tell them they should send us to Sinai, or even return us to Darfur. We can't live in jail," he told me. The pattern of behavior between them was already clear then: A., who was older and knew English, acted like a kind of older brother to M. and even called M. "my little brother." At that time, they had been in prison for three months and 20 days, and it took another two months and 20 days for them to be released.

When jail got really bad, the two declared a hunger strike together; in response, the prison authorities separated them. The one time that M., normally introverted and quiet, lost his cool and tried to resist the policemen, was the day they tried to put him back in his cell alone. The price for him was a broken left arm, which has not yet completely healed. For A., it meant a weekend in the Ofek prison for juvenile delinquents, which was accompanied, he says, by a terrible fear - "I didn't care where they took me but I was afraid M. would lose heart and do something to himself."

That is why, when the possibility was raised that the two of them could leave the prison together, A. was not very interested in the minute details. "They told me a kibbutz is an agricultural place and that I would have to work," he says. "I actually liked that because I know about rural life." But the truth is that he did not think about anything other than freedom. For that reason, he says honestly, it is difficult for him to remember his first impression of the man with the white hair who today is his guardian on the kibbutz, Yankele Geffen. "I looked at him and I thought only 'this is the man who can get me out of jail,'" he says.

Geffen remembers two sad-looking youths who did not smile, hardly spoke and merely nodded in response to his explanations about kibbutz life. When their release took longer than expected, and they once again declared a hunger strike, he went to the prison and persuaded them to stop, and even brought candies for them. A. agreed to end the strike and convinced his friend to do the same. Two days later, they were on the kibbutz.

Curious youth

Only when he realized that the prison chapter in his life had ended, did A. find time to wonder about what kind of place he had come to. The first time he entered the communal dining room, he was amazed. "I had never seen such a big kitchen where food was prepared for everyone," A. says. It still surprises him, he says. In his house, he says, they would eat only corn and meat prepared in different ways. "Here there are all kinds of food that I don't know. But every day I try something different."

Yankele Geffen tried to explain to the curious youth how the kibbutz works, and used terms such as commune, socialism and collectivism. A. says: "I thought at first it was like we had in Kurma where every family enlisted together to work in everyone else's fields. But there every family had its own field. Here the cowshed is not Yankele's and the chicken coop where I work does not belong to the person in charge of the work there. I still can't understand how it can be and to whom all this belongs, but I hope to understand as time goes by."

At the beginning, he says, "They stared at us a lot. Not because of our color but because here everyone knows everyone else and we were new." After a week, they were already familiar enough for jokes to be made at their expense. "Now you're important people," someone from the next table says. "When you are finished being photographed for the newspaper, maybe you'll come and sit with us?"

Tse'elim is a kibbutz like in the old days: It's not very rich, hasn't been privatized and still exists mainly from agriculture. The initiative to adopt the Sudanese boys came from Yankele and Shulamit Geffen. They are both kibbutz members, aged 58, both work - Yankele in the cowshed and Shulamit in the clinic - and they have four children and five grandchildren. Four years ago, they took in a refugee youth from Chad and so were not surprised when Sharon Harel from the UN center for refugees appealed to them for help with the Sudanese youths.

A special obligation

But it is not just them; the entire kibbutz is lending a hand. The secretary solved the bureaucratic difficulties, one woman volunteered to teach them Hebrew and another to take care of their daily needs. "Someone has to supervise that they are eating properly and that they don't lack for anything," says Shulamit. Yankele says that "it's not an easy thing for the kibbutz to absorb the youths but here everyone helps. I'm proud of my kibbutz."

Why do they do it? "Because we can't just stand on the sidelines," says Yankele. "As Jews, as people who were themselves refugees that no one wanted, we have a special obligation not to look the other way but to take care of those who have fled from the valley of death." He believes the state should care more for refugees in its midst and absorb them like it absorbed the Vietnamese boat refugees in the 1980s.

Nevertheless, the word adoption arouses reservations. "What is important is to get them out of jail. Freedom is what is important, they don't really need the adoption process." Perhaps. But judging by their behavior in the family's home after only one week, the youths feel very much at home there. They ask Shulamit to prepare their favorite drink (chocolate) and run off to play with the computer when the adults are talking. "This is our family," A. says with unabashed pride.

Last week they met the refugee youth from Chad for the first time when he returned to Tse'elim from the boarding school where he is studying. There was an immediate click between the three and he remained to sleep with the two youngsters in their apartment. The youth from Chad was concerned at first, Shulamit says, "and said that he was jealous. I told him: 'Don't worry; now you are the big brother and they are your little brothers.'"

Meanwhile, A. is working regularly in the chicken coop and after only a few days will explain knowingly that "we don't have avian flu here. We know the death rate has not gone up here." In his home village, they also raised chickens, he says, but there everything was done by hand while "here the machines give them feed and water and I just check the machines and make sure the chickens are okay."

M. is not working yet because of his bad arm, which is in plaster from wrist to shoulder. "When A. goes to work, I sometimes feel lonely," he says. "I don't speak the language so the only thing I can do is sit and watch TV until he comes back. I'm just waiting for my hand to be okay so that I can join him at work."

The tranquillity they have found in kibbutz life is marred only by thoughts about their future. The two have been given nine months to stay here; after that, their fate is not clear and depends to a large extent on the decisions of the refugee committee and the interior minister. "I think about the future all the time; it disturbs me a lot but it's not in my hands," says A. "If it were up to me, I'd like to study. I studied nine years in the school in my village and I was a good pupil, especially in science. I'd like to study biochemistry. Malaria is a serious problem in Africa and I'd like to be able to participate in research and find ways to get rid of it."


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