By Mary Slosson
Amidst the glamour and glitz of the Oscars, a short film on the children of migrant workers and asylum seekers in Israel was awarded a golden statue for best documentary short.
The film, “Strangers No More,” highlights the Bialik-Rogazin School in Tel Aviv, which teaches 800 students from 48 countries. Some have fled violence in their home countries, while others migrated to Israel along with their parents, who were searching for work. All are united by a common language: Hebrew.
A screening of the film in Tel Aviv on Monday night brought a capacity crowd, including former prime minister Ehud Olmert. As the Jerusalem Post reports:
Olmert said the school presents a model of how Israel can treat those who are different and those who come here seeking refuge. The former Prime Minister added “We must not allow these children to be deported.”
You can bet your bottom dollar we’ll try to meet the students and teachers at Bialik-Rogazin School in Tel Aviv when we’re there in just under two weeks!
Expert on the politics of the Middle East and USC Professor Laurie Brand pointed me towards some interesting reading on immigration and Israel recently — namely, that the tension between Israelis and immigrant workers began in the late 1990s, when the Israeli government began allowing foreign workers in order to replace Palestinian labor.
This Guardian article from 2003 details how one contingent of Chinese workers were “forced to agree not to have sex with or marry Israelis as a condition of getting a job,” and were “also forbidden from engaging in any religious or political activity.” Their work contract “states that offenders will be sent back to China at their own expense.”
Preventing assimilation into Israeli society was clearly the intended effect of such contractual stipulations. The Guardian further writes that “advocates of foreign workers, who also come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania, say they are subject to almost slave conditions, and their employers often take away their passports and refuse to pay them.”
Do such contracts still exist today?
It is clear that there will be many angles to the story of foreign workers in Israel: labor conditions, religious and cultural assimilation, political and civil rights, and more.
Palestine Papers: Divide over Public and Private Diplomacy Emerges
By Mary Slosson
WikiLeaks syndrome is spreading in the media world, with Al Jazeera and The Guardian releasing bombshell stories this week about peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority based on leaked documents, dubbed the Palestine Papers, over the past week.
Israel’s relatively liberal newspaper Ha’aretz has been reactions to the document leaks as they emerge, and has noted a common theme:
The Palestinian negotiators found themselves in an embarrassing position this week, because of the disparity revealed between their tough public positions - mainly in regard to Jerusalem and the refugees - and the more flexible proposals they put forward in the talks. The documents brought to the fore the ongoing debate between the left and the right in Israel over whether to listen to what Arab policy makers say in the negotiating room, or to their public declarations.
The Palestine Papers reveal that the Palestinian Authority offered to accept illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, was willing to make significant compromises on the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and cooperate closely with Israeli authorities on security issues.
The question, as Ha’aretz rightly raises, is this: is the official position of the Palestinian negotiators what they say in private, to the Israelis, or what they say in public to their own people?