Santino Arob, a Sudanese refugee who arrived in Israel five years ago, was so
excited about the declaration of South Sudanese independence that he couldn’t
sleep the past two nights.
“Nobody believed that this day would come.
Many people lost their parents in the war. When I hold the flag, I can’t believe
it,” he said at a South Sudan independence celebration at the Panorama building
in Tel Aviv on Sunday, proudly raising the new country’s flag and searching for
words to express his overflowing emotions.
Arob traveled from his home in
Eilat to attend the daylong festivities. “Today is not time for talking. It’s
time for dancing,” he said.
The other hundreds of celebrators heeded
Throughout the daylong event, people performed tribal
dances. At one point, about 20 young men lined up in the middle of the hall with
paint on their faces and chanted before performing a spirited, traditional
Another attendee, Morris, who lives near the Dead Sea, said he was
so ecstatic about his country’s independence that he missed work to participate
in the Tel Aviv celebration.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for more
than 11 years; I need a few days off,” Morris recounted telling his
Morris has spent the past four years in Israel and before that
lived in Egypt for seven years. But despite the distance, he said he has
maintained contact with his parents and brother who still live in South Sudan
and are awaiting his return.
Santino and Morris are two of the
approximate 8,000 Sudanese living in Israel, according to William Tall, a United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Israel.
estimated that less than half of these asylum seekers are from South Sudan.
Others come from North Sudan and neighboring regions still plagued by
While around the world South Sudan independence was celebrated
on Saturday, organizers postponed the Tel Aviv event to Sunday because of
The celebration came the same day that Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu announced Israel’s recognition of South Sudan.
new state was born – South Sudan. I hereby announce that Israel recognizes the
Republic of South Sudan,” Netanyahu said during the opening of the weekly
cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “We wish it success. This is a peace-seeking
country and we would be pleased to cooperate with it in order to ensure its
development and its prosperity.”
In Tel Aviv the excitement was
Many onlookers waved South Sudanese and Israeli flags and wore
shirts printed with the new country’s red, yellow, blue and green flag.
Ululations and drums reverberated in the room as announcers chanted Sudanese
Some of the men were dressed in suits and ties,
reflecting the gravity of the celebration. Other revelers wore festive, colorful
and patterned floorlength tunics with matching head scarves.
celebration was an “ingathering of exiles” of sorts, as Sudanese from all over
Israel – from Eilat to Haifa – joined together in the Tel Aviv hall to dance,
cheer and celebrate, event organizers said.
Many Sudanese celebrating
independence recognized that they were marking a momentous occasion in their
country’s history. South Sudanese independence was declared on July 9 after five
decades of civil war and conflict that claimed over two million
The road to peace was paved in 2005 when the American government
brokered a peace agreement between the southern rebels and the central
government that guaranteed the southerners the right to secede.
treaty ultimately led the way to a referendum this past January, in which
southerners voted by 98.8 percent for independence.
“Our parents were
born in a war, we were born in a war,” said Simon Laderk, who helped coordinate
the event. “But now there will be a change. Now if I see Juba [the capital of
South Sudan], I hope our government will succeed. We need to go back to support
But many acknowledged that building South Sudan will be not
be smooth or simple.
“I ask God to help build our homeland.
starting from zero. If we don’t go back, who will build our land?” Arob
Gil Kiir Aqab, who has lived in Netanya for the past three years,
said the new country will face many obstacles, including caring for the sick and
uneducated people. “We have a lot of things we have to do...
We need to
find a solution for all of these problems.”
But Aqab is optimistic. “This
is our chance to make a good life and learn from all of these problems,” he
Most of the people at the festivities said they long to return to
their newly independent country but don’t know when or how they will go
But Charmaine Hedding, Israel national director of Operation
Blessing, an international non-profit relief organization that provides support
for Sudanese and other refugees in Israel, and who spoke to The Jerusalem Post
from celebrations in Juba, said that her organization is prepared to help
Sudanese voluntarily return to Sudan.
In the past two years the
organization has helped more than 600 Sudanese refugees voluntarily resettle in
Sudan and she said that “people are phoning every day asking to go back to their
Tall and Hedding said that it is too soon to assess how South
Sudanese independence will affect the legal and economic status of the thousands
of South Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel.
Currently, Sudanese refugees
in Israel are granted collective protection by the Israeli
This means that that they are not forced to return to their
home country, but they do not receive many social service benefits, Tall said,
adding that diplomatic relations between the two countries will enable Israel to
grant Sudanese refugees asylum on an individual basis.
Laderk, who is
studying archeology at the Netanya Bible College, called on the Israeli
government to help Sudanese living in Israel to go to college or learn a trade
so they will be able to help the many uneducated in Sudan.
around the world hate Israel. But we don’t; we love Israel,” he said. “I want
the government and people to hold hands together and help the people of Sudan.”