ACTIVIST YAYAUO TAGANI at anti-protest tent 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Ethiopian activists holding vigil outside the Prime Minister’s Residence are
facing a court-ordered eviction that could force the activists to leave in
mid-April, after the permit for their protest tent expires.
municipality doesn’t want us here because this is a place with a lot of tourism,
and we’re putting dirty laundry out to dry, it isn’t good for the holy city,”
said Yayauo Tagani.
“It’s 2012, and a state that’s supposed to be equal
and presents itself as such isn’t showing it’s true face. Here, we are showing
the face of racism and discrimination. [The family and activists for]
Gilad Schalit were here for a number of years. We’re not comparing
ourselves to him, but there’s a whole community that feels they’re imprisoned by
the government,” he said.
A group of six core activists has lived in a
tent outside the Prime Minister’s Residence for 37 days, appealing to passersby
and politicians to reexamine the issue of racism against Ethiopian immigrants in
Israeli society. They set up their tent in the same spot where the Gilad Schalit
tent stood for three and a half years, until it was dismantled in October when
the kidnapped soldier returned. Last Wednesday, Schalit visited the activists
with his father Noam for about ten minutes.
Ferebe, who lives in Ashkelon with her four-year-old daughter, was the
galvanizing force behind the protest tent.
“I want her to have a good
future; I want her to have confidence and pride. If I don’t worry about her, I
will not have done my responsibility,” she said in reference to her
Ferebe said the municipality made getting the permit for the
tent almost impossible, and then only approved them for three days. But the
activists said they won’t budge until concrete steps are made in the fight
Ferebe broadly outlined the activists’ goals as
four-fold: improving education, employment and housing for members of the
Ethiopian community, as well as improving rights for kessim
, Ethiopian spiritual
leaders who don’t have the same recognition as rabbis.
Last week, the
activists petitioned the Jerusalem District Court to allow them to stay in their
protest tent, and they are currently awaiting the judge’s decision. Their
central location seems to be working: The small group of activists has met with
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the director of his office, and Jerusalem
Mayor Nir Barkat.
The Jerusalem municipality said the mayor supported
their struggle and wanted to find a balance “between protecting the area for the
needs of the protestors and protecting the area for the needs of public space in
Many pedestrians passing by the tent have trouble
understanding what exactly the activists are demanding.
“My mother came
here in 1951 from Iraq, after my father died, with seven children on her own,
and we lived on rations and egg powder,” one woman, who declined to give her
name, told Tagani.
“We’re also black, I’m lighter than you, but I’m still
black,” she told him. “It wasn’t easy but we succeeded; we did it by work and
not by charity.”
This attitude, shared by some of the older Jews of North
African descent who pass by the tent, is frustrating for Tagani.
where are all of you now?” he asked the woman. “Why am I in this struggle
alone?” “This is not the private problem of one person; it’s the problem of all
of us, as a community,” he said.
Both Ferebe and Tagani placed great
importance on their staying in the tent, which is in a visible and high-traffic
area, not to mention symbolic location near the Prime Minister’s
“Until now, we have felt like the backyard of Israeli
society,” said Tagani. “We brought the backyard to the front yard. Every
day you pass, we’re saying, ‘We’re still here; we need equality; we need to take
care of this thing that hasn’t been taken care of in the past 30 years.’”