Arrivals: Gabriel Kuol, 25

From South Sudan to Jerusalem.

gabirel kuol 224.88 (photo credit: Pepper Segal)
gabirel kuol 224.88
(photo credit: Pepper Segal)
The scar of a bullet wound and fading scratches across Gabriel Kuol's body are stark reminders of his near-fatal journey to Israel. Kuol, 25, a South Sudanese refugee, quickly hops out of his chair and lifts his pant leg, almost proud to show me the brown, rubbery hole behind his knee. "I never even felt it," he says, staring just as closely at the wound as I am. I think about the strangeness of our interview. We're chatting upon the rooftop of the Jerusalem Hostel on Jaffa Road, and Kuol is telling me about his family. He lost them many years ago, but they are anything but a fading memory. FAMILY BACKGROUND Born January 2, 1983, in the village Mar to a tribe of more than 600, Kuol experienced loss from the time he was four months old. His uncle, John Garang, aggravated by Islamic and military rule over Sudan, formed the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in May 1983 and Gabriel's father, Maketh Kuol, immediately joined. BEFORE ARRIVAL When his father left to fight, Kuol continued living with his mother and two sisters in Mar. But the Muslim Northern Army had been watching the village, searching for his family and waiting for the right time to strike. "When I was six or seven, the government came to my village," Kuol recounts. "My father was away at the time. They gathered people together under a tree and asked each one where my family was." The Northern Army knew about the Kuols' relationship with the rebels and they were hunting for Gabriel's father and uncle. When the villagers refused to respond, Kuol says the soldiers became violent. "They took one man who was related to us and shot him," Kuol says. "They then said that if no one spoke they would kill another." But nobody replied - the tribe was trying to protect the Kuol family from arrest and possible death. "They wanted to make us afraid," Kuol says. "They took another man also and killed him. He was killed right next to me. Since I was two until I became seven I never cried. But when they shot him...," he trails off for a moment, shaking his head before continuing. "I looked straight at the man who killed my cousin." After this, he says he wasn't surprised when one woman finally spoke up. "She was trying to save many people," he says. The Kuol family was herded together and brought under custody to the town of Mading. There Kuol's mother was forced in front of a judge and tossed into prison. FAITH A devout Christian, Kuol says he spent each day praying for news about his imprisoned mother. "One day [the Northern Army] allowed my mom to come see me and my two sisters. I didn't believe she was dead, but I knew she was suffering," Kuol said. Allowed to stay overnight with the family, his mother's visit gave Kuol a new hope for the future. "She prayed with us all night," Kuol remembers. And with these prayers a miracle occurred. The SPLA launched a surprise attack on Mading at 4:30 a.m., just two hours before Kuol's mother was to return to prison. The SPLA battered Mading, launching grenades at the military compound where the family was captive. The barrage destroyed the Kuols' housing facility, leaving them buried beneath heaps of rubble and stone. "All four of us were under bunk beds where we were praying," Kuol says. "I could not see because of the smoke. We were all underneath the rubble. But my mother heard the sound of boots marching and she screamed, 'I'm here!'" Under strict orders to protect the family at all costs, the SPLA dug through the remains until they located all four family members. The Kuols remained together under safe protection for two years until the Northern Army again attacked the rebels. As he ran for his life, Kuol lost track of his entire family and hasn't seen them "from that time until now." Captured again, he suffered years of torture before being taken to a military hospital on the brink of death. With the help of a nurse and a missionary named Santo, Kuol says he was able to escape captivity and make his way to the Sudanese border with Egypt. "Santo gave me a bottle of water, bread and 50 Sudanese dollars. I walked for seven days to the railway that goes to the Egyptian border," he says. Without a passport or documentation, he skirted security and made his way onto a Nile boat bound for Egypt. But that country was anything but kind, and he decided Israel was his only means of survival. Late on the night of June 28, 2007, he finally arrived at the Egypt-Israel border. A sense of elation briefly passed through him before he realized that Egyptian border police were quickly closing in. He recalls running at full speed and diving through the air for the border fence, suffering a bullet wound to the leg in the process. Under his weight, though, the fence dipped to the ground, allowing him to tumble safely into Israel. "Five minutes later the Israeli army came," Kuol says. "They held up a bottle of water and we knew we were safe." UPON ARRIVAL After release from a military compound, he was sent by bus to Beersheba. Finding no work, he travelled to Eilat before finally arriving in Jerusalem. He stayed in a friend's apartment in the Gilo neighborhood while searching for jobs in the city. WORK His first job was with the Crowne Plaza Hotel. He worked various jobs for four months before moving to the Sheraton where he now coordinates the hiring of Sudanese workers. He loves his work and says the job gives him a special chance to help his people. LANGUAGE He speaks English as well as Dinka, his tribal language,which he uses to converse with other Sudanese. Additionally, Kuol has knowledge of Arabic, but refuses to speak it out of hatred for his Muslim captors. LIVING ENVIRONMENT He lives in a small apartment in the French Hill neighborhood. He has an Israeli girlfriend and says he "loves" Israel's respect for human rights and the citizens who appreciate his story. PLANS/DREAMS "Where I come from we love Israel," he says with a smile. "The South Sudanese love [it] and we hope one day we can have a great relationship with Israel." To propose an immigrant for an 'Arrivals' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: [email protected]