On the road to success

Gabriel Kuol arrived in Israel on July 22, 2007. Like many Sudanese seeking refuge in Israel, he first went to Eilat but looked for a way out after realizing that many of the Sudanese living there had no jobs. "I had a friend-of-a-friend in Jerusalem, an American Jewish woman. She said she wasn't sure if there would be a job here, but if you want to come, then come," recounts Kuol. En route to Jerusalem, he took a bus to Tel Aviv to obtain UN refugee documents via Beersheba, a risky thing to do at a time when Israeli police were rounding up Sudanese and putting them in prison. But the gamble paid off, and he managed to secure work in the kitchens at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, "non-stop from seven 'til four," for four months. At age 25, Kuol is something of a success story among Sudanese refugees in Jerusalem, and his services are in demand by hotels across the country - but not to wash their dishes. He is now working to help solve cultural and linguistic difficulties in the hotel trade, educating both hotel managers and their Sudanese employees, as well as campaigning for Sudanese rights via his Web site (gabriel4sudan.org). Kuol, a Christian, grew up in South Sudan, where civil war first erupted in 1983. Several years later, he was captured during an attack on his village, Mar, and was taken to prisons and army camps across the country. The attacking Muslim militias tried to convert many Christians to Islam, often under threat of death. Kuol was given seven different Arabic names, all of which he rejected. "I told them, 'If you kill me, you are not going to end the war.' We are fighting for our rights and our country," he says. Passing through his unfurnished living room, Kuol invited In Jerusalem to his white-washed bedroom, the only place to sit in his new French Hill apartment. Dressed in an oversized white polo shirt, Kuol perches on the edge of his single bed, while I balance on a wooden stool and an American tourist who befriended Kuol at the Jerusalem Hostel near Zion Square crouches on the floor. "There are no Sudanese living in Gilo, and people there said 'Wow' when they saw me. Lots of people were interested to hear about how I came to Israel, and many Israelis wanted to help me. They said, 'We want you to stay here,'" recounts Kuol."In all the time I've been in Israel, I've never been stopped by the police. That's the life we want," he says in fluent English, which he learned at missionary school in Sudan and from reading books in Egyptian prisons. "What we're doing now is earning a salary and not asking for help, eating food and not sleeping on the street."