by Karolin Bina
Karolin Bina is serving as an intern with HaKeshet HaDemocratit HaMizrahit (The Mizrahi Democratic Coalition).
The focus of my university studies has been the Arab-Israeli conflict. Thus, when I chose to do my summer internship at HaKeshet HaDemocratit HaMizrahit
(The Mizrahi Democratic Coalition), an organization that focuses on internal issues within Israeli society, my colleagues were curious as to why I made this decision. When considering the answer I think back to why I chose to focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict in the first place. That reason is closely tied to my ethnic, cultural, and religious background, which is also why I chose to volunteer this summer with HaKeshet.
I have always felt that as a Mizrahit
, born in Iran but raised in the United States, I have a different perspective of, and insight to the Arab-Israeli conflict than most American or European Jews do. I am neither an Israeli nor an Arab and I do not reside in either of the countries directly involved in the conflict. Yet, I have always felt that my shared regional background of the Middle East provides me with a fundamental understanding of the culture of the people involved in the conflict.
attracted me for its advocacy work on behalf of the Mizrahi community within Israel. The organization focuses on five main aspects within Israeli society, namely: land, education, employment and unemployment, organizing conferences, and hosting artistic and visual performances and exposés that bring awareness to key Mizrahi
social issues. In addition, HaKeshet
organizes demonstrations to draw media attention to central issues of the Mizrahi struggle.
A long-term project of HaKeshet’s
has been Kfar Shalem
, an exemplary case illustrating the marginalization and neglect of Mizrahi Jews in terms of property rights and land ownership in Israel. Kfar Shalem
’s history dates back prior to the 1948 War when the community, located in South Tel Aviv, was Arab Palestinian and known as Salame
. After the 1948 War, the Israeli forces captured the area and forced out the Arab population. The Government of Israel replaced the Arab civilians with Yemenite Jews who were brought via aircraft from Yemen to the newly renamed Kfar Shalem
Shortly following the arrival of the Yemenite Jews to Kfar Shalem
, the actual land was declared state property. Subsequently, in the early 1990s the residents were given eviction notices after a private land developer purchased the land and decided to demolish the homes in order to erect a new complex for a different demographic of tenants. Despite fifteen years of demonstrations, court appearances and appeals made by HaKeshet
on behalf of the Kfar Shalem
residents, thirty families, most of who were descendants of the 1948 Yemenite immigrants, were forcibly evacuated from their homes without compensation.
Many activists have continued to protest the removal of the Kfar Shalem
residents pointing out that it reveals the larger issue of social discrimination within Israel. The ongoing advocacy work seeks to bring awareness of the inequalities between affluent neighborhoods, which are mainly comprised of Ashkenazim
(Jews of Eastern European descent), who do not and probably will not ever face the challenges that the Mizrahi
residents of Kfar Shalem have endured. This case serves to demonstrate HaKeshet’s important role and direct involvement in its commitment to establishing social justice, equality, democracy and human rights in Israel.
Mizrahi Jews or Mizrahim are Jews descended from the Jewish communities of the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and the Caucasus. Yemenite Jews are sometimes included in this category but often considered to comprise a group of their own. (Taken from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mizrahi_Jews.)