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The Other Israelis

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Posted on Aug 7, 2011
Albert Sabaté

South Tel Aviv is one of Israel’s most diverse neighborhoods, with migrant workers and Israeli citizens of diverse backgrounds living in close proximity.

By Mary Slosson, Albert Sabaté, and Andrew Khouri

(Page 3)

A stroll to nearby Levinski Park takes one along sidewalks dotted with signs advertising calling cards to Thailand, the Philippines, Sudan and Nepal.

Tucked underneath an elevated ramp to the central bus station and between signs advertising restaurants in Hebrew is a shop bearing an English-language sign—“Maharaja Indian Market”—where Rohith Kumar works.

Kumar moved to Israel six years ago when a friend offered to arrange a caregiver visa in exchange for $7,000. He was fleeing violence in his hometown of Mangalore, India, where his brother had been killed in Hindu-Muslim clashes.

“When I came to Israel, my wife was pregnant,” said Kumar, 37, who spoke freely about his life story from the cramped and dusty second floor of his Indian market. “I didn’t see my child until three years later.”

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Upon arriving in Tel Aviv, Kumar immediately plunged into a murky work environment where all parties involved—the work agency, his employers and himself—deceived the government and the immigration police. Despite having a caregiver visa, he said he never worked one day caring for the elderly people he was ostensibly in Israel to assist.

The agency that brought him to Israel—which, coincidentally, no longer exists—was “crooked,” according to Kumar. He would pay the agency $3,000 to $4,000 every three months, or else it would “cut off” his visa, causing him to be sent to jail by immigration police for violating the terms of his stay in Israel.


Rohith Kumar, right, with his cousin Keshav Kotion, who jointly run the Maharaja Indian Market in South Tel Aviv. (Photo by Mary Slosson)

“If you don’t pay, they make problems for us,” he said.

Meanwhile, he worked for his supposed employer for free only two days a week, cleaning the house or gardening. The arrangement was, essentially, a front.

“A lot of Indian people are working not legally. We have a visa, but we are never working legally,” he said. Many people engage in black market, cash-based work “like house cleaning so that we can get a lot of money. I have also been working like that before.”

The agency taught both the immigrant and the employee to game the system. If Kumar was questioned by police about working for a family not designated on his visa, he would say that he was on his day off, visiting friends. And if the immigration police asked his supposed employers where their worker was, they would say he had gone to the store.

“The agency, they show the way how because they are also making business. They say, if you work like this, you can make a lot of money. But you will have to pay to us like this money,” he says, gesturing as if passing money below the table.

So the employee is lying to the immigration police?

“Yes, he is lying,” said Kumar matter-of-factly.

The agency, too?

“Yes. Me, I am also lying,” says Kumar with a laugh.

Kumar is caught between twin responsibilities: making money to support his family, and building a happy life for himself in Israel.

“I have children, I have parents. My big brother is dead. All the responsibility is on me,” Kumar said.

While he came to Israel to make money, the complicated underground economy in which he has been struggling has kept him indebted. Every effort to earn enough money to escape has further attached him to Israel: The security of a new refugee visa means he cannot go back to India; the loans he took out to open his Indian market means he carries a new monetary debt; and now, the girlfriend with whom he has been with for three years offers the promise of full Israeli citizenship.

“Always in my heart I miss my family. I miss them all the time,” he said. “I didn’t see my child when [he was] a baby. I will never get that again, his playing. He didn’t know his father. I will never get that. I cannot forget.”

Even though Kumar found more freedom with a refugee visa—enough to open his own store, with plans to open an Indian restaurant next door in the coming months—his friends are all struggling through Israel’s complicated immigration system.

“Every three months, six months, they are changing the rules,” said Kumar.

The Children

On a recent balmy morning in Israel, about 100 tiny soldiers, princesses, and ninjas ran around a gritty park in South Tel Aviv. Some scaled an aging, multicolored jungle gym, while others gyrated inside hula-hoops or danced upon a stage. It was Purim, or as it’s often called—the Jewish Halloween.

But unlike other Purim festivities, non-Jewish migrant caregivers and their children constituted the majority of party-goers, many of whom were under threat of deportation.


The children of migrant workers mingle with Israeli children in South Tel Aviv’s Levinski Park, a hub for migrant workers. (Photo by Albert Sabaté)

Until recently, pregnancy brought not only a child but also illegality.

Under Israeli law, children born to migrant workers had to leave the country within three months of their birth, leaving mothers with a hard choice: Either send their child back home or stay in Israel illegally with their newborn baby.

“The decision of the Israeli government is connected to the Jewish character,” said Lachmanovitch, explaining why the children were forced to leave the country by law. “We shouldn’t be ashamed that Israel is a Jewish country.”

For Purim, Dave and Aren De Silva dressed their 2-year-old son, Drew Jade, as a soldier. Aren came to Israel legally in 2006 to care for an elderly Jewish woman. But then she met Dave, a Filipino who holds a temporary residency card. A baby and an expired work permit soon followed. After Aren chose not to leave the country with Drew Jade, her family became illegal.


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By Inherit The Wind, August 10, 2011 at 12:02 pm Link to this comment

There have been numerous cases here in the US of flagrant abuse of immigrant workers, particularly home workers. Just pick up your local newspaper and you’ll find them. Some have been truly disgusting, holding passports and visas illegally, withholding wages, demanding sex, physically abusing, even torturing those helpless to resist.

And that’s not nearly as bad compared to the sex slave trade, which has gotten far worse since the Iron Curtain fell.

The line between consensual prostitution and sex slavery (which is, of course rape, kidnapping, and forced confinement, all of which are felonies) is very, very thin. 

I would guess (and I have no statistics) that only the highest priced call-girls and Nevada Bunny Ranch types actually can choose not to be prostitutes.  The rest face everything from beatings to murder if they refuse or try to escape.

The problem of mistreatment of non-citizen “guest workers” is universal.  Why is it a surprise that Israel’s no more immune than any other nation?

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By LocalHero, August 10, 2011 at 9:06 am Link to this comment

Nothing new here. Just more barbarism practiced by the terrorist-bandit state of “God’s chosen people” and it fits nicely with their organ-trafficking operation.

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sand11's avatar

By sand11, August 9, 2011 at 5:25 am Link to this comment

There is only one word to describe this whether it takes place in America or Israel: human trafficking. And it all takes place under a thin veneer of legality as long as one does not look too deeply. The exploitation of workers who are merely trying to make a better life for themselves and their families is shameful and to excuse it by saying that it happens in other countries also is beyond criminal.

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By walterbard, August 9, 2011 at 4:00 am Link to this comment

Yes there is a migrant problem worker problem in Israel, as there is in the United States and many other countries. But like the United States Israel is a Democracy with a free press. Haaretz has had articles on the problem and even more rightwing papers such as the Jerusalem Post have
discussed the issue. There are Israeli laws against exploitation that should be more vigorously enforced,
as in the United States. There are migrant worker rights groups in Israel, with many Jewish
Israelis participating. Many migrant cases have been brought before Israeli courts,
with favorable outcomes. 
Of course a virulent anti Israel rag such as Truthdig(liedig) predictably published an article which cherry picks it facts and quotes. Of course the exploitative treatment of some migrant workers
is wrong and should be corrected. But compared to the exploitation of migrants in Arab countries
it pales in significance.  What about Saudi Arabia? What about the massacre of Sudanese in
Egypt? One thing is certain Liedig will scrupulously scrutinize Israel for any wrong, ignore the efforts of Israel to correct them. And of course the wholesale violations of human rights
in Arab countries, in Gaza, in the West Bank are never given as much scrutiny by Liedig.But then
there is no free press in Gaza and the West Bank
so we rarely hear about human right violations there.

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By gerard, August 8, 2011 at 4:44 pm Link to this comment

What this points up, obviously, is the double fallacy of a nation-state whose citizenship is based on one particular religion—no different that being based on one particular race or one non-negotiable nationality. Any exclusion from full citizens’ rights makes for discrimination, second-class-citizenship, and exploitation.
  Worldwide it appears that nationhood is a remnant from pre-modern days, now rapidly giving way to international travel, communication, and all-too-visible disparities, unequal rights and opportunities, and gross differences between rich and poor.
  Nationalism will die hard,  however, due to old habits of thought and behavior, gross economic and educational differences and vast gaps between a relatively few rich, some middle (muddle) classes and billions in a state of desperate poverty.
  I believe the human race will muddle through - but
at the moment the problems are dauntingly complex and pressing. I believe it not because it’s obvious but because otherwise there’s no motivation to remain civilized (in the best sense of that word).

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By Arabian Sinbad, August 8, 2011 at 3:19 pm Link to this comment

I read this lengthy article through, up to each comma, period and other punctuation marks. However, I failed to understand the relevance of the article’s title to its contents!

My point is that the title of “The Other Israelis” is a very wrong title for such a piece, since the people whose human rights violations have been documented are not Israelis to start with. More appropriate titles for such a report can be:

* “The Sad Story of Migrant Caregivers in Israel”;
* “The Other Humans in Israel”;
* “Violations of Human Rights in Israel”;
* “When Jewishness Overrides Basic Human Rights in Israel”.

Though I commend the authors of this report for bringing up one dimension of human rights violations in racist apartheid Israel, I do wonder why they failed to give the report a more clear and appropriate title; or was it a deliberate choice of an editor at Truthdig to give this more subtle title for such unsubtle abuses in Israel?!

But what else do you expect from racist, colonialist, savage occupier, and apartheid Israel, artificially born in the womb of the racist whites of Europe, under circumstances of wars and colonialism, and artificially planted in the heart of Palestine to kill, dispossess and destroy the lives of the natives of the land?!

The final point: If they violated the basic human rights of the whole Palestinian nation, what is it for them to violate the human rights of few thousands migrant workers whom they would discard as pieces of garbage after they have exploited their noble work and sweat?!

Anyway, thank you Truthdig for helping to expose the fact that the idea of Israel was and is a cancer in the human body that should have not been allowed to exist, let alone to grow! With certain dangerous
diseases, preventive measures are the healthy way to deal with them!

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By talkmaster, August 8, 2011 at 1:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I stopped reading after the two words Jewish State

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By Mark P. Albright, August 8, 2011 at 1:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You hardly need
travel to Israel to
document so tragic a
story. Large American
agribusinesses,
including the
country’s leading
meat packers,
routinely exploit
undocumented Mexican
workers as a source
of cheap, powerless
and readily
expendable labor they
offer up on a
rotating basis to
I.C.E. to meet their
enforcement quotas.
Don’t get me wrong -
I’m not saying the
situation described
in your story isn’t
appalling. I’m just
saying that “the land
of the free and the
home of the brave”
has every bit as much
blood on its hands,
and the documentation
of these horrors in
other countries
should not become an
excuse to deflect
well-earned criticism
of labor abuses right
here at home.

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