Last week, I returned to my kibbutz from the מרכז via the New Central Bus Station (CBS). My mind was set into overdrive as I entered South Tel Aviv, taking in debatably the most diverse area in the entire country. For a block, I heard no Hebrew. I passed shops I had never seen before, aware that as I neared the CBS, I was in the minority, with my Ashkenazi/American/עולה חדשה identity and privilege.
When I reached the CBS, I went to the back of a long line of people, all trying to enter as Shabbat waned. I stood in line, trying to acknowledge my privilege as I simultaneously thought about the residents of South Tel Aviv.
Not everyone who lives in South Tel Aviv is a refugee. I know that. I also know that there are a lot of refugees living in South Tel Aviv. Some come from far away places, fleeing their home countries at the chance of obtaining Israel’s democratically promised asylum. I cannot imagine the range of reasons these refugees left their homes, nor can I conceptualize the individual journeys that were taken in order to come to Israel.
I also can’t envision coming to a land like Israel and realizing that it isn’t like other “Western” countries.
What particularly struck me as I waited in line at the CBS was how strange it must have been for these people to risk their lives to seek asylum, and then when they arrive, they learn that this is a Jewish place where society is imbued with the military and the military is as equally infused with society.
In order to become part of Israeli society without privilege is to become part of the army. Yet for refugees, how could they join a foreign army without citizenship? Moreover, how could they even gain citizenship in a foreign land where immigration does, in fact, discriminate.
I can (hopefully) become part of Israeli society. I can (and will) join the army. I immigrated here. Yet I came to Israel not as a refugee, but as a Jew. This is my homeland, where I have been afforded the right of return. Yet for so many other transient people, presently asylum does not lead to a path for citizenship.
In a country where soldiers carry guns on buses beside baby carriages and tow trucks carry tanks and clothing stores carry a sections of olive-colored garments, where do the פליטים fit in?