Women and men danced and waved the black, red and green flag of what may soon be the world's newest country.
By Thore Schroeder
As the people of Southern Sudan began voting on a weeklong referendum on independence on Sunday, more than 300 of their countrymen rallied in Tel Aviv to support secession.
"Separation yes, unity no" was the slogan most often heard during the afternoon rally in Neveh Sha'anan's Levinsky Park. Women and men danced and waved the black, red and green flag of what may soon be the world's newest country.
In addition to dances, the demonstration also featured speeches by tribal and religious representatives, as well as supportive and critical messages directed at the migrants' host country.
Many participants were wearing colorful traditional dress, but Samuel Gak, 31, was dressed in a spotless gray suit that he had bought for the occasion.
"I want to go back as soon as possible," said Gak, who has spent 12 months in Israeli jails since arriving in the country four and a half years ago. He was quick to add that "no one knows what will actually happen after the vote."
Jona Caabay, who came here from the Philippines and went to the rally to support Gak, with whom she works at a big Tel Aviv hotel, expressed sympathy for the South Sudanese.
"It is so hard to imagine that these people come from a country where they are discriminated against just because they are Christian," she said.
There were also other members of the crowd who do not expect to be directly affected by the vote: refugees from Darfur, another independence-seeking part of Sudan, but one whose future will not be decided any time soon.
"Although we are not having a vote on our future, we demonstrate together. Because our fates are linked," said Musa Adam, 30.
He said 60 of his family members remain in the Darfur region but that he cannot go back now "because the government will kill us or put us in jail."
The Darfurians in Israel typically fear retribution by Islamists for having stayed in a Jewish country.
The Sudanese referendum is the key element of a peace agreement signed in 2005 that is supposed to grant the predominately Christian Southern Sudan independence from the Muslim north and its capital, Khartoum.
In the dance displays at the rally, African folk symbols like wooden spears and metal shields were combined with the Jewish star.
"This way we want to show our gratitude towards this country," said Isaac Palmnon, 37, who was a pastor in Southern Sudan.
Still, the situation in Israel isn't all rosy.
Adi Lattes, a 25-year-old Israeli electrical engineering student who volunteers at Assaf, a local aid organization for refugees and asylum seekers, said the Sudanese immigrants he knows want to return to the country they left behind.
"I have been assisting a Sudanese family for one and a half years," he said. "Although the two kids speak perfect Hebrew and have no actual memory of their home country, they want to go back. They say this, for example, every time they watch Sudanese programs on TV. Maybe it is because their culture is still very present."
Michel Tsadik was the only man yesterday in Levinsky Garden who was wearing a kippa. The Israeli, who rents apartments to African immigrants in Neveh Sha'anan, said he understood why the Sudanese might want to go back.
"Here they don't feel welcome," he said. "One reason is because they are sleeping with three people in one small room."
But the Sudanese demonstrators didn't cite real estate in the criticism they expressed about their treatment in Israel.
A bedsheet-turned-placard held aloft at the rally read: "We are not infiltrators. We are not migrant workers. We are not criminals. We are refugees."
Click to view image: 'traditional dancing in Levinsky park,Tel-Aviv'
Click to view image: 'Waving the new flags,TA'
Click to view image: '"say YES to separation..."'
Click to view image: 'Lovely Sudanese migrant, Tel-Aviv'
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