More From Alder's Ledge

November 5, 2012

Romani Of The Holy Land

The Fight For Citizenship In Israel

(Amoun Sleem, Romani woman in her home in Jerusalem)

Europe has long had an issue with the citizenship of the Roma within their countries. For France it has been an issue of where the Roma can be deported to. For Germany it is a historical soft spot in the nation's relationship with this minority. The further we venture east the worse the situation for the Roma gets. In Romania the Roma are culturally banned from calling themselves Roma and are forced to be called Gypsies. And in the Balkans the Roma are forced to live on the fringe of society while the rest of the population ostracizes the Roma amongst them. It is almost impossible to overlook the genocidal intentions of countries like Hungary and the Ukraine.

That is why I found it odd that the state of one of the world's most neglected people in my beloved Israel isn't much better than it is in France. An estimated 2,000 Roma live in Jerusalem alone. There they live in areas around The Lion's Gate area of the Old City. And for some time now the Roma in Israel has long been the most impoverished population in Israel. Even the Palestinians in Gaza have opportunities made possible to them that Israel's Roma do not.

In Israel the Romani people are predominately Muslim. However the Roma of Israel do not identify with the Arabs or the Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank. This is in part due to the fact that Arabs throughout the Middle East do not treat the Roma as citizens or even human at times. The fact that the Roma in this region have taken on Islam as their religious identity does not separate them from the overt racism that plagues many of the surrounding nations. And that is why it is disheartening to see Israel still denying the Roma their citizenship rights.

(Barkat visiting the Roma in East Jerusalem)

In October the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, became the first Mayor of Jerusalem to step out in the public eye and visit the Romani community in East Jerusalem. Barkat has begun the process to integrate the Roma into Israeli society. These are the first steps to helping the Roma become a meaningful part of the Israeli community. It will help Jews and Arabs alike if they are able to see the Roma as more than just "Gypsies".

With the same rights as other Israeli citizens the Roma can get better jobs. The Roma could begin to move up in society and may even become vital members of the Israeli Defense Force. Their rich heritage, their language, their art, and their culture can all become enriching parts of Israeli society. But the Roma can't do any of these things without first being full citizens of Israel itself.

So while Israel may not be attempting to deport the Roma it is failing to do the right thing. After all, the Romani people suffered just the same as the Jews in Nazi Europe. Roma were targeted by the Iraqi's during the Nazi years just the same as the Jews of Iraq. The Roma were oppressed by the Communist even worse than our Refuseniks. Now Israel has to do what is needed... give the Roma equal rights and equal opportunities.

Source Documents
(Note Not All Sources Cited)

Jerusalem Post

Al Monitor

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