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Why I am leaving Israel

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I moved to Tel Aviv from New York three years ago when awarded a social justice fellowship to work with marginalized, underserved, and trauma-stricken communities in a conflict zone. Looking for a change of pace (and weather) and as the daughter of an Israeli parent, my fluency in Hebrew and familiarity with the country made the move that much more appealing.  

As time goes by, though, I sadly cannot wait to get out of this place.  You think I’m crazy, right?  How can I not appreciate my ‘grade A’ life in the bubble of Tel Aviv with its fine dining, cultural events, some of the best beaches in the world, a plethora of cute dogs, and an endless supply of trendy bars and cafes.  While my weekends contain a smattering of involvement in the above activities, my weekdays look dramatically different. They involve walking through Tel Aviv’s decrepit central bus station on the way to my social worker job in a south Tel Aviv after–school therapeutic program for children of Eritrean and Sudanese refugees. The stench of urine, feces, and huge piles of uncollected trash in the streets by the bus station is strong enough to get anyone’s gag reflex going. Homeless addicts sleep on public benches and ask for money between puffs from their homemade crack pipes. At work a 4-year-old child whose limited vocabulary includes the Hebrew word for “junkie” tells me about being sexually abused by a relative, and a 32-year-old mother tells me how she suffers from chronic nightmares about her 9-year- old daughter, kidnapped by her ex-husband, who has been lost somewhere in Sudan for the past three years. 

If I had a dollar for every time a parent asked me to help them move to America, I could afford much more than I can from my embarrassingly low salary. This is no exaggeration. I made more money babysitting in 12th grade in the United State than I do now as a clinical social worker in Tel Aviv with a professional graduate degree.  

After three years of working with Israel’s African asylum seeking community, I can say that I am burnt out.  It is not just the work itself, but also the frustration of having zero power to change the racist and intentionally bullying governmental policies that keep these people in a continuous state of purgatory.  My burnout also comes from being utterly tired of telling a family facing eviction, with children who have pre-existing medical conditions and no health insurance, that I can do nothing to help them. 

Recently, on May 2017, a new Knesset (Israeli parliament) law went into effect.  It decrees that 20 percent of the meager monthly paychecks of African asylum seekers and refugees will be withheld and returned to them only upon their permanent departure from Israel.  Without legal status and passports, how exactly can these people voluntarily leave Israel?  This law, along with the entire political establishment, encourages Eritrean and Sudanese refugees, who fled brutal and dangerous dictatorships, forced conscription, civil wars, and threats for being human rights activists to return to their home countries.  But, if they return to their countries of origin, they will immediately be thrown into jail or murdered.  Who in their right mind can choose either option, stay and face destitution and homelessness or go back to one’s home country for a summary execution. 

Let’s also not forget that these asylum seekers and their Israeli-born children have no legal status.  As a result, they are not eligible for basic social benefits Israeli citizens enjoy, such as health insurance, social security, higher education, and freedom of movement.  It’s unbelievably ridiculous that a child born in Israel and educated in Jewish Israeli schools cannot go to a university at age 18.  Furthermore, this young adult can potentially be taken by force to the isolated Holot Detention Center in the Negev Desert solely because he is a single male African refugee over age 18. 

But Israel is the leading democracy in the Middle East, right? 

African asylum seekers sit in the front yard of Holot prison, a desert detention facility in Israel near the Sinai border. (Photo: Allison Deger)

These are just a few of struggles that asylum seekers face on a regular basis.  But what about their past?  Many of them were kidnapped and tortured in the Sinai.  When they crossed the border into Israel they were severely traumatized and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Persistent untreated PTSD has resulted in many poorly functioning refugee parents whose often neglected and abused children suffer the harsh consequences of their parents’ PTSD.  The resulting alcoholism and intimate partner violence among the parents, and severe developmental and behavioral problems among the children go untreated due to poverty and lack of access to health care.  There is an option to purchase private health insurance for children, which, similar to the United States, is quite expensive.  Currently, there is one walk-in family health clinic that operates with an ever-changing staff primarily comprised of volunteer doctors and nurses with a limited number of specialists. Patients wait in this overcrowded clinic for hours to be seen, and often cannot get their medical needs addressed.  More often than not, an individual needing surgery has to face the prospect of an enormous long-term future debt of a minimum of 20,000 shekels (about $5,600 in U.S. dollars).

African refugees wait outside of Tel Aviv’s central bus station. (Photo: Picture-Alliance/DPA)

After giving a brief picture of what my days look like, we can move on to my nights.  Shortly after I moved to Israel, I met a dynamic and charismatic film student who looked like any Tel Aviv hipster, covered with tattoos and wearing skinny jeans.  An Arab citizen of Israel, who left his village in the north of Israel at age 18, he self-identified as the black sheep his parents never quite understood.  It didn’t take long for me to fall in love and learn about the complexity and pain of growing up as an Arab in Israel proper–being too Arab in one crowd and too Israeli in another.  The constant feeling of needing to prove yourself and never being accepted for who you are, a decent human being.  You quickly learn to accept the fact that you were not entitled to scholarships for university tuition, in contrast to your Jewish student cohort who without the hardship of loans were able to focus more on their studies and work part-time.  You, however, had to work full-time to cover the costs of education and take two more years to graduate.  How about the feeling when you are sitting on the bus and your mom calls to check in with you?  While you are talking to her in Arabic, an armed soldier in the seat next to you casually points his loaded AK-47 right at you.

While life for those us who live in the Tel Aviv bubble has its daily struggles of not being able to afford the exorbitant cost of living, for the most part, we have lived like any other couple trying to build a life together.  However, things became more complicated when we started thinking how to make plans for the future.  We quickly learned that there is no civil marriage in Israel and that the rabbinical courts do not perform interfaith weddings.  This means that we cannot legally marry in Israel unless one of us chooses to convert (nope) and that our best option is to get married in Cyprus.  After many discussions of how to build a life together and raise a family, the next step became overwhelmingly clear.  My social work salary in Israel would never allow me to save enough money to raise a family and buy a house.  I also could not imagine our future offspring suffering from discrimination as half-Arab and half-Jewish and the overwhelming stigma that goes along with that.  Alternatively, while there has been a rise of U.S. hate crimes since Trump became President in January 2017, the possibility of raising an interfaith and mixed ethnic family in a normal way is still viable in most metropolitan cities in the United States.

So where does this leave me?  Am I coward for saying “khalas” (Arabic for “enough”), I want out of here?  Or, are there just too many avenues that have dead-ended here in Israel?  I want the same thing that all Israeli Jews, Arabs, and asylum seekers want, to live in peace with my family and for my future children to have equal opportunities.  I don’t see this happening here in Israel unless the apartheid structure finally ends and all people have equal rights, regardless of their nationality, race, or religion. Yes, I used the “A” word, apartheid, because that is what it is.  So, until then, you will find me making plans to move back to the U.S. and trying my hardest to help all my refugee families relocate to Canada or Europe.  And, if I can afford it, I will gladly come back to visit amazing Israeli and Arab friends and family, the beach, and my favorite Eritrean restaurant in south Tel Aviv. 

Ronit Dison

Ronit Dison is a pseudonym for a social worker in Tel Aviv who is originally from Los Angeles.

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30 Responses

  1. eljay on August 15, 2017, 1:55 pm

    Ronit Dison has come to realize what Zionists have known all along: Israel is a “moral beacon” and “light unto the nations” state that’s not quite as bad as Saudi Arabia, Mali and African “hell-holes”.

  2. annie on August 15, 2017, 2:18 pm

    Ronit, great article, thanks so much for writing it and sending it to us.

    My burnout also comes from being utterly tired of telling a family facing eviction, with children who have pre-existing medical conditions and no health insurance, that I can do nothing to help them.

    Ronit, on reflection, is “tired” the adjective that best reflects how you utterly feel? because it sounds much more frustrating and/or infuriating than tiring. i could think of some other words too, like depressing and humiliating. it must hurt sometimes, especially the more you get to know people and care about them, not to be able to help them.

    • Ian Berman on August 16, 2017, 2:39 am

      She is speaking of a stress that causes physical exhaustion. The mind experiences the depression, but the body exhibits the debilitating symptom.

  3. Kaisa of Finland on August 15, 2017, 3:26 pm


    ” Am I coward for saying “khalas” (Arabic for “enough”), I want out of here?..”

    No you are not. It happened to me too. Leaving is like saying BDS because of such horrible treatment of those less privileged people.

  4. just on August 15, 2017, 4:40 pm

    Thanks for the article, Ronit. I am glad that you found some love during your sojourn in The Apartheid State. I am also glad that you have survived.

    I wonder if you realize that you are not alone in your despair of the treatment of the refugees that Israel treats so abominably, and hope that you have availed yourself of reading/watching/perhaps meeting this gentleman, David Sheen:

    “Solidarity with David Sheen

    We are journalists who wish to express our concern at the defamation suit against our colleague David Sheen. He is being sued by a leading Israeli general, Israel Ziv.

    Sheen is a respected reporter and analyst, one with a deep knowledge of Israeli society, who regularly investigates issues related to racism and human rights abuses.

    Over the years, a number of investigations by the Israeli media have tied Ziv to some of the world’s ugliest regimes.

    Sheen’s comments about Ziv were provoked by the latest such investigation, carried out late last year by Israel’s Channel 2 TV. It published transcripts of conversations between Ziv and his business associates in which they discussed rehabilitating the reputation of Salva Kiir Mayardit, the president of South Sudan.

    This was after the United Nations revealed that Salva Kiir had permitted soldiers under his command to rape women and children on a mass scale. Ziv and his team proposed exploiting a rape victim by bringing her to the UN General Assembly so that Salva Kiir could blame such war crimes on indigenous African tribal culture.

    Despite being offered the chance on both Ch2 and Army Radio to deny the accuracy of the transcripts, Ziv declined to do so.

    In a subsequent article Sheen wrote about the treatment of Africans by Israelis, he commented critically on Ziv’s behaviour. This is what he is being sued for, despite such criticism clearly being protected under the important right of journalists to comment fairly on matters of public interest. …”

    You can follow him on Twitter:

  5. JosephA on August 15, 2017, 10:24 pm

    Thank you for sharing, and for devoting your life to helping others. There is no higher calling than service to others.

  6. on August 16, 2017, 3:19 am

    Ronit, an excellent article, written with a lot of feelings, palpable through your words, written also in a very mature style.

    I, as a non-Jew, have been married to a Jewish lady from North Africa for 35 years, and it has been an enrichment for me, something very special that I cherish. I am sure your marriage with someone from a different culture and country will be enriching beyond what you could imagine.

    We, my wife & I, both believed in the myths that Israel created, such as of that noble pioneering spirit of the early Israel, of a small country, so lonely among those evil Arabs who were all intent on destroying it, a country that made the desert bloom, a country, which, because of WW2, could not be racist by definition & would stand up against racism, etc., etc.

    Our awakening was gradual but unavoidable, and we have both become fiercely anti-Zionist. Your experience reconfirms what we felt already. It would be good to publish this article more widely, such as at 972Mag, Forward, Electronic Intifada, Foreign Policy Journal, to name just a few.

    Anyway, I wish you a very happy, enriching future with your husband & future children, and would like to caution you to be careful of the Zionist mob, esp. in the US because they are capable of literally anything.

    • rosross on August 16, 2017, 10:12 pm

      Ah yes, making the desert bloom by stealing water, depleting aquifers and being ecological vandals.

      As images from the 19th century reveal, Palestine always bloomed.

  7. Elizabeth Block on August 16, 2017, 2:48 pm

    Many years ago – like thirty – I read someone, I think it was Bernard Avishai, writing that he was leaving Israel because one could not live a decent Jewish life there. And that was then. Things are much worse now.
    I wish you and your husband-to-be happiness, health, and peace.

  8. tony greenstein on August 16, 2017, 7:13 pm

    A very moving article which should persuade anyone with a mind not firmly closed that Israel is an apartheid state

  9. Greta on August 16, 2017, 7:47 pm

    The person Ronit has fallen in love with IS A PALESTINIAN. It’s high time people started using that word. An Arab is someone who is a member of a Semitic people, originally from the Arabian peninsula and neighboring territories, inhabiting much of the Middle East and North Africa.

    A Palestinian is a person who comes from Palestine, the place that European Jews stole, then changed the name, the religion and the land from the original inhabitants. I’m happy she”s coming back to the US, but really… at least have the courtesy to call the person you love PALESTINIAN.

    • Keith on August 17, 2017, 12:21 am

      GRETA- Always good to have you around! Freeing Gaza is the initial first step!

      • Greta on August 18, 2017, 4:01 am

        Thank you, Keith. I don’t comment often unless someone says something either brilliant or really offensive. And I consider Arab/Israeli or Israeli/Arab offensive

    • on August 17, 2017, 4:10 am

      So true, and a Palestinian living in Israel should be referred to as a Palestinian citizen of Israel, or an Israeli Palestinian, but NOT an Israeli Arab, which is dehumanising. The Dutch journalist who was recently kicked out of Israel refused to call them Israeli Arabs, calling them Palestinian citizens of Israel instead.

    • Brewer on August 17, 2017, 3:58 pm

      Absolutely Greta. I too think it is a vital distinction. It was not for aught that the colonial interlopers invested so heavily in the “Arab” label. From the moment one realizes the purpose of that label, it is impossible to see it written without a jolt of revulsion as it symbolizes the edifice of racism and denial on which the Zionist ideology is based. It is, in fact, the equivalent to the “N-word” as used by racist Americans both in derivation and intent.

      • annie on August 17, 2017, 4:54 pm

        It is, in fact, the equivalent to the “N-word” as used by racist Americans

        i disagree. the word “Arab” is not, in itself, derogatory nor does it carry derogatory connotations (except to racists). the author’s use of the term arab could be related to how her partner self identifies and therefore she might use the term he uses for himself. if that is the case, then i do not agree it is appropriate to lecture a palestinian over how they should self identify. albeit, it’s my understanding most palestinians self identify as palestinian. but lots self identify as arabs too. the two are not mutually exclusive.

        It’s high time people started using that word… least have the courtesy to call the person you love PALESTINIAN.

        while i’m sure we all appreciate the lecture on the distinction between the terms palestinian and arab (because the chance anyone here would already know that “Palestinians are people who come from Palestine” is practically nil and who knew Arabs were members of a Semitic people!) are you seriously addressing the author and lecturing her on how she should address her lover? don’t you think he would do that for himself if he didn’t feel he was being respected?

        that said, i agree when referencing palestinians it’s best to simply say palestinian. aside from being accurate and specific, it’s just nice to hear the word and to repeat it. it’s beautiful, deserving of honor and respect and admiration and brings me warm feelings. courage and sumud and i could go on and on.

      • Brewer on August 17, 2017, 7:17 pm

        I don’t think we truly disagree – how could we? You know I love you!
        “the word “Arab” is not, in itself, derogatory nor does it carry derogatory connotations (except to racists).”
        That was what I meant by ” in derivation and intent”.
        Derived from a term meaning “nomad” or “passer-by”, it does seem to me to be derogatory when applied to Palestinians who were a settled people with established institutions. When used by those who invaded and destroyed those institutions I find it deliberately misleading and therefore abhorrent.
        This says nothing about ” how she should address her lover”. My wife and I used racial epithets for each other in fun as terms of endearment as do many African Americans. It is all in the intent.
        That being said, I think it best that the Palestinian identity is firmly established in the public consciousness, particularly in view of the fact that the majority are descended from precisely the same stock as Palestinian Jews. When this is understood, most of the Zionist narrative falls apart.

      • annie on August 17, 2017, 7:58 pm

        brewer, you are so sweet!

        That was what I meant by ” in derivation and intent”.

        ah, sorry for misunderstanding you brewer.

        This says nothing about ”how she should address her lover”.

        i know, the quote i cited above that reference (in italics) was not yours nor addressed anything you said. maybe i should have placed it in a separate comment. sorry!

      • gamal on August 17, 2017, 8:05 pm

        “a term meaning “nomad” or “passer-by”,”

        Arab is Arabic and is derived from irab meaning to speak clearly as opposed to ajam, as to derogatory, I’d rather say I was Arab than “Saudi”, “Emirati” or even “Jordanian”, fortunately I am Egyptian so don’t need to resort to Arab, anyway I been abroad my whole life so it comes and goes these days,
        its a,

        4 letter word

        I am not shy when I speak out frankly of your reality
        That a yard of hogs is much cleaner than all of you

        May the bench of washing the dead move,
        But you are immovable

        Now I expose/undress you
        In all the capitals of this Arab World

        You have killed my gaiety
        In every alley I see al-Azlam (the idols) Amami (before me)

        Till I became avoiding even the phone
        Even the walls and even the children
        Vomiting for this crude method

        Let us sit before the feet of the Arabian Desert
        To let her pass a judgment on us
        I admit before the Desert

        That I am a banal, scoundrel and sad
        As your defeat

        O defeated honorable men
        O defeated rulers
        O defeated people
        How dirty, how dirty, how dirty we are.
        How dirty we are,
        I don’t exclude any one.

        Muzaffar al-Nawwab (bloody Indian who became Arab some centuries ago)

      • annie on August 17, 2017, 10:41 pm

        bless you gamal. here’s a snippet for you

        The last Arab writes:
        I am the Arab that never was,
        the Arab that never was.
        Either say you have erred or keep silent.
        The dead won’t hear your apology,
        they won’t read their killer’s journals
        to find out what they might,
        they won’t return to Basra the Eternal
        to find out what you did to your mother
        when you recognised the blue of the sea.
        Say we didn’t take the journey just to return
        the last words said to your mother, in your name:
        Do you have proof you’re my only mother?
        If our era has to be,
        let it be a graveyard as it is,
        not as the new Sodom wants it to be.
        The dead won’t forgive those who stood
        perplexed like us at the edge of the well.
        Is beautiful Joseph the Sumerian our brother
        so we can steal
        the beauty of the evening stars from him?
        If he must be killed
        then let Caesar be the sun
        setting on slaughtered Iraq.
        I’ll beget you and you’ll beget me,
        and very slowly, very slowly
        I’ll remove the fingers of my dead from your body,
        the buttons of their shirts and their birth certificates.
        You’ll take the letters of your dead to Jerusalem.
        We’ll wipe the blood from our glasses, my friend,
        and re-read our Kafka,
        and open two windows onto a street of shadows.
        My outside is inside me.
        Don’t believe winter smoke.
        April will emerge from our dreams.
        My outside is my inside.
        Pay no attention to statues.
        An Iraqi girl will decorate her dress
        with the first almond flowers,
        and along the top edge of the arrow
        drawn just above her name
        she’ll write your name’s initial letter
        in Iraq’s wind.

      • gamal on August 17, 2017, 11:48 pm

        wow Annie that unique man, a whole literature in one person

        “If it were a bridge we would have crossed it already….(but)…

        in a country that loves dogs
        but hates your people and the name of the South.
        We have remains of women banished from daisies,
        our good Gypsy friends,
        the stained steps of bars,
        Arthur Rimbaud,
        a sidewalk of chestnuts,
        and enough technology to wipe out Iraq.
        The wind of your dead blows northward.”

        and Rodins statues..its all there

        thanks Annie, “you’re a diamond”, I am going drink and make sfeeha till I turn pure Qaysi, tonight,

      • echinococcus on August 18, 2017, 7:37 am


        From the moment one realizes the purpose of that label, it is impossible to see it written without a jolt of revulsion

        The reason for it is not in an imagined or real meaning of the word Arab, though. It is in the intentional intellectual dishonesty of switching the part for the whole:
        Arabs are all mother-tongue speakers of the Arabic language, from Mauretania to the Indian Ocean, from Mayotte to Aintab in Turkey.
        Palestinians of course are Arabs, too, but that is just as irrelevant to their status as their having two kidneys.

        Unlike any other people, including unlike any other Arabs, Palestinians by definition carry the title deed to all the land and all the houses that the invaders inhabit.

        The intent in banning the use of this ownership term is clearly genocidal. More murderous than the use of the so-called N-word by white racists.

  10. rosross on August 16, 2017, 9:22 pm

    The irony is that intelligent people can still refer to Israel as a democracy when it has never been a democracy. An occupier and coloniser is not by its nature democratic and that is what Israel has been since the first European colonists landed in Palestine.

    Neither can one be half Arab and half Jewish. One cannot be half a religion and Judaism is a religion and while one might be able to be half a culture, since Arab is a culture, one cannot compare a culture with a religion.

    What she means is that their children will be half American and half Israeli, although if they grow up anywhere other than Israel they will simply be the nationality of the country in which they make their home.

    • mariapalestina on August 16, 2017, 10:00 pm

      Her children will be half American and half Palestinian. Or half Jewish and half Muslim (if he is Muslim; otherwise half Christian)

      • echinococcus on August 16, 2017, 11:45 pm

        Even in this day and age, one still comes across kids, you know (and even grownups) who have enough sense to reject religious nonsense. More: some of them even define themselves as plain humans.

        Besides, who told you that even if said kids are stupid enough to be religious, they will necessarily belong to some parent’s (half-)religion?

    • on August 17, 2017, 4:13 am

      The Israeli nationality literally does NOT exist, the Ministry of the Interior confirms that. An Israeli nationality would give equal rights to all its citizens, incl. Palestinians, and that is against Israel’s racist laws & policies.

      • eljay on August 17, 2017, 8:31 am

        || Paranam Kid: … An Israeli nationality would give equal rights to all its citizens, incl. Palestinians, and that is against Israel’s racist laws & policies. ||

        Israel exists as a religion-supremacist “Jewish State”:
        – primarily of and for Jewish Israelis and non-Israeli Jews; and
        – in as much as possible of Palestine.

        Zionists – Jewish supremacists – won’t have it any other way.

  11. mariapalestina on August 16, 2017, 9:58 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story, Ronit.

    I find it strange and quite sad that nowhere do you use the words Palestine or Palestinian. You have fallen in love with an Israeli Arab. I always assume an Israeli Arab is a Jewish Israeli Arab. I have rarely heard a Palestinian citizen of Israel referred to as an Arab except by zionists and some other Israeli Jews. Palestinians almost always call themselves Palestinian, even if they have lived in Israel for seven decades, or were driven out in 1948 and never allowed to return, or if they are children or grandchildren of Palestinian refugees, born in Jordan or in any other country.

    • echinococcus on August 16, 2017, 11:49 pm

      Strange? I don’t know. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the article but it did look like written by a Zionist. Yet again.
      Compassionate and Apartheid-intolerant, though, and thanks for the little blessings.

    • Greta on August 18, 2017, 3:58 am

      Those of us who have worked and lived in the occupied territories or Gaza or even Israel proper would never consider calling our friends, “Israeli/Arabs or Arab/Israels.” It’s an insult. They are Palestinians

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