In the most recent case of open racism against Israel's Ethiopian community, a school bus driver has admitted to deriding Ethiopian-Israeli children on his bus route. The driver, who shuttles hundreds of children each day from the immigrant absorption center in Mevaseret Zion to schools in and around Jerusalem, has been suspended from his job.
The driver, it has been revealed, called the Ethiopian-Israeli children who rode his bus "smelly," saying to them, "You smell like sh-t. You're making my ride smelly with that stench of yours."
On of the girls subjected to the verbal attacks, 12-year-old Yordenus, came to Israel with her family five years ago and is now in the sixth grade. "Nobody will call us 'smelly,'" she said. "He should be ashamed of what he said. We won't change for anyone."
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Yordenus' mother added, "It's very painful for us. We don't smell and don't understand why he would say that. The things he said are very shameful, really disgusting. How can we raise children like this? My daughter is hurt by what the driver said."
In order to prove their case, the children hatched a plan to tape record the driver making his offensive statements. Their parents then took the recording to absorption center manager David Moulah and asked him to help. After a call was made to the bus company, the driver in question was called in for a hearing. According to the driver, he spoke in such a manner because the children vandalized his vehicle. The driver apologized for the offensive remarks and was immediately suspended from his job. The bus company is reportedly expected to terminate his employment.
"These are things that crush the spirit of these little children," said Moulah. "It's shocking and chilling. A positive message must be sent to the olim [new immigrants] and they must feel welcome and comfortable in order to integrate into Israeli society. It is up to us to denounce this kind of behavior, and weed it out from its root."
Meanwhile, some 5,000 protesters, mostly from the Ethiopian community, marched on Tuesday from the Knesset to Independence Park in Jerusalem to protest racism in Israel. The marchers carried Israeli flags and signs that said: "Racism – not in our country" and "The time to fight for our future is now."
Daniella Pisha, 22, who came to the protest rally from Kiryat Gat, described the rally's atmosphere. "I feel like I don't belong to this place, even though I served in the army and contributed to the country," she said. "I'm afraid to get on the bus. I guess the color black isn't easy on Israeli eyes. I'm planning on getting a visa and leaving Israel because of the way Ethiopians are treated here."
Avi Yallau, one of the rally's organizers, said, "We want equality. There is no place for racism of any kind. It cannot be that the color of our skin is an obstacle for us."
Gadi Yavarkan, chairman of the Ethiopian rights advocacy group, echoed Yallau's statements. According to Yavarkan, "Our goal is to wake up the public, which is in a coma regarding anything related to the racism that has afflicted Israel for many years and which has recently gained dangerous momentum. We will all pay a painful price for it. It's important that everyone understands that the Ethiopian community is a ticking social time bomb, and its fuse is already lit. These acts of racism are causing the destruction of the Third Temple."
Another protest rally took place Tuesday in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood in Rehovot, where youth groups in the city joined together in a joint call to stop racism against the Ethiopian community. Some 400 youth group members and counselors from the B'nei Akiva movement, the Working and Studying Youth, the Youth Guard, the Immigrant Camps, the Agricultural Union, Beitar and Ezra Youth all participated under the flag of "Increasing the light." The event took place under the auspices of the Rehovot Municipality and the Council of Youth Movements.
"In days of alienation, division and hatred between sections of society, we chose to increase the light," said Secretary-General of the Youth Movement Council Naftali Deri. "Youth from all different movements, which represent the different, beautiful faces of Israeli society, decided to join together and act in the name of justice, morality, good values and more."
Sarah, 14, from Tiberias, whose mother emigrated from Ethiopia and whose father emigrated from the U.S., read to the crowd of protesters from a letter that she wrote to President Shimon Peres. "The situation in the country is appalling, and being different is not something that requires fixing, so why are people hated for things they cannot change?" she asked the president, adding: "We're trying to take care of peace with other countries, but what about peace among ourselves?"
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