We came to Israel from Egypt in 2007. I was six years old and my sister Viola was 12. We walked by foot through the desert. Mum was pregnant and dad supported her. Walking was hard.
We lived in Be’er Sheva and then moved to Arad, where my brother was born and my sister and I started attending school. After she gave birth, my mother started working in a hotel at the Dead Sea. My father worked, too. We made friends and so did our parents. We got into a routine. We had what you could call a normal life; even a happy life.
But then, one morning, it all changed. One of my teachers said the government decided to deport the refugees from Israel. I couldn’t believe it, but when I got home mum and dad confirmed that we must go back to South Sudan. I knew that South Sudan was where we escaped from, but I knew nothing more about it.
I didn’t want to leave Israel but there was no choice. I thought we might start a new life. Mum was very upset but dad accepted reality. We came from South Sudan and we’ll go back there, he said; That’s our country.
After six years in Israel we went back to South Sudan and our world turned upside down. What we knew as normal life was no more: no employment, no running water, no electricity and, of course, no television. My mother and sister carried water home in heavy buckets.
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Not only chickens walked around freely in the houses; so did malarial mosquitoes. As a child who grew up in Israel I couldn’t even imagine that disease. When mum got sick they explained to me that when the malarial mosquito bites, a microbe enters the blood and the result is high fever, vomiting, lack of appetite and weight loss. My ever-active mother couldn’t stand on her feet. She was ill all the time. At some point I stopped counting how many times I was sick myself.
But malaria was not the worst thing – people were. There is no calm or security in South Sudan. Rebels or armed thieves could break into the house at any time. Murder is a day to day matter.
Coming from a “normal life” in Israel, everything seemed so strange to me – the violence, the diseases, and the fact that in South Sudan, like in other African countries, it is accepted that girls should marry at the age of 13. Boys go to school and girls get married off, mainly to older men. Sometimes older than their own fathers. Thirteen years old married to 40-year-old men, only to keep their families from starving.
When I was 12 I already figured out that what preoccupied my parents in our new life was fear. Fear of not being able to feed us and protect us – me, my sister, and my 5-year-old brother who was born in Israel. Then, in December 2013, the war broke out.
It is impossible to describe the first time you hear a gunshot. The first time you see dead people. And I’ve seen worse. Worse than what I can bear to tell. Mum was convinced we were all going to die. That the rebels would go from house to house and kill us all. This was not far from what actually took place. The rebels got to our neighbors’ home and we heard it all. They screamed for help as they were killed and we could not do anything to help. We were locked in, hearing people outside screaming for their lives, being shot, and we could not do anything.
We ran into the forest with many others to try to stay alive, but the rebels chased us into the forest and the killing went on. One of them caught my best friend, best I ever had. He grabbed her, raped her and killed her. That will stay with me forever.
After what we went through, we all changed. Especially my mother.
The mother I had in Israel, the chatty one who always joked with us, shared secrets and told stories from work or about her friends, who was a supportive and attentive friend to us, is no more. Sometimes I feel I do not know my mother.
She is now very quiet. And skinny. People who knew her in Israel cannot believe she is the same woman. I’ve put photos of her on Facebook before and after the deportation from Israel. Some people who support the expulsion of refugees from Israel accuse me of lying, They say it cannot be the same woman. But it is the same woman; it is my mother. When my sister and I dare ask her what happened, she says life in South Sudan changed her.
There are things I want to tell my mum, share with her; but now I can’t. I try, but I cannot do it. I am worried that she might get angry with me. I don’t want to make her cry. I don’t want to remind her of the things she saw in South Sudan: the dead, the girls who got raped in front of her, the fear that this would happen to us, too.
Mum had stopped talking. Maybe it is for the best. Because in the rare occasions when she does speak, she tells me she wishes she’d have never arrived back in South Sudan, never seen what she’d seen, never felt what she’d felt.
It is clear that none of those things would have happened had we stayed in Israel: the diseases, the poverty, the accidents; our not being able to afford to take dad to hospital when he broke his leg.
And my mother doesn’t sleep anymore, either, after the rebels broke into our home and threatened to kill the family and rape her. My parents gave them all we had, everything we brought with us from Israel. But ever since then, she can’t sleep. She wakes up at night, convinced that the rebels are at the door.
My mother once told me she feels as if she had fallen down away from heaven, from Israel, where we had everything, into the hell of nothingness and war and fear and killing in South Sudan.
I am not asking people in Israel to help my mother. I just want you to know she is no longer the same woman. I want you to know, we were deported six years ago and now I do not know my own mother anymore.
If you expel other refugees, you are sending them to a similar fate. Please don’t do it again. I’m begging you, please do not deport the refugees.