Moses led his people through the desert on the journey to the Holy Land.
Those who are coming today don’t have a leader and are not coming for religious reasons: they are mostly Sudanese, Ethiopians and Eritreans who escaped their homeland because of war, poverty and violence. They regard Israel as a safe destination.
However, there is one thing these two exoduses have in common: also in the exodus of today, they travel by foot.
One story I would like to share is the story of 21-year-old Hiyoba, who was, as many other children, kidnapped by the Eritrean army and forced into the life of a child soldier. Educated to be a sniper, he had to kill for the first time when he was only eleven years old. He got to eat only every third day and was forced into unconditional obedience. Twice he was shot by a bullet, one streaked his head. Only with luck, he survived. In total, he had been a soldier for 10 years, until he was finally able to succeed in his escape to Israel.
Nightmares and scars on his body and soul are remainders of this past. How many people he killed, he doesn’t know – but he dreams of a future.
As a deserter, he lived for five months in poor circumstances in an Ethiopian refugee camp. The escape to Israel appeared to him as the only possibility to outrun his murderous past and his unbearable present.
Human traffickers brought him, together with other refugees, without passports or papers inside a container of a freight ship as blind passengers over the Nile River into Sudan.
The hygienic conditions were catastrophic, five people died. After his arrival in Sudan, his journey continued to Egypt – only this time it was by foot. The land was in war-like condition, and the journey perilous. One foggy night, under fire from Egyptian soldiers, he successfully crossed the border.
After a three-month-long journey, he then faced the last big and risky step of their route: the border passing into Israel. There were 56 refugees who crossed the border together. The Egyptian army opened fire on them. The Africans – men, women, and children – ran for their lives. Eight of them were killed, on their way to a better life, by Egyptian bullets. Hiyoba, arrived on the Israeli side and was put on a bus to Tel Aviv by Israeli soldiers. He got a residence permit. However, this permit is only temporary.
He wishes to go to Europe. But how is this possible without a passport? His residence permit in Israel will expire in a few months. Hiyoba is in panic and fears that the Israeli officials will send him back to Egypt, or worse, to Eritrea where he would surely face the death penalty as a deserter. He figured out by now that Israel isn’t the Holy Land for him.
Hiyoba, 21 years old, a former child soldier who should be given a new start, but instead he has his end in front of his eyes once more. He doesn’t want to give up, he is a fighter. However, sometimes he asks himself if a “Holy Land” exists for him at all.