"I really thought our transit camp was wonderful!"

Rachel Shambi

Location: Ben Zvi Elementary School, Herzliya

Residence: Herzliya

Age: 75

The encounter: On election day, I met Rachel in an alleyway not far from our house. She asked me for directions to my son’s school, which was being used as a polling station. She lived nearby but had gotten lost trying to find a shortcut. As I walked with her towards the school, I told her about my interview project. When Rachel went in to vote, she asked me to wait outside so she could talk to me when she was done. 

What are you doing here right now?
I came to vote: to exercise my civic right!

How do you describe your religious or national identity?
I am retired now. I used to work as a family-health-care nurse.

Can you tell me a bit about your family?
I got married late, at age twenty-nine, and I have three daughters. All three finished college. One is an accountant; one is a lawyer; and my little one, who is looking for work now, studied computer science and math at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Where is your family from?
We emigrated from Iraq, when I was around ten. All the Jews left Iraq at that time. One family left, and then another, and another... So, everyone just followed. They didn’t even sell their possessions. They just left their house and gave the key to the neighbors.
My parents initially didn’t want to immigrate to Israel – actually, my mom wanted to go because her brothers and sisters were already here – but my father wanted to move to England or India. Maybe he had heard about the difficult conditions in Israel. In the end, my mom prevailed. Only one of my father’s sisters stayed in Iraq. Of course, she must be dead by now.
I don’t remember much of Iraq. I have some vague memories of a town called Fallujah on one of the big rivers of Baghdad. My aunt lived there, and we would visit once a year for a vacation.
We were a large family. My parents had ten children: seven boys and three girls.
I grew up in a transit camp in Kibbutz Givat Brenner, and I loved it! They say that in the eyes of a child everything is beautiful, but I really thought our transit camp was wonderful! I remember the teachers from Kibbutz Givat Brenner who taught the after-school program – Yael and Ilit – they came every afternoon to make sure we wouldn’t get bored and be exposed to negative influences.
It ticks me off me that people always talk about discrimination against Sephardic Jews in Israel! I have never felt any discrimination! The 1950s were a difficult time for everyone – for both Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Everybody was poor! The people in the kibbutz didn't have an easier life than us in the transit camp! That’s why I despise Menachem Begin: with all his talk about Ashkenazim and Sephardim he turned people against each other; just to gain power. That’s why I’d never in my life vote for the Likud party! I’ve always voted for the Labor Party, the party that established the country.

What are your hopes and expectations for the future of this land?
I hope for peace. My parents always told me how beautiful life was in Iraq, and how well they used to get along with their Arab friends. I remember how, when I was a little girl, we would all spend the evenings on the roofs in summer. All of us – Jews and Arabs – would move from one roof to another, to dance and eat and celebrate together. So, I believe we can live together in peace!
I don’t think land is worth the blood of our children. I am in favor of reaching an agreement to divide the land. Of course, I can’t hand over the whole land of Israel on a silver plate – we need a country to live in – but because we’re here together, there needs to be a fair division of the land. We can’t continue in constant conflict; young people who haven’t had a chance to live are dying in wars.
And I am fed up with all the talk about national security! Netanyahu is just using this as a threat to intimidate us into voting for him. Iran will NEVER bomb us! They know they’d be in trouble if they did.
It’s insufferable! Morning, afternoon and evening, all those constant threats: Iran, Iran, the Palestinians, the Palestinians, Iran, the Palestinians...! Enough already! I don’t want to live in fear!