Can Oscar Fame Bring Israeli Citizenship?

Mohammed Adam arrived in Israel at age 16 after a journey of more than three years, which began in Sudan, passed through Egypt and ended in Tel Aviv.

Mohammed Adam, 19, of Darfur, is one of the main figures in the film "Strangers No More," which was awarded the Oscar for best short documentary on Sunday. Adam, who graduated last year from the Bialik-Rogozin school in Tel Aviv, is now studying auto mechanics at the Kfar Hayarok Youth Village technical college. He arrived in Israel at age 16 after a journey of more than three years, which began in Sudan, passed through Egypt and ended in Tel Aviv.

"I hope that these children, with the film's help, will be able to remain in Israel. I want people to hear why we came to Israel, and we want the politicians to know why we came. We are refugees. We did not come here to work or because it is the Land of Israel, because we did not know anything about the Land of Israel. But there was fear and we wanted someone to look out for us."

Mohammed Adam - Tali Mayer
Tali Mayer

Why were you chosen for the film?

"Because [the filmmakers] wanted people to know who I am and how it was in Darfur. It was really strange for me to see myself in the movie, but I watched it to the end and understood that it was good. In this way people can come to know me and what happened to me and to all the children in the school. They can understand the school and the teachers and everything they do for us so that we'll find our way and succeed.

"Essentially, we are non-Jews and do not belong to the people of Israel, but we received a great welcome. I hope that Israel will continue this way with us, and that we will live here until there is peace in my country and I can return home, but I [also] hope perhaps to stay here. I do not have Israeli citizenship, just temporary residency, and I am afraid they will say in the end, 'Yalla, good-bye, go home.' And I am really afraid because my Sudanese citizenship says I can go anywhere except Israel. If we return they will kill us.

"We came out of the fire, the whole world knows what is happening there. And I hope that Israel will understand, and that [Interior Minister] Eli Yishai will hear about the film and see it. He smears us as infiltrators and disease-carriers."

And you have given us an Oscar.

"Great, it sounds good now that we have an Oscar. We are in Israel and we came here not to carry out crimes and not to hurt the people of Israel. Here in Israel, we are told that people want to send us home or put us in jail. It doesn't sound good. Jews who have been through such difficult situations can think about that, they can think about what we've been through and accept us the way they should.

"I can't talk about everything because sometimes it really gives me a bad feeling. Just like there are people who went through the Holocaust and can't talk about it. There are people who are silent.

"I know they killed my father and grandmother, and my mother and sisters stayed alive, but I don't know exactly where. I hope the day will come when I will go back to search for them; that's what's important. And that I find them alive."

What will happen to you after the fuss about the movie dies down?

"I hope to study, first of all, law or political science. I want to be a politician, at least I hope. That's what I like. I want to study in English because there are two recognized languages in Africa: English and French. If I study in Hebrew, no one will know what I am saying."

In Israel or in Darfur?

"I don't see my future here, because I don't have citizenship. And with the talk I hear on the radio and television and in the newspapers, it doesn't look like I'll be here.

"At first, when I studied history and Bible in high school, and I got residency, I said 'I belong to the people of Israel; I'll have one country and I can enlist in the army and I will defend the people of Israel.' But suddenly I hear 'We don't need you' and that they want to make a prison for children, and then I think perhaps it's better to go somewhere else.

"I really wanted to enlist in the army because the country did something good for me, and my studies helped me too. Before that I didn't learn anything, and at Bialik-Rogozin they taught me everything: reading and writing, a language. But they didn't let me enlist. I would like to contribute to the country, but the people of Israel didn't let me. But I hope I can get citizenship and enlist.

"Still, no matter where you go, there is no place like your own land and your own home. The first home is the best."

Nonetheless, you've won an Oscar. How do you plan to celebrate?

"I am living the movie now. It feels completely different, but what celebration? I have final exams. I told my friends in the class that if I had money I would make a party for everyone, but where would I get money?

"All the students here said that I'm a star. And before I got the Oscar, the vice principal of the college said to me: 'You will be a star.' I said that stars study for many years. That in fact I am not a star; that it's just a matter of luck. I am a star out of luck. When I see the film I feel as if I'm a soccer star and everyone is asking for my autograph."

People who cursed you in the street are suddenly asking for your autograph.

"Yes, it's a completely different feeling. It's something good, perhaps, that people give me compliments. But I try not to get excited."