In 1951 Israel was one of several country’s to help craft and pass the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The treaty was a response to the treatment of Jews and others during WWII and the Holocaust.
Jews once knew only the cold shoulder of rejection as they searched for a safe haven from persecution and danger. So one would reasonably expect that once the Jews had a state of their own, they would act accordingly.
Sadly, when it comes to the case of African refugees from Sudan, Eritrea and other such countries, this has not been the case. And it’s not just the refugees who are suffering.
Crowded as they are into the very poorest areas of Israel like southern Tel Aviv, some of these refugees have resorted to crime. Others have committed brutalities like the rape of an elderly woman last week. Though they commit crimes at no greater rate than any other group, they are a visible and despised minority and their concentration in just a few areas has been a problem.
If I lived in southern Tel Aviv, I would explode with anger. It’s perfectly understandable that many there do just that. Yet how certain public officials and politicians exploit this situation for their own gain is inexcusable. To put it mildly.
Some of Israel’s most talented demagogues have fanned the flames of this horrible situation. Back in May MK Miri Regev (Likud) called them “a cancer.” She later gave a fumbling apology. Just this week, in the wake of the rape, Israel’s most right-wing party “Otzmat Yisrael – Strength of Israel” staged a protest in southern Tel Aviv. Present were some of the vilest characters in Israeli Kahanist fringe right-wing politics. Inflammatory statements have been followed by more than one racist assault on the refugees. Ethiopian Jews, who share the same skin color, have also been victims.
These refugees, often called “infiltrators” in Hebrew (mistan’nim) came to Israel by crossing from Africa through Sinai. There are around 60,000 of them and many, if not all, are protected under the treaty’s stipulations that they cannot be forcibly repatriated to their countries. At least 2,000, from South Sudan, were already expelled because they were supposedly “economic” refugees and not covered by the terms of the Convention.Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) has announced that they will all be rounded up and sent to a camp in the Negev. He’s doing this, he says, for Zionist reasons. They will negatively affect the precious demographics of the state.
I have been a longtime apologist for Israel when it comes to actions and policies that affect Israel’s security. This is not one of those issues.
It is absolutely disgraceful that Israel cannot solve this problem in a manner that honors the history and ethical concerns of the Jewish people. Israel forbids these people (mostly young, healthy men) from working. Naturally they have concentrated in a small number of places where rents are low and dozens can cram into tiny spaces. And naturally the locals have been the victims of the bad apples among them.
There is such an easy and humane solution available. Israel already brings in “foreign workers” all the time. MK Nitzan Horovitz (Meretz), a voice of reason and humanity, proposed that the refugees be given work permits and re-settled in smaller numbers around the nation. In return, the government would suspend issuance of a similar number of work permits for new foreign workers. Won’t this encourage more illegal immigration? Not really. What made it so easy for them to get in was the lack of a proper border fence with Sinai. The border has been secured. No more are coming.
Meanwhile, Israel has passed new laws and measures that embarrass the Jewish State. And, for those of us who are committed Zionists, always looking to help promote Israel’s image, this has been more than a fiasco. It’s been an incredible missed opportunity.
In June 1977, an Israeli ship rescued 66 Vietnamese boat people while other ships sailed right by. Prime Minister Menahem Begin later arranged for 300 more refugees to arrive. It was a wonderful thing to do. I realize that there are a lot more than 366 people who have arrived from Africa. But these people are desperate and Israel is in a position to help.
I urge you to sign on to this petition. You can learn more at the website of the African Refugee Development Center of Israel.