A Problem We Cannot Ignore

Terror is raging in Tel Aviv.  Preschool children are being sent home for fear of attacks; people are afraid to walk around their own neighborhoods; health clinics are guarded to protect clients from violent infiltration.

The attacks are perpetrated by some of the Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv against African refugees.

These refugees watched their families killed and their villages bombed in front of their eyes and escaped to Israel to preserve their own lives.  While there are certainly foreigners who illegally enter Israel for economic reasons, this is not the situation for tens of thousands from Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea and many other regions where ethnic-based violence is widespread.  Since 2005, these refugees have entered Israel because the route to protection in Israel is relatively safe in comparison to routes to Europe, the rest of the Middle East and most parts of Africa.  But, these words protection and safe must be taken with more than a few grains of salt.  African refugees escape being taken as hostages by Bedouin smugglers and targeted attacks by the Egyptian military as they travel by foot to Israel.[1]  When they arrive in Israel, refugees are explicitly denied the right to work and have no medical rights.[2]

I do not aim to place all or even most blame on Israel.  The greatest tragedies that have plagued these peoples’ lives are not the fault of Israel. The refugees’ home governments are to be blamed for their tyrannical and genocidal policies.  Other countries in the region are to be blamed for denying any form of protection at all.  But, the Jewish nation cannot turn its back and say, “This is not our problem.”  We shouldn’t even whisper such words given our history of losing millions to ethnic-based violence as other nations turned their backs stating, “This is not our problem.”  And yet, last Wednesday night, 1,000 Jews screamed these words in the streets of south Tel Aviv.[3] They wrote these words on banners and chanted them as they marched.  In the Knesset last week, Jews stood behind lecterns and microphones and proclaimed these words for the entire world to hear as they put forth a policy to deport refugees[4] —a move authorized on Wednesday by Israel’s General Attorney that could send thousands towards imminent slaughter in South Sudan.[5]

In 1944, Ben Gurion asked the international community:

What have you done to us, you freedom-loving peoples, guardians of justice, defenders of the high principles of democracy and of the brotherhood of man?…If, instead of Jews, thousands of English, American or Russian women, children and aged had been tortured every day, burnt to death, asphyxiated in gas chambers-would you have acted in the same way?[6]

I pose that question back to you: if Jews, instead of Africans, thousands of Jewish women, children and aged were being threatened every day, attacked by Molotov-cocktails thrown into their bedroom windows, facing the very real possibility of deportation to countries where they could easily be killed in a matter of hours—would you act in the same way?  Would you be silent?  Or, would you write to your officials, confront your local leaders and acknowledge that this is our problem?

About the Author
Anna Rose Siegel currently lives in Washington, D.C. and is the D.C. Coordinator for Right Now: Advocates for African Asylum Seekers in Israel. She previously lived in Tel Aviv and worked at the African Refugee Development Center and the Negev Coexistence Forum.