Refusing Refugees… Rachmanut?

Rachmanut is one of the most important words in the Hebrew language.  It means “Mercy”.

So where is our Jewish rachmanut when dealing with “others”…people very much unlike us in color, culture, language and religion but very much like us with eyes that see, ears that ear, hearts that beat, feet that walk and hands held high in prayer?

From 1939-1945, lest we forget, we sought to be refugees fleeing from extermination, but the doors of the world’s countries were closed to us, particularly the doors of British controlled Palestine and Roosevelt’s United States of America.

We cried but no one saw our tears. We cried out for mercy but no one heard our pleas. We were killed in gas chambers and crematoria but too few cared. After all, we were only Jews. Who cared about us?

Similarly today in our own country, tens of thousands of black Africans trekked through deserts and storms to reach Egypt and from there to cross, mostly illegally, the border into Israel. What did they seek here? They made no absurd claim of being descendants of the 10 lost tribes of Israel. They had only one human purpose to come to the white Jewish state.

And that sole purpose was to seek freedom and asylum and refuge from the persecutions and deaths of their people in South Sudan and Eritrea.

Many came as refugees seeking legitimate asylum. Still many others came for purely economic benefits, to find work and to earn good wages denied them in their own countries.

Most “settled” (or “invaded”) the poor and decrepit area of south Tel-Aviv. Already an area of disheveled buildings and crumbling crowded structures, the African refugees made their homes there, sent their children to schools to learn our language and did all the menial and unpleasant jobs that Israeli Jews were prone to disdain.

True, some of the Africans were a source of fright for white Jewish neighbors. Rape was common and elderly Jews were hesitant to leave their apartments at night. For many, even walking on familiar streets in daylight was a source of tension and fear.  People always tend to fear the “others”, the “unlike us”.

Following years of complaints from long-time residents of south Tel-Aviv, the Israeli government considered an action to resolve the problem. That action is called DEPORTATION.

Reminicsent of the British deportations of Jews arriving in Palestine. fleeing from the Holocaust. to camps in Cyprus and elsewhere, living in protected barbed-wire areas.

Tens of thousands of Africans are to be deported… but to where? Rwanda does not want them. Uganda is not ready to receive them. They cannot return to Eritrea or South Sudan which offers them only the death penalty. So…where are they to go?

We, as a nation which has absorbed millions of refugees, more than any other country in the world, cannot deport an entire population and send them to impeding death sentences.

As we have created areas for our Beduin population in the Negev regions, why can’t we build communal structures similarly for the African communities?

In 1948-1949, refugees from Yemen and Iraq, primarily, were “housed” in maabarot… temporary flimsy tent-like structures until more permanent housing could be made available to them. We could do likewise temporarily for African asylum-seekers.

Agreeably, we have no responsibility to provide sanction for those seeking “asylum” here in order to find work, but we, as a Jewish nation must have rachmanut…mercy… for those genuine refugees fleeing from persecution and death .

They must not be pawns in the hands of our politicians and legislators. Our High Court of Justice has rendered its decision. A decision of the Court must be respected and obeyed. The government cannot flaunt it.

The government’s response to “constitutionally” address the issue is farcical. Everyone knows that Israel has no written Constitution.

Refusing legitimate refugees is not Jewish.   Rachmanut is !

But where in Israel can it be found?

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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