Anyone who happens to pull into the central Israeli city of Yehud on a Friday morning at 7:30 or thereabouts is likely to see a dozen or so Africans sitting on benches and parapets waiting for someone – anyone – to pick them up and give them a day’s work.

There are similar scenes at the entrances to other cities and towns in this region, especially Bnai Brak, where there are at least twice as many.

Most of the job-seekers evidently are employed Sundays through Thursdays elsewhere.

But when Israeli workers take their days off, the Africans – most of whom infiltrated into Israel by way of the chaotic Sinai Peninsula – would work eight days a week if they could. (The same applies to the Chinese, who came here under the dubious aegis of various manpower outfits that operate in China and Israel.)

This situation reflects the Africans’ dismal situation here. It also indicates that the governmental authorities have no coherent policy with regard to them: either to integrate these people into this country’s society and economy or expedite their deportation (The latter is a dubious option, however).

Interior Minister Eli Yishai evidently harbors little if any sympathy for the estimated 80,000 non-Jews who trekked here from Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and other African countries. He has been trying to expel most if not all of them without regard to the humanitarian considerations. Nor is he moved by the fact that many have children who were born here and attend Israeli schools. These children speak Hebrew just like their Jewish and Arab classmates, but that does not seem to matter.

The personal crises generated by Yishai’s hard-line policy were reflected in the recent demonstration in Tel Aviv by dozens of Africans who fled their native Ivory Coast and made it to this country. They pleaded with the Israeli public and government to understand that their situation will be precarious if not life-threatening if they are forced to return to their native land.

On the other hand, Israel is a very small country and cannot be expedited to serve as a refuge for all comers. Its primary mission is to serve as a sanctuary for Jews who were or have been persecuted in Europe and elsewhere in the world for the past two millennia.

Complicating the current situation is the fact that the African infiltrators are not allowed to work in this country. This restriction evidently is based on the assumption and expectation that their departure either is imminent or inevitable. As a result, the cost of meeting their physical needs must be borne by the Israeli taxpayers during the open-ended interim period.

Evidence of this can be seen in areas like southern Tel Aviv, especially the Tel Giborim area, where hundreds of African men can be seen lounging around, doing nothing from morning to evening while ostensibly hoping for a prospective employer to show up with a temporary job offer.

In the meantime, they have turned whole neighborhoods into urban ghettos in which crime and public disorder proliferate. These areas’ relative small apartments often house three or more families. Utilities, such as electricity and water, often are tapped illegally by these economically strapped residents who cannot afford to pay the bills.

Actually, it is preposterous that more Africans and other non-Jews should be entering Israel, albeit illegally, than are Jewish immigrants from abroad and that the net Jewish influx is even smaller when the number of Israelis who leave for foreign countries – those who are known as yordim – is taken into account. By the way, the latter fact never is included when the annual rundown of aliya (Jewish immigration) is disclosed by the Central Bureau of Statistics on the eve of the Jewish New Year.

It is time that the government faced up to the need for a socially-constructive program that would enable a substantial proportion of these people to merge with Israel’s heterogeneous population of Jews, Arabs, Druse, Circassians and others. A grandiose detention center deep in southern Israel is not the answer. The government should not turn a blind eye to the appalling conditions in which many of the Africans and their families live.

A positive and enlightened policy would inspire foreign observers to recognize Israeli tolerance and good will while bearing out the assumption that a nation that was denied permanent hospitality throughout its 2,000-year-long Diaspora shows magnanimity instead of unwarranted indifference to those in need of a safe haven.

While adopting this attitude at the governmental level, intensive diplomatic efforts should be made to convince countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, which are far from being overpopulated and are endowed with ample territory, to accept the current overflow coming to Israel. This can be done with the cooperation of the UN’s refugee agency which has offices here as well as bilateral contact.

Concurrently, the long overdue security fence which is expected to be completed along the Israeli- Egyptian border, should be monitored and guarded effectively to such an extent that infiltration via Sinai will become impossible – despite the people-smuggling skills of the Beduin tribesmen based there.

Instead of silly talk of the threat posed by prospective inter-marriage between Jewish Israelis and African infiltrators, the mass media here should be informed about positive programs designed to enable those Africans who will remain here to live normal lives, attain standards of living similar toll the prevailing condition of the country’s non-African majority and eventually identify with its national and international goals – among them peace with all of the surrounding Arab states (in addition to Egypt and Jordan) and normal relations with the entire Islamic world.

The writer is a veteran foreign correspondent in Israel.

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