I recently returned from two weeks of reserve duty with a combat unit on the
Egyptian border. There is a certain amount of cognitive dissonance writing this
now, from the comfort of my cubicle in the hi-tech park where I work as an
electrical engineer. That being said, I want you to be aware of some of the
troubling, ridiculous and inspiring things I witnessed.
My unit was
tasked with securing a section of the border. Our main goals were to prevent
drug and weapon/bomb smuggling, deal with illegal African immigrants, and
prevent terror cells from crossing.
Now for a little background. Ever
since the return of Sinai to Egypt, this border has been extremely
Only barbed wire has been separating the two countries for the
past couple of decades. Due to this, in 2008, a terror cell from Gaza was able
to cross and successfully detonate in Dimona, murdering one person and seriously
wounding another. Additionally, drug smuggling by Beduin tribes has continued
unabated, and in the past couple of years, they have branched out to human
As noted in other places, these people have no regard for
human life, and prey on the weak. They have been known to rape, torture and even
kill their human cargo.
That cargo comprises mainly African migrants
seeking economic opportunities (many gave this as their reason without prodding
when asked by our lieutenant), and a small number of genuine refugees making the
journey from Sudan or Eritrea. When they reach the border with Egypt, they pay
$2,500 to the Beduin, who ferry them in trucks to approximately 2 km. from the
Israeli border. Under cover of darkness, they drop off their passengers and
point to where they will need to cross. They do not walk with them to the finish
line, of course, because they know how perilous it can be if the trigger-happy
Egyptian soldiers catch them.
On average, 30 people would cross every
night in our section. Saying that we are facing an invasion is an understatement
when you realize there are other sections where people are crossing as well. In
general, we would find them sitting huddled in the freezing desert night,
waiting for us to find them. If you ever wanted to know what Emma Lazarus meant
when she wrote her famous poem “The New Colossus,” there is no better
illustration than what I saw.
After checking that none were carrying
weapons, we would give them water, cookies and crackers. They are also offered
cigarettes, but most usually politely declined. Soon after, a bus would come to
pick them up.
They would then be checked by the medics and given first
aid. After that, they would be transferred to a holding facility to be
processed, and then, since our government has no real policy, they are given a
choice as to which city they would like to go to.
Most know exactly where
they are going, since friends who have already made the trek have lodgings and
work waiting for them in South Tel Aviv, Eilat, Arad, and so on. Some, of
course, choose to stay close to the border, because the government is building a
giant fence there. Only in Israel could there be the ridiculous situation where
the same people who jumped over the old fence could now be employed in building
a new one.
BUT LEST you think this is all Alice in Wonderland, I’d like
to tell you what happened a few nights ago. A group was spotted by Egyptian
soldiers crossing the border. The Egyptians started shooting to kill. Three
Africans, not knowing their way, and being in complete darkness, ran straight
into the barbed-wire fence to escape. They were found dangling on the wire,
lacerations all over their bodies.
The Israeli medics, putting themselves
in great danger, had to navigate around the barbed wire, remove the injured, and
move them on stretchers, all the while hoping the Egyptians would stop shooting.
Sadly one of the Africans took a bullet to the brain, and the army doctor on the
scene could do nothing to save him. My friend the medic just kept repeating how
much blood there was. The other two were taken by helicopter to an Israeli
hospital and, as far as I know, were saved.
Now, I can only speculate why
the Egyptians’ first instinct is to shoot unarmed people. It might be because
they don’t want to have to arrest people, so they save themselves the time and
expense. Whatever the reason, murder is happening at the hands of Egyptians at
Whether it means jailing the people who hire the illegal
immigrants, or having the Beduin leadership killed, the status quo cannot go
THERE IS much to be depressed about in this situation. Most of the
blame lies, of course, with the national leadership. However, one thing that
should give us all hope is how ethically, professionally and humanely our IDF
When it comes to securing our borders, we give no quarter to
those who would harm Israel. We work tirelessly, 24/7, patrolling, chasing drug
smugglers and so on. But those who, due to dire economic circumstances, have
chosen to make this perilous journey, we treat as fellow human beings. They
will, of course, need to be repatriated, and Israel cannot absorb them (this has
nothing to do with race; the most vocal about sending the illegal immigrants
home were the Mizrahim and Ethiopians in my unit), but until the political
leadership deals with this in a serious manner, the IDF will continue to act
ethically and humanely.
From the medics putting themselves in danger by
rescuing those shot by Egyptian soldiers, to those refusing to shoot flares lest
the Africans’ position be revealed to the Egyptians, to the small acts of
kindness, you can be proud of your army.
The writer is 30, living in
Haifa with his beautiful wife and son. He was a former combat infantryman in
Nahal, holds BS and MS degrees from Caltech, works in hi-tech and proudly does
reserve duty in a combat unit.
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