Darfur is in flames. The Sudanese air force drops barrel bombs on Darfur’s civilian population to terrorize them and drive them off their land. At least 150 villages have been burned down in the Jebel Marra region of Darfur. The smoke and flames can be seen by satellite. Over 100,000 people have been displaced with no safe place to go. Young men in the rebel forces continue fighting for survival, freedom and a more democratic regime.
The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and government- supported militias employ mass rape as a weapon of war. Hundreds of young girls are systematically rounded up and raped in Tabit. Twelve-year-old girls are gang-raped with impunity.
The horrors described above occurred over the past six months. They do not refer to events that happened more than a decade ago when the Khartoum regime first launched its genocidal campaign against the non-Arab African Muslim populations of Sudan in 2003. The slaughter continues. Since 2003, over 300,000 have died while 2.7 million people have been displaced.
Over the past two years, Western diplomatic pressure on the Bachir regime to stop the killing has sharply declined. The notorious Janjaweed militias have been bolstered by foreign manned militias from Chad, Mali and Niger. Saudi Arabia provides billions to shore up the regime and to finance the campaign to crush rebel resistance and drive non-Arab Muslims from their homes in exchange for Sudan’s cutting official ties with Iran and sending troops to Yemen.
Although conditions for the populations of Darfur deteriorated, the world media has provided little coverage of the recent evolution of events in Darfur.
Today the world and Israeli media give top billing to the carnage in Syria, the massive numbers of Syrian and refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan flooding Europe and Europe’s difficulties in absorbing such large numbers.
Very few Israelis know what is going on in Darfur.
They don’t read the articles and reports of scholars and human rights organizations closely following events in Sudan. They don’t listen to courageous radio stations like Radio Dabanga in Sudan or read independent newspapers like the Sudan Tribune that provide accounts of what is happening on the ground in Darfur. They don’t see the photos and videos of burnt fields and villages, maimed children, grieving families, and scenes of resistance transmitted through the Internet by the people of Darfur to family members and friends in Israel and other countries.
Remember Darfur? When Sudanese from Darfur began to seek refuge in Israel in 2006, Israelis welcomed them. Although their entry into Israel from Egypt was “illegal,” Israeli soldiers did not stop them at the border or force them to return to Egypt.
Avner Shalev, chairperson of Yad Vashem, took a group of newly arrived refugees on a tour of the Holocaust museum and cited the obligation of Jews to demonstrate humanitarian solidarity with the persecuted. Kibbutzim absorbed hundreds of asylum seekers. NGOs emerged to provide services and legal advice.
Schools like Bialak-Rogin in south Tel Aviv and Chaim Peri’s Yemin Orde youth village near Haifa took in the children of Darfurian and other African asylum seekers, offering them compassion and high quality education.
In June 2007, Tel Aviv University organized a conference on “The Crisis in Darfur, Israel, and the Jewish People.” Rabbi Israel Lau, a Holocaust survivor and then chief rabbi of Tel Aviv described his frustration after visiting a group of refugees from Darfur in Ma’asiyahu Camp in Ramle just a week before Passover. He spoke with several dozen prisoners who had been locked up despite the fact they had done nothing wrong and were deprived of their freedom “simply because no one knew what to do with them.” Rabbi Lau did not have a solution, but he promised to tell their story.
Though Rabbi Lau supported giving preference to our own poor over other poor, this was not to be at the expense of the other: “It’s not a question of either-or.
The answer has to be both, not either-or. We have to find a solution.”
“Do not profit by the blood of thy fellow” (Leviticus 19:16). Rabbi Lau cited that verse as seeing Moses as the man who stood up for the persecuted and oppressed, Jew and non-Jew alike. Rabbi Lau insisted that this commandment applied to all Jews: “nationality, identity, color and race of those involved – all those don’t matter. When someone needs help, when someone is in danger, we have to take a stand and save him. That is our Torah. So let us set an example and fulfill the highest commandment of ‘Do not profit by the blood of your fellow,’ even in Sudan.”
In Israel, the government says nothing about the situation in Darfur. On the other hand, it relentlessly pursues policies designed to make life miserable for Sudanese and other African asylum seekers who sought sanctuary here.
Most of the 10,000-12,000 asylum seekers from Darfur have been here for many years, some for almost a decade, without getting refugee status. The government has called them “infiltrators,” “illegal economic migrants” and worse. It can’t deport them to Sudan because that would violate international law by putting their lives at risk. Instead, the government pressures asylum seekers to accept “voluntary deportation” as an alternative to prison.
The completion of the fence on the Sinai border in December, 2012 has ended any danger of Israel’s being invaded by waves of Sudanese and other African asylum seekers. Since then, less than 300 asylum seekers have breached our borders.
There is a solution that satisfies Jewish Torah values and concern for human rights. Treat them humanely.
Stop putting Darfurian and all African asylum seekers who have committed no crimes in prison and detention centers like Holot. Process their applications for refugee status in a fair and timely manner. Accord them freedom of movement, the right to work legally throughout the country, and access to basic state services.
Allow them to become an asset to Israel by filling labor shortages in key sectors and regions, paying taxes and contributing to the national health system.
“Do not profit by the blood of your fellow,” even in Sudan.