Strangers in a Strange Land

 Residents of the southern quarters of Tel Aviv have long been complaining about the presence in their midst of the illegal migrants or asylum seekers, who are mostly black and poor.

Such a large group of people, (who are mostly from South Sudan and Eritrea), with a different cultural background, different eating habits, different social norms and a different look, is bound to cause stress in the neighborhoods and add to that their poverty, which inevitably results in (mostly) petty crimes, and the lives of the residents in South Tel Aviv are seriously disrupted.

Lately, the frustration and anger of the people of South Tel Aviv has been directed at the Supreme Court (and in particular its president, Judge Miriam Naor) mainly because of the court ruling  that the State of Israel cannot deport the refugees to a third country against their will, thereby effectively torpedoing the plans the Israeli government had devised to get rid of these people), and also cannot incarcerate the refugees indefinitely if no crimes (other than refusal to be deported) have been committed.

But the Tel Aviv residents are seriously mistaken. They should turn their anger towards the people they have begged for help until now.  The problem of the refugees in Tel Aviv has been exacerbated by the refusal of the Israeli government to find a more permanent solution except trying to get rid of them and the present unrest is only being exploited by the politicians.

Israel has spared no effort in making the lives of these refugees miserable (it even was stated as a government policy by then Interior Minister Eli Yishai) subjecting them to detention, harassment and intimidation.

An important part of these efforts is incitement. From the moment these refugees entered Israel, after long hazardous journeys, they have been accused of anything imaginable, from “carriers of diseases”, to “rapists of our wives and daughters” and “thieves in our midst”. All this with one major aim only: to set the local population against them, make them feared and despised, loathed and hated.

Politicians are talking about the impossible situation whereby so many refugees are concentrated in Tel Aviv (it is estimated some 80% of them live in the southern Tel Aviv neighborhoods) but they are very careful not to come up with an alternative. Even if there are today some 50,000 refugees in Israel, in the words of Tel Aviv mayor Huldai, this is hardly a demographic problem, and if they would be allowed to work and live in other parts of the country their presence would hardly be felt and would not be a burden on the local population. But this can only happen if Israel does the one thing it steadfast has refused to do: recognize these people as refugees.

It is easy for Prime Minister Netanyahu to declare that the large majority of the migrants are not refugees but just came to look for jobs, and even easier for the people of Tel Aviv to believe him, but there is no evidence whatsoever to support the Prime Minister. The simple fact is that Israel has all this time refused to examine the status of the migrants, and asylum seekers who have received the status of refugee in Israel can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

This in comparison to statistics from other countries including the U.S. where migrants from Sudan and Eritrea have received refugee status in the majority of cases. And the criteria employed by these countries are not different than the ones Israel should employ. Under the Refugee Convention, if the migrant fled his country under the threat of prosecution and death, he is an asylum seeker and must be considered for refugee status. However, the determination of the status of the migrant is to be done by the country where he has requested asylum  and, while UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has the option to step in to accelerate this process, it depends for a great deal on the goodwill of the nation where the asylum seeker finds himself. And in Israel asylum requests are simply being ignored so as to be able to continue to call these people illegal migrants.

The bottom line in Israel today is very clear. Israel will do anything possible to get rid of the migrants, but is very limited in the actions it can effectively take to that end. With as a result that the migrants are in a perpetual state of uncertainty, and live mostly under deplorable conditions, which results in at least some of them agreeing to being send to third nations (in Africa) that have been enticed by Israel to take them in in exchange for sometimes dubious rewards. The migrant is promised all the assistance he needs and Israel pays him a sum of money to get started out. However, the stories coming back from these countries are such that it will discourage others to go that same route very quickly.

So why does Israel have such enormous aversion to the refugees? Why are such efforts being made to make them miserable and to make the population hate them? Israel is built on refugees! The Jewish people knows better than any what it means to be persecuted and hated! Or have we all forgotten? Apparently so. Since in 1977 then Prime Minister Menachem Begin allowed Vietnamese boat people to come to Israel and settle here, because he remembered the St. Louis, a refugee ship from Germany that in 1939 was refused entry into the U.S., Canada and Cuba and returned to Europe, where a quarter of the Jewish refugees perished, apparently everybody has forgotten. History lessons apparently do not give Israeli youth sufficient insight into what it means to be a refugee even if his grandfather may well have been one.  Or maybe history lessons take care only to remember JEWISH refugees! Because that is of course the crux of the whole problem! These migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, or however you want to call them, may be all that but one thing they are not: JEWISH!

It is not being said out loud even though some remarks about “destroying the Jewish character of the state” are being thrown around but this is the main reason Israel will never accept these people as immigrants, will never allow them to become part of Israeli society and will always do everything in its power to get rid of them.

The Light unto The Nations (or as in the Hebrew version, Unto the Goyim) has gone out long ago.


1)       With apologies to Robert Heinlein