Rattling the Cage: How to keep out 'infiltrators'

Olmert should change course on African refugees and ask Mubarak to call off his dogs.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
Since the start of the year, 12 Africans trying to "infiltrate" Israel have been shot to death by Egyptian border guards, says Amnesty International. There's no telling how many Africans have been wounded and captured by the guards, who are known to brutalize and, at times, rape them. "We've seen more shootings since February, when Olmert talked with Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh about 'beefing up' the Egyptians' border control," a local Amnesty activist, Ilan Lonai, told me this week. We were speaking after a Knesset joint committee hearing on the African refugees - er, infiltrators. During the meeting, the subject of the shootings, beatings and rapes didn't come up. The number of African infiltrators from Egypt to Israel has gone down dramatically, reported Ya'acov Ganot, Israel's bureaucrat-in-chief in this matter. About 1,600 got through the border in February, he told the joint committee, and only 400 in May. Great work, Egyptian border guards. "THE VAST majority of the infiltrators aren't refugees, they're job-seekers," stressed Ganot, and MK Zvulun Orlev, co-chairman of the hearing, nodded with satisfaction. Yes. We're talking about job-seekers who cross the Sinai desert at night, risking murder, torture and rape to get out of Egypt and into Israel. That's what I call a work ethic. The rhetoric at the Knesset hearing about the Jewish people's moral responsibility to refugees was something out of this world. "Who knows the suffering of being stateless, of being orphans turned away from one door after another, like the Jewish people?" "The nation of Israel and the Jewish people must show a greater sensitivity than any other nation to the terrible pain of refugees." "We must not only join the effort to address this great tragedy, we must lead it." Like prophets, those MKs talked. In practice, the latest word from Israel on African refugees (sorry, sorry - infiltrators) came last month from the Knesset's Interior Committee. The panel gave preliminary approval to a law that would imprison infiltrators from enemy countries - such as Sudan - for up to seven years. It would also allow IDF soldiers on the Egyptian border to implement a policy of "hot return" - sending the Africans, men women and children all, right back across the border to Egypt without giving them the chance to apply for asylum here. I'm sure those Egyptian border guards will welcome them with open arms. The Interior Committee's vote last month in favor of the proposed law was 21-1, with only Dov Kheinin of Hadash (the Commies, naturally) voting against. In a country of over 7 million people, one with 200,000 foreign workers, half of whom are here illegally, the influx of 9,000 African refugees (all sarcasm aside) in the last three years is considered a crisis. But why? THIRD WORLD refugees, both political and economic, have been resettling in richer, freer countries for a very, very long time. The US has 12 million illegal immigrants - 4 percent of that country's population. The equivalent number in Israel would be nearly 300,000. Syria and Jordan, which, unlike Israel, are poor countries, have taken in about 2 million Iraqi war refugees - 8 percent of the two countries' combined population. The equivalent number in Israel would be 550,000-600,000. It's hard to think of Syria and Jordan as being more "sensitive" to refugees than Israel - but maybe they are. I asked Orlev his opinion. "Those are Arab refugees, they are [Syria's and Jordan's] brothers," he said. And the Africans fleeing Egypt for Israel aren't our brothers? "No, they're not," he said. "They're people made in God's image just like we are, and we must treat them humanely, but you can't say they're our brothers." Orlev, leader of the National Religious Party, strikes me, and not just me, as a humane, well-intentioned person. He asked Ya'acov Ganot about the refugees' health care, and when Ganot replied, "Those who have health insurance get health care," Orlev shook his head knowingly; except for 600 refugees from Darfur who've been granted temporary residency, the Africans here can't get health insurance. Compared to the rest of the MKs on the refugee issue, Orlev is "one of the good ones," said Noga Porat, the local Amnesty director, though her implications was that that's not saying much. In line with the national consensus, Orlev has an inflated, not to say smug, idea of how humanely Israel treats refugees. "No country has done more for refugees than Israel," he declared. "A country of 600,000 people took in 5 million." He's speaking, of course, about 5 million Jews, many of whom were desperate for asylum while others were looking for a better life, but all of whom were considered by the Jewish state to be exiles coming home. For Israel, these 5 million Jews were nation-builders. For Israel, they were not exactly refugees, not in the way the world thinks of refugees. They weren't "strangers," and by taking them in, Israel, in my opinion if not in consensus opinion, has not really "joined the effort" to give asylum to Third World refugees. The truth is that Israel can take in many times the 9,000 Africans who've fled Egyptian oppression and risked their lives to come here. We're a long, long way from being overwhelmed. SO OLMERT should tell Mubarak he's sorry, he's changed his mind, and now would the Egyptian president please call off his Rottweilers on the border? This is not what's meant by showing "sensitivity" to the "terrible pain of refugees." I asked Orlev how many Africans he thought Israel should accept. "However many there are whose lives are in danger in their country of origin." How many do you think that is? "I don't know." I told him 12 Africans trying to get across the border to Israel had been shot to death so far this year by Egyptian border guards. He thought I was saying they'd been shot to death by Israeli soldiers, and he said: "When you're a soldier lying in ambush and you see somebody coming across your border, you don't know what he's got in mind." IDF soldiers do not shoot Africans coming over the Egyptian border, but Orlev seemed to be defending them if they were. So maybe he's not as humane as I thought. I told him I meant that Africans heading for Israel were getting shot by Egyptian soldiers. "Oh, I don't know anything about that," he said. "That" is how these asylum-seekers are being kept out of Israel, "that" is the result of Olmert's appeal to Mubarak to control the border, and nobody here knows anything about it. Better not to know, I guess. Then we Jews can go on telling ourselves how wonderful we are to refugees - because, after all, who knows their tragedy like we do?