Think smart, think constructively

We have the opportunity for real Tikkun Olam. It would be a sin not to take it.

Rally against Africans in south Tel Aviv [file] 370 (R) (photo credit: Amir Cohen / Reuters)
Rally against Africans in south Tel Aviv [file] 370 (R)
(photo credit: Amir Cohen / Reuters)
On Wednesday night, after two days of listening to intense discussions on Israel’s strategic problems at a conference at work, I find myself in south Tel Aviv. As we drive past the ruins of the old bus station and into Africa, it feels like the day I went back to visit the home where I was brought up in Yeoville, Johannesburg, this well after the end of apartheid and after the Nigerians and Angolans moved in.
For the first time in more than four decades in Israel, I tell my wife that there is no way she’s parking on the ill-lit streets around us, (and we live in Abu Tor in Jerusalem, where our car insurance agent suggests we leave a rattlesnake in the car at night). We spend some time looking for a safe haven, settling on in front of a two-story-shabeen-type restaurant crammed into a single-floor apartment on such and such street, which was well lit and had humans around, all Africans. Even the frame shop next door had black models in the frames they were trying to sell.
Across the road was Levinsky Park. In the middle a long, silent and respectful line of people recently arrived from Sudan and Eritrea. Food and soup was being handed out by beatnik types, one called, immodestly, Mother Theresa, but who very well could merit the name. Night after night these good people come out and feed these refugees, by any definition of the word, who come into Israel after a nightmare journey, are put on a bus by soldiers, and after a cursory check of their identity, are loaded on a bus again and let off in the middle of urban Tel Aviv with absolutely nothing in their possession, other than, perhaps, the phone number of a relative who survived the journey through war-torn Sudan and cut-throat Beduin in Sinai before them.
I then follow my determined spouse down to the Shapira quarter, always a desperately poor place in the city and home to some its most famous soccer hooligans, where locals are protesting the rise in crime, drop in property values, harassment and their parks being taken over by ever-increasing numbers of unemployed, penniless African refugees who are dropped off by the buses every day, sometimes several times a day and, as a result, become and create victims, through no fault of their own.
At the conference I attended, the prime minister pledged that he would find a solution to the problem. The security fence along the Egyptian border, he said, was nearing completion. As for the 60,000 Africans here, he continued, international law makes it complicated; that their countries of origin have to willingly accept these refugees back, or a third party has to be found to accept them, something the Foreign Ministry is, according to Binyamin Netanyahu, diligently working on. In the meantime, he said, there was not much that could be done other than providing more policing and crime prevention.
There is. Instead of being put on a bus and taken to the middle of Tel Aviv, refuges should be taken to an instantly built kibbutz somewhere in the South. Those hanging around Levinsky Park, who are happy to clean toilets to stay alive and become objects of near-slave labor conditions at the hand of heartless contractors and cleaning firms, would be taken there as well.
Here there would be a clinic, kindergarten and schools.
But more important, here they would learn trades and skills they can either take home with them, or to the new countries they decide to immigrate to. These can be in first-aid and nursing, arid agriculture, water conservation, dairy management, education and special needs.
In the time they spend here these poor people, who have been through the inferno of East Africa, escaping war and madness in their own wretched countries, people with no hope or possessions, dropped off into the cruel world of money-hungry people and poor, frightened and unwilling Israelis, could be given hope and a profession, something of value to take back home with them, or to the countries that agree to let them come in.
From a burden, these refugees who have reached the supposed Promised Land can learn and benefit from the experience; Israel would be doing something good for the world, the same type of magnanimous gesture that Menachem Begin made when he welcomed Vietnamese boat people into Israel in the late 1970s, when others refused to do so.
Israel has so much to offer.
This is the time. We don’t need more police to control the situation, but a policy that is smart, constructive and has Israel be what it was supposed to be: A light unto the nations. An amnesty date will be set, and monetary incentives will be offered to those who come into the program and when they leave to start new lives. They will be Israel’s best ambassadors; not the magnets for hatred and fear and the unwitting spark of racism in Israel.
I saw many things from my perch on a shaky table outside Babba Pizza at the heart of Wednesday night’s demonstration. I saw the hooligans stirring up the crowds, and the fascists who take advantage of any opportunity for a fight, and a culture- clash between those demonstrating against the Africans, and those who came out on behalf of the refugees.
There was not a Black to be seen, by the way. This was Israel at war with itself.
Here we have the opportunity for real Tikkun Olam. It would be a sin not to take it.
The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.