Border anarchy

The worrying stream of African refugees is vexing Israel in both the humanitarian and defense contexts.

Israel Egypt border 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israel Egypt border 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Among the more disconcerting anomalies in the judgmental pronouncements by purported human-rights advocates is their scathing criticism of Israel in recent days for deciding to send back to Egypt most African (as well as East European) migrants who have illegally crossed the border into this country. What was a trickle has fast become a worrying stream, vexing Israel in both the humanitarian and defense contexts. The border with Egypt is woefully uncontrolled and Egyptian authorities, their oft-repeated promises to improve their act notwithstanding, have failed to live up to even minimal undertakings. This is directly related to Egyptian connivance with rampant gunrunning on the Philadelphi Corridor section of the border separating Sinai from the Gaza Strip. The very lengthy boundary with Israel, which mostly traverses wilderness, is ideal for Beduin smuggling enterprises involving human trafficking and narcotics. But there are security implications as well. Terrorists exit Gaza into Sinai and then head into Israel under the noses of languid Egyptian guards. This crime/terror route has now also become a conduit for illegal immigrants. In the small hours of Thursday alone, 60 Africans were apprehended crossing illegally into Israel. Others may have succeeded. Beersheba and its suburbs teem with such illegal entrants. So does Eilat, which refuses to accept any more; hundreds upon hundreds have congregated in our southernmost city of late, including many children, for whom there are no local school facilities. They generally identify themselves as refugees from Darfur. Yet in the vast majority of the cases this is patently untrue. Even in the cases where it is, of course, these arrivals do not reach Israel directly from Sudan; Israel has no border with Sudan. Therefore any Sudanese who arrive here are crossing into Israel from a country in which they ought to be safe - Egypt. Israel's plan to return illegals to Egypt is being slammed by Amnesty International, the UN and various other NGOs for callousness toward refugees, because Egypt's record is considered abysmal. Egypt, according to refugee advocates, has been known to send Sudanese civilians straight back home. Some who dared demonstrate against such hardheartedness were reportedly shot down without compunction by Egyptian troops. Numerous others fleeing Sudan have been murdered, it is alleged, by Nubian gangs and by Muslim fanatics. Egyptian ruthlessness is evidently regarded as axiomatic, including by the human rights watchdogs - a fact of life that cannot be changed, challenged or even criticized. Yet, while Egypt escapes censure, Israel mind-bogglingly suffers the flak. Israel is in effect being required to make amends for Egyptian pitilessness and to saddle itself with those Egypt won't protect. This double standard, if it continues to be applied, could turn tiny Israel into Africa's spout, because a duplicitous international community permits Egypt to have it both ways. On the one hand, Egypt parades as a democratic, moderate, modern and progressive state deserving world accolades and financial aid. While this pretense is maintained, Egypt is gets away with intolerance toward refugees from a directly adjacent sister-Arab country. Egypt further gets away with utter disrespect for its obligations under its peace treaty with Israel to safeguard the border. Disingenuous international bodies and governments may have vested interests in aiding and abetting such Egyptian perfidy, but there's no reason for Israel to make believe when it fully knows the score. Israel has been and should be prepared to make exceptions for the minority of bona fide and genuinely imperiled Darfurians. These apart, the agreement to send illegals back to Egypt is the least that needs to be done. Egypt has undertaken to treat those returned to its jurisdiction decently, and the NGO watchdogs should ensure that it does so. On our side, significant measures have to be contemplated to seal off the porous Egyptian border. A physical barrier is not a simple as some suggest. The border is extremely long and construction would be arduous, protracted and immensely expensive. Also, there is no physical barrier that cannot be breached. Any fence must be patrolled to render it effective. Nothing would work unless genuine goodwill were evident from the Egyptian side. What is missing, and vital, is honest resolve from Cairo and genuinely humanitarian international pressure.