Refuge from Darfur

The Ma'asiyahu Prison in Ramle is not the refuge that Darfur genocide victims deserve.

darfur 88 (photo credit: )
darfur 88
(photo credit: )
The victims of the Darfur genocide deserve a refuge somewhere - yes, even in Israel - and the Ma'asiyahu Prison in Ramle is not it. The case for aiding Darfur refugees is one that Israel and the Jewish world should not only accept but promulgate. Jewish groups in the United States and Canada have been extremely active in the call to action since Sudan's civil war broke out in 2003 - so much so, in fact, that President Omar al-Bashir has blamed them for the growing international criticism of his government. Israel, too, has raised the issue of Khartoum's complicity in the atrocities at the United Nations, and its diplomatic efforts on the subject have inspired Sudanese officials to declare an Israeli plot against them. Where the Jewish state has faltered, however, is in its treatment of Sudanese refugees who have trekked to Israel's southern border in search of asylum. Of the more than two million farmers of Darfur who have run from the rapacious Janjaweed militias, some 200 men and teenage boys have risked further danger by crossing the Sinai to seek safety in Israel. About 20 of the boys have been granted the right to live in a sort of protective custody on a few kibbutzim, but the men are being held in Ma'asiyahu Prison under a 50-year-old law which allows for the indefinite detention without judicial review of nationals from "enemy" countries who enter the state illegally. Considering Israel's experience with Palestinian infiltrators, it would be folly to reject the principle behind such a law. And there can be no doubt that Sudan, riddled as it is with jihadist groups and led by one of the most virulently anti-Israel regimes around, is legitimately labeled an enemy country. But it is obvious that the Sudanese who have fled the Janjaweed butchers in Darfur and brutal police crackdowns in Egypt do not represent this enemy, and pose no threat to Israel's security. The plight of these refugees is no less than a test of Israel's sincerity in leading the Jewish people's charge against genocide. Jewish history bequeaths the State of Israel with a special duty to act boldly in the face of such crimes against humanity. Clearly, in the case of Darfur, Israel can do more. On the other hand, there is a limit to how much Israel can do. As Interior Minister Roni Bar-On stated in an interview with The Jerusalem Post this week, Israel simply cannot absorb the masses of refugees pouring out of Sudan. Our ability to aid in such matters is, unfortunately, limited. There are a few things, though, that Israel can do immediately. Extending asylum to those Sudanese refugees already here, as a symbolic gesture, is not too much to ask. The state has already shown that it can handle such a task, having successfully absorbed dozens of Muslim refugees from Bosnia in the 1990s and hundreds of Vietnamese in the late 1970s - both events of which Israelis can truly be proud. Although Israel cannot afford to encourage further migrations of Sudanese to its border with Egypt, it can and should become more active in bringing to light the failures of the Egyptian government and the United Nations in solving the Sudanese problem. Egypt deserves special attention because, although Sudanese violence poses a threat to Hosni Mubarak's regime, Egypt has practically aided and abetted Khartoum in purging western Sudan of its non-Arab tribes. In humanitarian terms, Egypt has failed even to absorb as many Sudanese refugees as the United States or Australia. The United Nations has also dragged its feet, and has inexplicably refused to declare the Darfur atrocities a campaign of genocide. Israel, a country unfairly berated by the world body for its defensive efforts against Arab and Muslim enemies, has a clear interest in exposing the UN's deafening silence in the face of Arab Muslim horrors. This three-year conflict has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, is spilling over into Chad, and endangers the entire region to Israel's southwest. Surely, providing a decent refuge to 200 suffering people is the least Israel can do to help.