War refugees? Nobody cares

The time has come to say: Mr. Netanyahu, Jewish refugees around the world are disgusted with your behavior.

Sudanese detained after crossing southern border 311 (R) (photo credit: Yonathan Weitzman / Reuters)
Sudanese detained after crossing southern border 311 (R)
(photo credit: Yonathan Weitzman / Reuters)
The recent amendment to the anti-infiltration bill significantly increases the government’s power to deal with refugees and migrant workers who cross the border into Israel illegally.
With the power now to hold people for up to three years without having to hear their cases, the Finance Ministry will approve funding for the construction of a desert camp capable of holding 10,000 people. Then the squeeze will begin. Employers will receive large fines if they do not remove the refugees and migrants from their places of work. The refugees will then either move to the newly-built camp or return to their country of origin. Nobody here cares.
The conversation here is never about refugees. Look at the comments by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai. They never talk about the refugees Israel is helping or wants to help. The conversation is about infiltrators and migrant workers. They do not care about refugees, not one bit. As a throwaway line Netanyahu often says “but we will help the real war refugees.” This is a lie. He has not helped real war refugees.
The refugees in Israel from Darfur and Congo, his “war refugees,” are treated with the same temporary status as other African refugees. They receive a “conditional release” visa giving them no rights to work, no access to medical care and no hope of building a future.
THE TIME has come to say clearly and loudly: Mr. Netanyahu, Jewish refugees and their descendants around the world are disgusted with your behavior, your lack of humanity and your disregard for our history.For the past five years, your government and the previous one have led an incredibly effective campaign to change the public’s view of Africans arriving in Israel. Back in 2007, there was genuine, heartfelt empathy on the part of large sections of the Israeli public with those staggering away from the genocides in Darfur and Congo and those escaping the horrors of life in Eritrea. Donations of provisions, time and money poured into the nascent NGOs as they hastily set up to help the homeless refugees sleeping in South Tel Aviv, Beersheba and Jerusalem.
Today, support and donations are drying to a trickle. The media has been bombarded by the government with catchphrases aimed at reframing these arrivals. First we had refugees, now we have infiltrators. No one likes an infiltrator. Bibi, were my family infiltrators to England when they ran away from Poland and Lithuania? There are plenty of Israelis who should be able to see through the media manipulation to the heart of the matter.
This is what leads me to the simple, painful conclusion: No one cares. My fellow countrymen emphasize this attitude. “Christian refugees are Christians problems,” some say. “They’re all Muslims and will want to kill us,” say others.
“No one ever helped us, why should we help them?” ask a third group. Still others accuse me of taking action that “will destroy the Jewish State.”
How quickly we have forgotten. Forgotten our own history; forgotten our obligations to the international laws we signed, laws created to deal with the million Jewish refugees in the wake of World War II; forgotten what it means to care about more than ourselves; forgotten the words of our great teachers.
“He who preserves a single soul, it is as though he has saved the whole world” (Sanhedrin 37a).
Instead of the legendary words of the Talmud, the reality today is simple and sad. No one cares.

The writer is the humanitarian coordinator and program manager at the African Refugee Development Center.