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Israel: Sudanese Refugees – like Darfur, as Auschwitz

Over the past several months, a growing number of Sudanese refugees have been crossing into Israeli territory through the Egyptian desert. The Israeli government has reacted by placing many in detention camps, and is currently considering their fate. Israeli bloggers are questioning their government's actions, comparing the situation to that of the mid-1930's, when the world did not accept Jewish refugees fleeing from the Nazi regime. Many claim that a country like Israel, which was created on the virtue – ‘remember and never forget‘, is already forgetting the apathy its’ founding fathers faced in the not so distant past.

Refugees have been fleeing from the horrors of the genocide and ethnic cleansing taking place in the Darfur region of Sudan. A growing number make their way into Israel in hope that the democratic state will be more forgiving than its Egyptian neighbor, where refugees are shot upon approaching the border. However, they cross the border to find that the same country which came to life in the shadow of its’ own people's genocide, is restricting refugees from entering, and keeping those who succeeded far from sight in detention camps. IDF forces are planning not to allow any more refugees from crossing the border into Israel, claiming that their constant flow may flood the country. This decision conflicts directly with the values and beliefs from which this young country eloped, and places Israel in the same coalition as all the countries who did not accept Jewish refugees who fled antisematic Europe in the 1930s.

Many bloggers have been asking the government to reflect back at its not so distant past, and realize that its actions are similar to what was presented to their Jewish ancestors.

In her blog post on, kipa.co.il , Mor Goldkleng writes:

מדינת ישראל היא מדינת היהודים. היא צריכה להראות את הפנים היהודיות שלה… דווקא אנחנו, צריכים להראות, לתת דוגמא, לקבל ולשלב את הפליטים בתוכנו. בואו לא נהיה קפיטליסטים ונחשוב רק במונחים של רווח והפסד. בואו נחשוב אנושיות.לפני כחודש הייתה הפגנה מול הקיריה. בהפגנה הדליקו 300 נרות כהזדהות עם 300 הפליטים שהגיעו לארץ ואחיהם הקורבנות. בואו אנחנו נדליק את הנר הגדול הזה, הזוהר של החמלה והרחמים.

לשואת העם שלי העולם שתק. לסבתא שלי היו אדישים. אני לא מוכנה להיות אדישה לאחרים. “לא תעמוד על דם רעך”. זהו ציווי מוסרי חשוב ביותר שתורתנו הורתה לנו.

Israel is the State of the Jewish people. It should show its Jewish face… It is especially critical for us to set an example, accept and integrate the refugees within us. Let us not be capitalistic and only think in terms of monetary gain and loss. Let us think of humanity. A month ago there was a rally in front of the Kirya in Tel Aviv. In the rally, 300 candles were lit to empathize with the 300 Sudanese refugees in Israel. Let us light this greater candle, that of compassion and mercy. During the genocide of my people the world was silent. My grandmother received apathy. I am not willing to be apathetic to others. “Thou shall not stand idly by the blood of your fellow” – (Leviticus 19:16) That is an extremely important ethical duty, passed to us through the bible (and also a state law in Israel).

The following excerpt was taken from a letter addressed to Knesset leaders, published in the blacklabor blog:

למדינת ישראל יש משאבים ויכולת לתת מקלט מדיני והומאני לפליטים. יותר מזה – למדינת ישראל יש מחויבות היסטורית ומוסרית לפתוח את שעריה בפני כל פליט ונרדף, ללא הבדל דת, מין וגזע.מנהיגי ישראל מצהירים בכל הזדמנות על ייחודנו כמדינת היהודים. זו ההזדמנות שלכם להפוך מילים למעשה. עתה עלינו ללמוד מיהודי ארה”ב המובילים בארצם את המאבק להתערבות בינלאומית בנעשה בסודאן, ומשתתפים באופן פעיל (ולא רק בתרומת כספים להרגעת המצפון) בתוכניות הסיוע.

The State of Israel is capable of giving shelter and providing political-humanitarian asylum to those refugees who have already crossed into its territory. Above all, Israel has a historical and moral commitment to open its gates towards any refugee, regardless of religious, sexual or racial differences. Our leaders frequently mention the unique character of this country of the Jews. This is your opportunity to turn words into actions. We need to learn from Jewish organizations in the United States, who are actively leading the struggle for international action in Sudan.

dovblog describes a Knesset discussion by Dov Hanin which took place at the end of May, on this topic:

אנחנו מדברים על בין 450 ל-500 אזרחים סודנים שנמצאים בישראל היום ומבקשים מקלט בה. אבל לפי סעיף 6 של נוהל הסדרת הטיפול במבקשי מקלט, אותם פליטים מנועים מלקבל אשרות שהייה או להיקלט בישראל, מכיוון שברמה הפורמלית הם נתינים של מדינת אויב.

המצב הזה עומד בסתירה מוחלטת לאמנה בדבר מעמדם של הפליטים משנת 1951, אותה אמנה שבה האו”ם הניח את אבני הבסיס למערכת שלמה של מנגנונים בין-לאומיים שנועדו להגן על הפליטים. מדינת ישראל נטלה חלק מהותי בניסוח האמנה הזאת ובחיזוק ההגנות הנתונות לפליטים, וזה, כמובן, מובן לכולנו נוכח העובדה שהאמנה אושרה כמה שנים אחרי מלחמת העולם השנייה, שבה בני עמנו, היהודים, היו פליטים, ורבים מהם ערב מלחמת העולם השנייה התדפקו על דלתות סגורות של מדינות שלא היו מוכנות לקלוט אותם.

אגב, מדינת ישראל גם אשררה את האמנה הזאת בשנת 1954, ולכן ההתחייבויות של הממשלה בתחום הזה הן, לדעתנו, גם התחייבויות משפטיות, ולא רק התחייבויות מוסריות.

בכל זאת, מה קורה בשטח? חלק גדול מהפליטים שנמצאים בישראל, נמצאים במעצר. אנחנו מדברים על כ-150 פליטים שנמצאים במעצר בבתי-כלא שונים. מתוך 450 הפליטים, אגב, 80 הם ילדים וכ-110 הן נשים. הדרישות שלנו מהממשלה בתחום הזה הן שממשלת ישראל, ראשית, תבדוק בדיקה עניינית כל בקשה של מבקש מקלט ותחליט החלטה עניינית על סמך פרטי הבקשה בדבר זכאותו של האדם להגנה כפליט. אנחנו דורשים מהממשלה לשחרר ממעצר את כל הפליטים מדרפור שנמצאים בישראל. לא הגיוני, לא סביר, לא צודק ולא מוסרי להחזיק במעצר פליטים שברחו מרצח עם ומטבח כמו שמתנהל בדרפור.

There are currently between 450 to 500 Sudanese citizens who are seeking asylum in Israel. According to article 6 of the asylum seekers amendment, these refugees are prevented from receiving an approval to stay in Israel because they belong to an enemy country. This situation contradicts the basic agreement on refugee status from 1951, the same agreement which served as the basis the UN worldwide amendment to protect refugee status worldwide. The State of Israel took an essential role in the creation of this agreement in 1954, therefore I think the obligation of our government is not only a moral one, but also legal.

What is happening in reality? Out of the 450 refugees in Israel, around 150 have been placed in detention. 80 of them are children and 110 are women. We request that the Israeli government be accurate in examining every request of political asylum, and consider accepting them according to their entitlement for protection as refugees. We ask the government to release all those held in detention. It is not reasonable, nor ethical to hold these refugees, who escaped from the horrors or Darfur.

From a Yellow Plebean's Hebrew blog:

בשנת 1937 הגיעה סבתא שלי לארה”ב. היא הייתה ילדה קטנה, והאחרונה מהמשפחה שלה שהצליחה לצאת מאירופה. אחותה הגדולה, לה היו שישה ילדים, לא השיגה וויזה ונשארה בצ`כוסלובקיה. כולם נספו בשואה. אתם מבינים, המשפחה שלי דווקא הבינה מה קורה וניסתה לברוח, אבל הקצב של הוויזות היה איטי מדי. העולם היה נורא טרוד בבעיות אחרות, ופליטים שיציפו מדינות שיש להן בעיות משלהם ועניים משלהם נראו כמו מטרד מיותר. ועוד שחורים. אה, סליחה, יהודים. אז גירשו אותם בחזרה, ומנעו מהם להכנס למדינות אחרות, ולמעט כמה צדיקים, העולם פשוט התעלם.
כן, אני מדבר עכשיו על שואה של אחרים. על פליטים מדארפור, שבורחים מהמדינה שלהם, חוצים את מדבריות מצרים ומנסים להגיע למדינה שמחויבת לסטנדרטים בינלאומיים. מדינה שאסור לה לגרש פליטים שבורחים מרצח עם.

In 1937 my grandmother arrived to the United States. She was a little girl, the last of her family who managed to escape Europe. Her bigger sister, who had six children, did not receive a visa, and stayed in Czechoslovakia. All those who stayed were wiped out during the holocaust. You understand, my family realized what is happening and tried to escape. But the visa process was too slow. The world was busy with other problems, and refugees that would flood countries who had enough problems of their own, seemed like an unnecessary annoyance. As they were not allowed to enter any other country, they were sent back. And apart for some saints, the world simply ignored. Now I am talking about other people's holocaust. Refugees from Darfur who flee from their land, cross the Egyptian desert and try to reach a country committed to international standards. A country which should not allow to banish refugees fleeing from a genocide.

בשיעורי אזרחות מלמדים על זכותנו המוסרית למדינה ועל איך השואה הייתה נמנעת לו הייתה לנו מדינה בשנות ה-30 של המאה הקודמת. אני חושב שזה נכון, הנאצים רצו להפטר מהיהודים בהתחלה, ולו הייתה מדינת ישראל היא בטח הייתה קולטת את הקרובים שלנו. אבל זה כנראה נכון רק לקרובים שלנו. בסופו של דבר גם אנחנו עוצמים עין לבעיות של אחרים. חייבים לשנות את זה, לא תיאורטית פעם, אלא עכשיו, כשביבשת השכנה מתחולל רצח עם ומעט פליטים מגיעים גם אלינו.

אני לא יודע איך, אני מנסה את הדרך הפשוטה של לדבר על זה, להציע לאחרים לדבר על זה, לתמוך בפעילות ציבורית, כשתקום. אני באמת לא יודע מה יכול אזרח לעשות כאן כשהמדינה שלו מתנכרת לחובה. אבל דבר אחד ברור: לו “העם” היה מרגיש אחרת, לו האזרחים היו מתקוממים, גם אולמרט היה מבין שצריך לטפל בזה אחרת. הלוואי.

In school we were taught that we have a moral right for a country of our own, and that the holocaust could have been prevented if we had a country of our own in the 1930s. I think that is true. The Nazis wanted to get rid of the Jews from the beginning. Had the state of Israel been formed earlier, it probably would have received our fleeing ancestors. But that is true only for our ancestors. At the end of the day, even we close our eyes to other people's problems. This must change. Not in the theoretical future, but now, when a genocide is taking place in our neighboring continent, and a small amount of refugees are reaching our territory. I don't know how. I am trying the simple way of talking about it, offering others to join in the conversation, and supporting some form of future public activism. I really don't know what a single citizen can actually do here when his country ignores its duty. But one thing is clear: if the people felt differently, or if citizens protest, even Olmert would realize that we need to take care of this situation differently.
I wish.

However, there has been a wide spectrum of reactions from different bodies and groups in Israel. Kibbutzes around the country have been accepting Sudanese refugees. So far, 7 kibbutzes have already accepted 60 refugees, while 12 more kibbutzes have expressed their interest in helping integrate refugees within their communities. Mishtara.org have been involved with a number of events aimed at raising public awareness to this growing problem in Israel.

אנחנו שואלים את אזרחי ישראל ואת נבחריה, האם הפכנו גסי לב עד כדי כך ? האם כל יכולתנו, כוחנו וגאוותנו הן בבניית מערכות גירוש ? האם אין באמת אלטרנטיבות אחרות ? לנו התשובות ברורות, ישנן אלטרנטיבות. נציגי מדינת ישראל טוענים כי הם דואגים לעתידה של מדינת ישראל, אנחנו מסכימים איתם לחלוטין. אנחנו דואגים לעתידה של המדינה לא פחות מהם. מה יהיה עתידה של מדינת ישראל אם היא מתנערת כליל מאחריותה המוסרית? כיצד מדינת ישראל יכולה להצדיק את החלטתה לא לקלוט פליטים שכל ‘פשעם’ הוא רצונם לחיות ?
ביום ראשון 15.7, נצטרף לפליטים שנמצאים בגן הוורדים בירושלים, ונעמוד איתם. נעמוד כדי להזכיר את מה שרבים מבקשים להשכיח. נעמוד כדי לאפשר לתקווה להתקיים.
אנחנו קוראים לאזרחי המדינה להראות שהאלטרנטיבה קיימת. שאנו מסוגלים וצריכים לעזור לפליטים המגיעים לארץ.

We ask the citizens of Israel if we've become so coarse-hearted? Is our ability, power or pride in building systems of banishment? Is there no other alternatives? For us, the answers are clear – there are alternatives. Israeli representatives state that they worry for the future of the state of Israel. We agree with them completely. We also worry for the future of this country. What will the future of Israel look like if it shakes off its’ moral responsibility? How can Israel justify its decision not to accept refugees who's sole ‘crime’ is having a will to live?
On Sunday, July 15th, we will join refugees in Gan Havradim, Jerusalem, and we will stand with them. We will stand remind what most ask to forget. We will stand in order to allow for hope to exist. We ask citizens of the country to show that an alternative exists. That we can and must help refugees who come to our country.

The following images were taken by Oren Ziv at the rally in Jerusalem earlier this month:

sudan refugges rally in israel

sudanese refugee rally - Israel

More can be seen on the following page.

20 comments

  • As Jews and Israelis we need no discussion on this matter. It is our sacred duty to help these refugees with our best efforts.

  • Some of the blogs I follow have been writing about this issue, but this is by far the most comprehensive — and inspiring — post I’ve seen about this. I’m so glad this is here.

    איזה יופי!

  • SS

    “Not to forget not to ever forget so long as you live so long as you love so long as you breathe eat wash walk think see feel read touch laugh not to forget not to ever forget so long as you know the meaning of freedom of what loney nights are to torn lovers so long as you retain the soul heart of a human so long as you resemble a human in any way in any shape not to to forget not to ever forget for many have already forgotten many have always planned to forget fire fear death murder injustice hunger gas graves for they have already forgotten and want you to forget but do not forget for as long as you live carry it with you let us see it recognize it in each otther’s face and eyes taste it with each bite of bread each time we shake hands or use the words for as long as we live not to forget not to ever forget what happened to six million Jews to living beings who looked just as we look men women children girls boys young old good bad evil profound foolish vain happy unhappy sane insane mean grand joyous all dead gone buried burned not to forget not to ever forget for as long as you love for the earth will never be the same again for each shred of sand cries with their cries and our lungs are ful of their dying sounds for God was killed in each of them for in order for us to live as human bings we must forget for if they are forgotten O if they are forgotten forget me also destroy me also burn my books my memory and may everything I have ever said or done or written be detroyed to nothing may I become less than nothing for then I do not want even one memory of me left alive on cold killing earth for life would have no honor to be called human would be an insult-”
    – Leslie Woolf Hedley

    As Israelis, is it not our responsibility to serve these refugees as Israel served us?

  • there are hundreds of thousands of sudanese in egypt .. some estimates put their number at millions … never mind that egypt and sudan have an agreement about free movement of people between the two countries … any decision that the government of israel takes regarding these refugees may bring thousands of people to israel’s borders … for a country in which 1/4 of all births right now are to arab parents, i would advise the government to act quickly and to deport all of the refugees back to egypt …

    in my view a person who cannot give reasonable estimates of how many sudanese are in egypt, how many of them may try to cross the border and ask for asylum, how many should be allowed to stay … never mind that there are a whole dozen of no less vicious conflicts going on in africa in any moment of its history ..

    in short any person who can contribute to the debate nothing beyond this pseudo humanistic blah blah blah, should not be posting on this issue

  • Nobody

    never mind that the UN agency for refugees is running camps for refugees in egypt … and dozens of thousands of darfurians were recognized as refugees and granted asylum in european countries through the UN offices there.. people who cross into israel from egypt are those who were not recognized as refugees by the UN workers in egypt, which does not mean by the way that they cannot stay or work in egypt … their heart breaking stories real or fake, but the fact remains that most of them crossed the border in search of better life (means economic conditions) and not because there is going a genocide against them in egypt or because it’s impossible to receive a refugee status through the UN offices there

  • Chaya

    63 MK’s have recently signed a petition asking that something be done to help the refugees currently in Israel many of whom have been working in hotels in Eilat. Many others are on kibbutzim. A few days ago two Sudanese were murdered by Egyptian soldiers as they were trying to get into Israel. Israeli soldiers tried to stop the Egyptian soldiers but were unable to do so. The Egyptian soldiers wound up beating to death one of the Sudanese!!

  • […] ist ihr Schicksal ungewiss – die Stimmung in der israelischen Blogosphäre dazu hat Gilad Lotan für Global Voices zusammengetragen. Häufig werden dort Vergleiche zu der israelischen […]

  • Maybe you haven’t understood (this is meant specifically for the commenter under no-name) – but your reaction is the exact one fleeing Jews received upon trying to escape Nazi-Europe in the late 30s.

    People are running from their home country because of a genocide. If they are lucky, they receive refugee status in Egypt and are given food/shelter there, or sent to another country. But if they are not, how can you judge them for trying to cross into Israel? To want to lead a normal life. The precise numbers don’t mean much. And even if Israel cannot accept all of the refugees (financially), it is wise enough to negotiate with international bodies and ask for help. But Israel has a moral and legal responsibility over them.

    The importance of writing this post was to amplify the voices of local Israeli bloggers. These bloggers write only in Hebrew. GVO provides a much larger audience than most of them are used to. And the article represents their opinions.

  • Maybe you haven’t understood (this is meant specifically for the commenter under no-name) – but your reaction is the exact one fleeing Jews received upon trying to escape Nazi-Europe in the late 30s.

    ———-

    this is nonsense … the darfurians are safe even in sudan as long as they dont stay in darfur …in khartoom alone there are dozens of thousands of darfurians and while they face economic hardships they are in no physical danger there …

    neither jews in 1930’s fought nazis while the darfurian rebel factions are famous for their violence against each other during which they attack each other villages killing and raping each other .. these people are no jews ….

    to be precise the only difference between janjaweed and darfurians is that the janjaweed have won the war .. otherwise the whole story would have been replayed in reverse with the darfurians attacking, raping and ethnic cleansing the arabs… this cannot be said about jewish refugees in europe who did not resist (the conflict in darfur was started by the darfurian separatists, not by the arabs) while the danger for them was a real one … it’s impossible to call the darfurian conflict a genocide and compare it to holocaust as it’s just an ethnic conflict in which both parties widely resort to ethnic cleansing

    ————-

    The precise numbers don’t mean much.

    ————

    their precise numbers mean a lot … as these people are muslims on one hand and on the other neither me nor many other israelis fancy ourselves with going through another yugoslavia or iraq here … however much you may enjoy your narcissistic self righteous moral posturing (it’s a big fun , i agree , otherwise so many people would not be so addicted to it these days), there are other issues at stake here as for example safety of this country and your compatriots … if you feel like you have to do something for these people you can donate half of your salary to the UN fund for refugees but please save us your noble projects .. it became so cheap to play into martin luther king these days

    —————–

    The importance of writing this post was to amplify the voices of local Israeli bloggers. These bloggers write only in Hebrew. GVO provides a much larger audience than most of them are used to. And the article represents their opinions.

    —————–

    there are more than enough israeli posts in english on this issue and they all feature the same combination of irresponsible idle moralizing and the total lack of any idea about the conflict in darfur and the possible implications of the refugee crisis for israel … i assure you that your post added very little to the debate

  • Chaya

    There is a good video about the Sudanese refugees in Israel at this web site: http://www.israelupclose.org/

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