Ex-slave lob­bies Is­rael to aid Dar­fur refugees

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News - BY BEN LYN­FIELD

WHILE HE was set­tling into his new life in the United States in 1991 Si­mon Deng saw a news­pa­per head­line pro­claim­ing that hu­man be­ings were for sale in Su­dan for 10 dol­lars.

“It brought out ev­ery­thing I had been through as a child,” he said over cof­fee at a Jerusalem ho­tel this week. “I al­most lost it. I did not sleep for three days. My choice was to live in de­nial or come out of the closet. I re­alised I had to come out and tell the world that that news­pa­per was true be­cause I my­self was a slave as a child.”

Mr Deng has be­come one of Amer­ica’s lead­ing ac­tivists against slav­ery and the mass killings by the Su­danese gov­ern­ment in West­ern and South Su­dan. He has walked from the United Na­tions in New York to Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton to protest against in­ac­tion over Dar­fur, and met US Pres­i­dent Bush. Now in cam­paign­ing in Is­rael, he has met hun­dreds of Su­danese refugees.

Mr Deng’s visit comes as Is­rael hard­ens its po­si­tion to­wards the African refugees cross­ing from Egypt, with Knes­set leg­is­la­tors pass­ing on first read­ing a bill that would pro­vide prison sen­tences of five to seven years for those mak­ing the cross­ings and would le­galise rapid de­por­ta­tions.

Mr Deng, whose fore­head is marked with welts iden­ti­fy­ing him as a mem­ber of the Shilluk tribe, re­called that his fam­ily had given him up for dead dur­ing his three years of bondage to an Arab from North­ern Su­dan.

“When I was taken at the age of nine I was forced to do things that a hu­man be­ing should not do, to do things that a child at that age is not ca­pa­ble of. In the north, don­keys are used to carry wa­ter from the River Nile, but as a slave that be­came my job. A hu­man be­ing should have the op­por­tu­nity to say ‘no’ when he is sub­ject to ter­ror, but there was no choice. I was beaten even when I did noth­ing wrong, just be­cause some­one de­cided he called me and I didn’t say ‘yes’ loudly enough.”

Af­ter three years, he met a fel­low Shilluk who helped him to es­cape.

Mr Deng has a track record of strong sup­port for Is­rael, in­clud­ing de­nounc- ing com­par­isons of Is­raeli poli­cies with apartheid. But he is dis­mayed with what he says is a pol­icy of dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing be­tween 600 Mus­lim refugees from Dar­fur, who have been granted res­i­dency, and some 2,000 mostly Chris­tian refugees from South Su­dan, who face pos­si­ble ex­pul­sion. Is­rael, he says, should grant the south­ern­ers a haven un­til 2011, when a ref­er­en­dum is due on south­ern in­de­pen­dence. “Th­ese are all Su­danese. They faced the same things from the same peo­ple.”

Ad­mit­ting pref­er­ence was given to Dar­fur refugees, a For­eign Min­istry spokesman said: “Other peo­ple we con­sider to be eco­nomic refugees.”

PHOTO: AP

Ab­ducted at the age of nine, Si­mon Deng was in cap­tiv­ity for three years

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