Why Amer­i­can Jews should care about the Su­danese.

Forward Magazine - - Front Page - By MAYA PA­LEY Maya Pa­ley is a Los Angeles-based ac­tivist and co-founder of Right Now, an in­ter­na­tional, vol­un­teer-based coali­tion ad­vo­cat­ing for the rights of the African asy­lum seek­ers in Is­rael.

About 60,000 African asy­lum seek­ers have en­tered Is­rael since 2005, mostly from Su­dan and Eritrea. Many died along the way, of star­va­tion or de­hy­dra­tion in Si­nai. Many were tor­tured or raped by Be­douin crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions. And many were im­me­di­ately stopped at the bor­der by Is­rael and sent back to Egypt, where they were then de­ported to Eritrea and Su­dan — two coun­tries known to be ex­tremely dan­ger­ous for those who have left — as they are con­sid­ered to be traitors and can be killed upon their re­turn.

In re­cent months, the in­ter­na­tional me­dia has cov­ered Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s harsh im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies, the rhetoric em­a­nat­ing from the right-wing Min­istry of In­te­rior and the vi­o­lent protests against the asy­lum seek­ers by some Is­raeli cit­i­zens. The lat­est twist in the fate of these asy­lum seek­ers came when Eli Yishai, the In­te­rior min­is­ter, an­nounced that he would start round­ing up 15,000 Su­danese on Oc­to­ber 15 if they did not start “vol­un­tar­ily” leav­ing. The Cab­i­net has yet to ap­prove this plan, and the de­ci­sion it­self was post­poned for two weeks to leave time for the high court to de­ter­mine the le­gal­ity of the de­por­ta­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to Is­rael’s Anti-In­fil­tra­tion bill, asy­lum seek­ers can now be de­tained for a min­i­mum of three years and a max­i­mum of for­ever. The de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity con­sists of tent cities and con­structed build­ings in the Negev, which is be­ing run by the Is­rael Prison Ser­vices. De­tainees will not be per­mit­ted to work.

Jews in the Di­as­pora, over­all, have re­sponded to this neg­a­tive me­dia at­ten­tion as just an­other bi­ased and un­war­ranted at­tack on Is­rael. Oth­ers have dis­missed the asy­lum prob­lem as an is­sue Is­rael needs to deal with on her own with­out med­dling by those of us in the Di­as­pora. Some say vaguely that they worry about Is­rael’s de­mo­graph­ics. And still oth­ers say that it’s not a pri­or­ity is­sue

In 2011, only 1 out of 4,600 cases were granted ‘refugee sta­tus’ in Is­rael.

when we have Iran and Hezbol­lah threat­en­ing us. Un­for­tu­nately, these are all ex­cuses. Ac­cord­ing to the Refugee Con­ven­tion of 1951, which Is­rael helped es­tab­lish and then signed, the Africans en­ter­ing Is­rael through Si­nai are “asy­lum seek­ers.” Strangely, the only peo­ple call­ing them asy­lum seek­ers are the Is­raeli hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tions. Even the in­ter­na­tional news agen­cies call them “mi­grants.” The Is­raeli gov­ern­ment and Is­raeli news agen­cies call them “in­fil­tra­tors.” The num­bers of asy­lum seek­ers en­ter­ing Is­rael has plateaued since the fence has been built along the bor­der, and the re­al­ity is that, ac­cord­ing to a re­cently pub­lished Knes­set re­port, they now con­sti­tute only 0.75% of the Is­raeli pop­u­la­tion.

Words carry weight in na­tional and in­ter­na­tional pol­icy. Ac­cord­ing to the Refugee Con­ven­tion, asy­lum seek­ers can­not be crim­i­nal­ized for en­ter­ing a coun­try, as they are not il­le­gally cross­ing the bor­der. They are seek­ing asy­lum and should, there­fore, un­dergo a process through which they ap­ply for refugee sta­tus and end up ei­ther be­ing ac­cepted as refugees or de­nied sta­tus. This process, termed Refugee Sta­tus De­ter­mi­na­tion, does not ex­ist in Is­rael (al­though the gov­ern­ment claims oth­er­wise).

In­stead, these Su­danese and Eritrean men, women and chil­dren are al­lowed to stay in the coun­try be­cause Is­rael ac­knowl­edges in­ter­na­tional warn­ings that they will likely be killed if they re­turn to their coun­tries of ori­gin. Al­though they are per­mit­ted to stay, the asy­lum seek­ers are not per­mit­ted to work, and this causes many to end up ei­ther work­ing un­der the ta­ble for next to noth­ing or not work­ing and hav­ing to sleep in the streets.

World­wide, Eritre­ans re­ceive refugee sta­tus 84.5% of the time and Su­danese re­ceive refugee sta­tus 74.4% of the time, ac­cord­ing to the Refugees’ Rights Forum. These pop­u­la­tions have suf­fered tremen­dous in­jus­tices at the hands of their own gov­ern­ments. But when, in Is­rael, only 1 out of 4,600 cases was granted “refugee sta­tus” in 2011, it is dif­fi­cult to see how the gov­ern­ment can continue to claim that it has a le­git­i­mate Refugee Sta­tus De­ter­mi­na­tion pro­ce­dure. Ei­ther the en­tire world is ly­ing about the plight of Eritre­ans and Su­danese, or Is­rael is ly­ing about its so-called RSD process. Over 82% of all those from Eritrea and Su­dan are de­nied even the ba­sic right to sub­mit an ap­pli­ca­tion for refugee sta­tus.

Clearly, the Is­rael’s gov­ern­ment, me­dia and much of its pop­u­la­tion are suf­fer­ing from a case of para­noia. Yishai even stated that Is­rael was a coun­try for “the white man” at a protest against the Africans. With Is­rael im­port­ing Filipino and Thai peo­ple so that there are at least 200,000 in the coun­try at all times, and al­low­ing 100,000 tourists to overstay their visas with­out ever mak­ing a fuss about it, it would be hard to say that racism is not at work here.

We are re­minded in the To­rah not to op­press the stranger, “for we were once strangers in Egypt.” So why aren’t more of us in the Di­as­pora stand­ing up to the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment, along with the coura­geous Is­raeli hu­man rights ac­tivists, and de­mand­ing that they stop this im­moral treat­ment of peo­ple? The an­swers are al­ways the same: “We’re busy deal­ing with Iran or Hezbol­lah,” or, “These peo­ple are not asy­lum seek­ers, they’re eco­nomic mi­grants,” or, “They’re bet­ter off in de­ten­tion than in the streets,” or, “They’re tak­ing jobs from the un­em­ployed.” We all know the power of pro­pa­ganda and the power of cre­at­ing ex­cuses for our own poor be­hav­ior. It’s up to us to stop ex­cus­ing our­selves.

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