+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

Turning one's back on the world and all its suffering

A group of twenty people who fled the horrors of Eritrea was being prevented from crossing the fence to Israel at gunpoint. The army also prevented doctors and volunteers from supplying the refugees with food and medicine. 

UPDATE: Around 6:30 P.M., it was made known that two women along with the 14-year-old boy will be allowed into Israel to receive medical treatment. The rest of the asylum seekers will be left on the Egyptian side of the fence. Prime Minister Netanyahu has confirmed that three of the “infiltrators” will be let in, while the rest will turn back. According to initial reports, the rest of the group has been handed to the Egyptian army. “Israel is not a destination for infiltrators,” Netanyahu said.

Sister Aziza from Physicians for Human Rights is turned away by the army and police from the zone where African refugees are being held on Israel’s southern border, September 6, 2012 (photo: SGActivestills.org)

As I write these words, the IDF is preventing a group of senior Israeli doctors – members of Physicians for Human Rights – from reaching some 20 Eritreans trapped between the Israeli and Egyptian borders. The African asylum seekers, among them a 14-year-old, have been there for a week now. Early reports quoted an army order to give them “as little water as possible” and no food.

The heat in this desert area reaches approximately 100 degrees (38 degrees Celsius) every day. On Wednesday evening, the army announced it would give the refugees some food as well, but a commander at the scene told the physicians this afternoon that no food has been delivered so far. The army has declared the entire area “a closed military zone” and has been holding back protesters and activists who have tried to come near the fence with food and water. It seems that the only hope the Eritreans have is a looming PR disaster for the army, as the international media is gradually discovering the story.

Israel wants the refugees to turn back. They will not. They have traveled an incredibly long way in their exodus, crossing Sudan and Egypt, two of the most dangerous places on earth right now. The last leg of their journey was the worst, considering the extensive reports of organized rape, torture, robbing and murder of refugees in the Sinai Peninsula. It is clear why the Eritreans would rather starve to death at the gates of the promised land than head back.

Prison awaits the asylum seekers on the other side of the border, and a detention camp built to hold 15,000 souls will soon be populated by people who have committed no crime. Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) has announced that in the next month – right after Yom Kippur and the Jewish High Holidays – the police will begin rounding up Sudanese and Eritreans in order to send them to this desert prison for an indefinite period of time. Even this terrible fate is denied to the group stranded on the other side of the fence.

Most Eritreans are recognized by the world as refugees (the reason why Israel is prevented from deporting them). If it weren’t for the immediate dangers to their lives, I do not think that many of them would have risked the horrors of the journey to our border. Yet the Jewish state sends soldiers to hold them at gunpoint and prevent volunteers from reaching them with food and medicine. The public discourse is unbearable, and talks of the crime and diseases the refugees bring are now mainstream.

During a Supreme Court hearing Thursday morning, the state admitted that the Eritreans stranded at the border are officially a few meters into Israeli territory. However, the court has decided to delay the hearing to Sunday, most likely in order to give the state some time to resolve the issue. That way, no one can argue that Israel has already assumed legal responsibility for the asylum seekers. However, such technicalities should not be at the heart of the matter.

Immigration along with waves of refugees are part of the flow of history. Every country faces them at one point or another. Refugees are never liked nor welcomed – such moments present a test to national character, as Jewish history has demonstrated all too well.

It is not an impossible challenge. Even if the number of Africans in Israel was to double or triple itself, they wouldn’t come close to the previous waves of immigration that this county has known and welcomed. The problem is not that the Africans are too big of a burden on the state. It is that they are not Jews. Israel has become a place with an absolute disdain for any universalist consideration, led by parties who hold a vision of an ethnically-pure nation.

Naturally, a county has the right to decide who will enter it or become a citizen. Yet moral values should play a part in such decisions. Faced with a human rights catastrophe to its south, Israel could have turned to the world for help. It could have invited the UN or the Red Cross to construct refugee camps, or come up with any other policy that isn’t just about building fences and prisons, or taking pride in the fact that “we are going to make their life miserable,” as Interior Minister Yishai recently stated. But this country has turned its back on the world and all its suffering, absorbing itself in the lowest form of European-style nationalism (and occasionally, racism).

My heart goes out not only to the refugees, but also to the 19-year-old fools guarding the fence, actually believing that they are performing some heroic – albeit “morally complicated” – mission. The historical irony is indeed gut-wrenching.

Read 972’s special coverage on Seeking Asylum in Israel

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article

    * Required


    1. shaun

      The only historical Irony I see is an enlighten gentile telling Jews how to act.

      Reply to Comment
      • Go to Yad Vashem and you’ll find a fair few nuns listed there, under a slightly different heading than ‘enlightened gentiles’. I take it from your comment that it’s OK for people like Sr Aziza to speak out when Jews are being victimised, but not when some Jews are perpetrating a crime? Historical Jewish suffering at the hands of non-Jews doesn’t give every Jew everywhere a free pass when it comes ethics, and it certainly doesn’t mean that non-Jewish Israelis should humbly shut their mouths when other people suffer at the hands of their state.

        Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Unlike the irony of Jews telling everyone else how to act?

        Why does the PM of Israel think he has the right to tell a store in India to change its name?

        Because the only suffering that matters is the suffering of Jews?

        Reply to Comment
        • Tony Riley

          So, you think that it’s ok for a clothing store to call itself Hitler’s? I assume that’s because you work for a company named jew-hating-morons-R-us

          Reply to Comment
    2. Mike Carmel

      “Israel has become a place with an absolute disdain for any universalist consideration, led by parties who hold a vision of an ethnically-pure nation.”

      A very concise and accurate summary of the situation.
      Well said.

      Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      If Israel allowed them to enter, by definition they aren’t “infiltrators.”

      Reply to Comment
    4. Bluegrass Picker of Afula

      I welcome Sister Aziza’s humanitarian concern for Eritrean Muslims who are now inside Egypt. As we all know, a border is a line separating two jurisdictions.

      I am offering to contribute $1000 cash for expenses for Sister Aziza to go the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and check upon the welfare of Rimsha Masih, a 14-year old Christian girl with Down’s syndrome, who found herself in a Pakistani jail cell awaiting trial for her life on a capital charge of blasphemy gainst Islam… soon after she turned down a sexual advance by a Muslim cleric. I have put this money in escrow for this purpose. Will Noam or any of the other humanitarian-minded organizers of this web site, offer something also?

      Reply to Comment
      • Bluegrass, if you’re honestly interested in supporting Rimsha Masih, then Aid to the Church in Need is doing an excellent job. Send the $1000 there and it will be well used by nuns in Pakistan like Sr Aziza in their own work against persecution.

        Unfortunately it seems that you’re not really interested in Rimsa Masih, but in using Rimsa Masih to deflect attention from what Sr Aziza is doing in her own home and in her own capacity as a PHR member – with the subtext being ‘why is she helping evil Muslims, look what they do’. There’s nothing humanitarian about using a persecuted girl with Down’s Syndrome as a smokescreen to cover persecution elsewhere. Presumably you wouldn’t ask why a nun working with famine victims in Somalia wasn’t with genocide survivors in Darfur. So don’t do it here.

        Reply to Comment
      • What a pathetic attempt at misdirection, Picker. You have just done your side a considerable disservice.

        These lives aside, the rule of law is also at stake. If Israel will not meet its obligation to provide asylum hearing upon presence of port of entry (and, once in Israel, you are in that port), there is little reason to believe it will uphold the law for its minorities or resident noncitizens. Will the law limit the actualized power of the word “infiltrators?” The Court delay allows the State to reverse itself or toss the trapped elsewhere. It also keeps the trapped in the desert without resources.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bluegrass Picker of Afula

          Oh, a stretch of fence is a “Port of Entry”?

          Nice try Greg…. perhaps illiterate people will believe you.

          A “Port of Entry” is by definition, a place where ==legal== entry may be certified by the receiving country.

          You’re the one who is mis-directing. Your side CONTINUOUSLY ignores the frequently mentioned legal fact that Eritreans are lawful asylum seekers ONLY when they’ve crossed out of their country of origin ===for the first time===.

          Look…. you can’t have it both ways. You can’t dream up international laws to state that repatriated Hebrews are NOT allowed to enter and build homes in the eastern zone of the Hebrew homeland – and then appeal to the same authority to state that Eritrean nationals must be allowed in.

          Vicky: Read the fine print. My offer was for Sr Aziza’s use. If you think the named NGO is worthy of support… perhaps the United Church of Canada is standing by to help.

          My money is still in its segregated account. Ok…. it’s actually an envelope in my desk draw. But it’s there. Ten Green Stamps with a nice picture of Ben Franklin.

          The silence from Noam & the 972 circle is rather deafening.

          Reply to Comment
          • No, Picker. Treaty signatories must provide points of entry for crys of asylum. But once in the country, no matter how, the treaty applies, as the cry may be heard. Thus, IDF soldiers can patrol the Egyptian side of the border and scare people away (which I think will be the response), but if one either hops the fence or crawls into the mandatory portal, his cry must be heard.

            As to mandating the West Bank as your natural homeland, your only warrant is the Bible, sort of outdated unless you are religious, which you say you are not; and 2.4 million people already live there. You have a UN deliniated State, so the issue of a “Hebrew Republc” is really not in play.

            As “to leaving for the first time,” that is an issue upon cry for asylum, determined after the cry is heard.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bluegrass Picker of Afula

            did they even “cry for asylum” in Egypt? No they did not, otherwise they would be waving their Egyptian adjudication-denial paperwork; their original intent was to grab free food and clothes in TelAviv.

            One does not need to appeal to fairy tales to justify Hebrew sovereignty between theriver and the Sea; the physical evidence is dug up from time to time.

            > you aren’t interested in helping Rimsha Masih

            ok; I will match every shekel YOU send. Show us some evidence of transferring funds. Not rhetoric – evidence.

            Reply to Comment
          • Whatever other people give or haven’t given, it shouldn’t be relevant. You don’t base your generosity on what other people are doing, any more than you try to use suffering elsewhere in the world to take attention away from the suffering on your back doorstep. If everybody did that the world would be a much harsher and unkinder place than it is.

            In Christianity there is a prohibition on telling everyone about your giving (Matthew 6:4). I take that rule seriously. Other people’s need is not something anyone should ever use to justify themselves to others – it’s not exactly great for the dignity of those who need help, no better than using a child with Down’s Syndrome as a means to belittle the suffering of these Eritreans. So you’ll never know what I’ve given or not given, but nor do you need to. Perhaps start looking for reasons to be kind instead of excuses not to be.

            Reply to Comment
          • Dani

            If all these Christian organizations were really doing their jobs then why have all the Christians been kicked out of the Middle East (except for Israel)?

            Reply to Comment
    5. “Vicky: Read the fine print. My offer was for Sr Aziza’s use.”

      In other words, you aren’t interested in helping Rimsha Masih. I knew that already, but it’s good you’ve made it explicit. And that makes you absolutely no different from people in Pakistan who tell nuns like Sr Aziza to get out of Karachi and go and work with victims of Hindu extremism in India – not because they actually care, but because they don’t like criticism in their own backyard.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Bluegrass Picker of Afula

      >> Perhaps start looking for reasons to be kind instead of excuses not to be

      I gave about $3000 cash this year towards education of non-Jewish children.

      You are all talk, Vicky. Your mouth runneth over.

      Reply to Comment
      • But not quite talkative enough to publish my giving habits on the Internet in the belief that generosity to some people must buy me the right to be callous to others. Certainly not talkative enough to want to share precise figures with strangers in the hope of picking up a few brownie points.


        Reply to Comment

The stories that matter.
The missing context.
All in one weekly email.

Subscribe to +972's newsletter