NOTE: Thanks to Middle East Eye for publishing my latest piece today on Vice President Mike Pence’s failed Middle East trip, in which even Jesus closed his door to him (Palestinian Christians refused to welcome him to Bethlehem). Give it a read and please share on social media.
As I wrote yesterday here, Israel’s far-right government has, true to form for all such governments in Europe and here in the U.S., adopted a harsh approach to the 60,000 African refugees who crossed deserts and braved bandits to make their way from war-torn lands to the relative stability of Israel. After devising facilities in the desert which more closely resembled concentration camps than prisons, and fomenting anti-African pogroms in poor neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, the government is adopting the most punitive plan it can. Despite a Supreme Court ruling saying it may not forcibly deport refugees, Netanyahu is offering them a simple choice: either go to jail for years or accept our offer of expulsion to Rwanda or other third-country.
It hardly matters that this approach is a grave violation of UN humanitarian protocols, which Israel itself has signed. Israel may not expel refugees. It also must put in place a process of adjudicating refugee applications and permitting those with legitimate claims to remain in Israel till they’re able to return safely to their homes. As of now, almost no refugees have either received such hearings or been granted such status.
Further, Israel is expelling refugees to countries in which they will have no formal status at all. They will be stateless and shorn of any rights, making them vulnerable to extortion, enslavement, and crime.
Groups of Israeli academics and writers have rightly condemned this racist policy. A group of El Al pilots has refused to fly planes with African refugee passengers to Rwanda. In their statements, they’ve all rightly likened the refugees to Jews fleeing the Holocaust and earlier episodes of persecution which required us to flee from our homes to far lands. They’ve noted that the Bible reminds Jews to treat the stranger with compassion “for you too were a stranger in the land of Egypt.”
But there is one historical tragedy which none of these Israeli groups will mention in their protest. The omission of the Nakba is a telling statement about the moral blindness of these sectors of the liberal Zionist universe. Israel created nearly 1-million Palestinian refugees in 1948 through a pattern of ethnic cleansing and terror which expelled them from their homes in what became Israel.
These refugees fled to many other countries which took them in, some willingly and others unwillingly (Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria). There are scores of refugee camps throughout these countries which still house hundreds of thousands of the refugees and their descendants. They are mostly stateless and live in grinding poverty. Other expellees traveled to western countries and planted roots there.
The only difference between African refugees and Palestinians is that the latter were indigenous to Israel, while the Africans migrated to Israel and are not indigenous (not that this deprecates their rights in any way).
While I appreciate the moral stance of Israeli liberals on this issue, I say it is not enough. Real justice demands taking stock of the refugees that your own state created at its founding. All refugees must receive fair, proper and just treatment whether African or Palestinian.