Strangers in a strange land.

Eritrean refugees on Israel’s border.

After a week of living beneath scraps of fabric on a scrap of land between two metal fences, hoping to be given asylum in a country established by refugees, 21 Eritrean refugees have gotten their answer from the Jewish State:

Israel has granted entry to two Eritrean women and a 14-year-old boy who were stuck on the Israel-Egypt border for eight days. The remaining 18 men were ordered to return to Egypt. The three Eritreans who were granted entry into Israel were immediately transferred to the Saharonim detention facility.

Lest we be tempted to believe that the decision to allow in three of these poor souls is an act deserving of praise, however,

Israeli experts on international law warn that stopping asylum seekers from entering the country and making their claim for asylum is a breach of binding treaties to which Israel is a signatory.

Moreover, according to William Tall, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Israel,

The most worrying thing to me is the discussion of pushing them back into Egypt, which is highly irresponsible, because if they go back to Egypt there is a high risk these people will fall in the hands of human smugglers, and it is well known, it is all documented, that many of these people have been abused, there are cases of torture or rape, and if you send them back you are sending them to a situation with a very high degree of insecurity.

Furthermore, while the refugees were awaiting this extraordinarily hard-hearted response from Israel’s authorities, those same authorities instructed the soldiers standing guard over them to provide the Eritreans with as little water as possible. The soldiers also acted to prevent human rights activists from bringing them food, and doctors from examining them. One of the women in question is reported to have miscarried over the course of the week.

Why didn’t the refugees give up and leave? Well, as my colleague Raphael Magarikwrote yesterday, refugees from Eritrea are often so desperate that

they will jump off trucks, to their deaths, rather than face repatriation….[and] Eritreans who go back report imprisonment, torture, and abuse. That’s why the United States, Canada, and Western Europe don’t deport Eritreans.

Indeed, according to +972 magazine, fully 93% of Eritreans seeking asylum elsewhere are granted official refugee status.

So, in short: Israel’s decision to ignore international treaties in order to send three people to a detention center and 18 to the gentle mercies of human traffickers and/or a government happy to whip them is hardly a grand compromise.

It’s more along the lines of a shanda—and forget fur die goyim. This is a shame for the Jews. To the extent that we identify with and support the Jewish state, to the extent that we choose to share in the collective experience of Jewish peoplehood, the treatment these human beings have received at Jewish hands should shame us to our very core.

There is simply no excuse for this. None. Not security, not the logic of borders, not the fact of laws recently passed. Nothing.

One more quote:

[The LORD] upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Deut 10:18-19

If we can sit idly by as the Jewish State behaves in this fashion, I’m forced to ask: What, exactly, do we want the words “Jewish state” to mean?

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.


  1. DAparat

     /  September 7, 2012

    Jewish state = state of the Jews, not the Eritreans. Why doesn’t Egypt look after them? If you’re in America, why don’t you organise for them to come and live in your neighbourhood? Air travel is still relatively cheap and you have a lot more space and resources than Israel does. Plus they’d be spared from the hateful practices of the Zionist entity.

    • You are walking perilously close the the line here. If you can be civil, we can carry on a conversation.

      For the time being, I’ll say this: When human beings run away from torture and repression, it is the duty of all human beings, everywhere, to assist them. Not only that, but Israel is a signatory to international treaties that say as much. Not to mention: “Remember the stranger, for you were once a stranger in the Land of Egypt.”

      (And aside from anything else, I’m a Zionist and if you’ve ever read any of my writings you know it, so enough with the attempt to backhand slur me).

  2. DAparat

     /  September 7, 2012

    Why doesn’t UNHCR set up camps for them in Ethioia, Egypt, North Sudan if they’re muslims, South Sudan if they’re Christians? Why don’t they take a boat to Saudi Arabia? Why of all places should they come to Israel. Where Israel can and should help is in joint ventures to help Eritrea (and others) develop economically. I know this is already happening to some extent.

  3. Darth Thulhu

     /  September 7, 2012

    “What, exactly, do we want the words “Jewish State” to mean?”

    Many apparently believe it to mean a goyim-rein realm between the river and the sea, cleansed of all Arabs, Muslims, Christians, and other faiths of all stripes.

    Further, they believe it to be Lebensraum for only the sufficiently-Orthodox. You and your children are not pure enough, but perhaps convertible. Your rabbi is unworthy and unwelcome. Your husband is anathema.

    Moreover, these feel divinely certain that the citizenry must be purged of anyone insufficiently militantly committed to violently handling every other nation and people in the region.

    That vision of Israel is ultimately a Samsonian fantasy, where a “pure” land filled with “Chosen” people upholding the “only” faith acceptable to the “True” God wages eternal war against the sewer dregs all around.

    In the Orthodox fantasy version, this muscular holy state aggressively wages pre-emptive war and constantly beats down and bats away all inferiors, expanding and consolidating and ethnically cleansing forever. In the Islamist fantasy version, the perfidious cancer is lanced and excised, and the land is made Judenrein. In the Christianist fantasy version, Samson gets brought low and is destroyed, but he nukes everyone around him in his demise, and the shattered remnants all turn to Jesus.

    Each of those outcomes is a horror, which means, to cynical me, that they are the default options on hand for that definition of “Jewish State”. Needless to say, I’d rather some other definition of “Jewish State” gain more traction and reacquire actual political power.

    • DAparat

       /  September 7, 2012

      [deleted for rudeness]

      • Darth Thulhu

         /  September 7, 2012

        Oh, darn. I missed this before it got deleted. Now I wonder, out of sheer list-checking curiosity, which insults, slurs, and counterarguments got sent my way? : )

        • It wasn’t all that interesting — don’t give this person unwarranted credit! : ) But it was snide, with passive aggression thrown in for good measure, and it came after s/he told me, on my own blog, “Likewise – if you can be civil, we can have a conversation.” So, you know. There wasn’t a question, really!

  4. I just don’t understand why, from a decent-human-being point of view, the state of Israel would send them back. What do they gain from being dicks on this issue? I mean, part of being a moral country is helping those less fortunate, right? You’d expect a nation founded on the basis of refugees and immigrants to be kinder to people fleeing from a bad situation in their homeland. (I also have massive problems with the hypocrisy on immigration in the US, but that’s another thing.)

  5. Thank you for speaking out. What a godawful situation this is.