Israel to Welcome 300 Asylum-Seekers: A Good Sign, or Avoiding the Core Issue?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018 |  Arthur Schwartman

Israel has announced that it will grant A5 humanitarian visas (one step below refugee status) to 300 asylum-seekers from Sudan in response to petitions on their behalf. This seems like great news, though some claim it is a way for the government to dodge the root of the problem and quiet the voices of criticism toward government policy, or the lack thereof.

According to ASSAF (Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel), as of December 2017, some 35,300 asylum-seekers live in Israel; 92% are from Eritrea or Sudan. For years, asylum-seekers were not allowed access to the recognition process as refugees. Today, less than 1% are recognized as refugees in Israel, while in the rest of the world the percentage of Eritrean and Sudanese refugees is 84% and 69%, respectively. Thousands of asylum-seekers live in various cities in Israel without proper status, without a work permit and without access to essential health and welfare services, legal aid or housing.

The refugee issue is highly controversial in Israeli society. On the one hand, Israel feels the need to help those who flee genocide and humanitarian crises, but on the other it can’t compromise it’s own citizens, their wellbeing and safety. The tricky situation is most apparent in South Tel Aviv. According to the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, 14,000 asylum-seekers reside in South Tel Aviv, and the fact that they don't have work permits and basic rights only increases the burden on the veteran residents of the local neighborhood. The residents of South Tel Aviv are now also facing increasing incidents of violence, theft and prostitution. It is also fair to say that many of the so-called asylum-seekers are not refugees at all, but rather economic migrants who escaped their own third world countries to seek a better life in Israel.

In Judith Pex’s book “A People Tall and Smooth” (Hachotam) she tells the story of five Sudanese refugees who fled the horrors of life in Sudan during the genocide and civil wars. Judith and her husband, John, run a hostel called The Shelter that is very well known among Messianic believers. In 2007, they started to come in contact with the Sudanese people and their sufferings in Sudan. Pex took it upon herself to give the faceless a name and a voice, and to bring the severity of the situation to the believing community, both inside and outside Israel. Pex wants people to know that the majority of the South Sudanese are Christians, and that the Muslims from Darfur don’t identify with Hamas or Hezbollah, but are grateful for Israel, when every other Muslim country has turned their back on them. 

“At that time a gift of homage will be brought to the LORD of hosts From a people tall and smooth, Even from a people feared far and wide, A powerful and oppressive nation, Whose land the rivers divide— To the place of the name of the LORD of hosts, even Mount Zion.” (Isaiah 18:7)

These verses gave hope to the Sudanese believers, as everywhere they turned they met rejection, while in Israel they received hope of a peaceful existence. The Sudanese would equate their journey to that of the Israelites, fleeing Egypt after suffering tribulations. They can identify with the Jewish people in the Land, and find comfort in the Scriptures. Likewise, Israel also feels it is her duty to aid the Sudanese, given a shared experience of genocide on racial and religious grounds.

Often seen on signs at demonstrations opposing the deportation of the asylum-seekers are the following verses: “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So, show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19) 

Leaving the ‘right-left’ debate behind, the words of the Bible hit home. It is because the people of Israel know what these people are going through. They have experienced it themselves, and it is because of this that they feel they must outstretch a loving hand.  It is highly understandable that Israel can’t open it’s borders freely for everyone who wishes to immigrate, and there are a lot of gray areas when it comes to this complicated topic, but things should certainly begin moving forward on this issue, as a mere 300 IDs aren’t going to cut it - the government needs to take proper action.

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