November 1st, I visited the sites where they are building detention centers for refugees and other types of “infiltrators” to Israel. The trip was organized by a few of the human rights organizations, and altogether some 50 journalists, activists and other interested parties were invited. It was fascinating and there are so many facets to this issue that it will take me several blog posts to cover everything.
What struck me most is that the issue is not controversial. In fact, pretty much everyone agrees on the following:
- It is wrong to jail innocent people.
- Our country needs to grant refugee status and work permits to people who are legitimate refugees. It is in our interest to provide health services and education to them as well.
- It is a good idea to find places to work and housing for these people throughout the country rather than just letting them congregate in the worst neighborhoods of Tel Aviv.
- The main concern for Israel and Israelis is what would happen if, due to our treating them like human beings, more refugees came to our border. Africa is big. Really big. We are a small country.
Depending who you talk to, people will give different interpretations and hues of these four points, for example, the people who live in the nearby Tel Aviv neighborhoods will stress moving them out of the city, whereas the human rights groups will emphasize giving them legal status and health care.
Regardless of the emphasis, though, everyone with familiarity with the situation agrees on these points. Ok, let me take that back. There are specific people in our government who do not agree on these points, specifically, the people making the decisions.
But if you ask the average citizen, they will agree with these points. Unfortunately, most of them will start with point 4, which is a testament to the government’s sweeping success in its propaganda campaign against the refugees.
So let me start with that. What if the rest of Africa comes to stay in Israel, because we allowed refugees to have a decent life here? OK, that is a stupid way to start. That’s the one question I don’t have an answer for. Ok, I have an answer. My answer is “so what”.
I don’t mean “so what” in a flippant way. I just mean, the fact that other refugees may want to come here is simply not a justification for throwing 20,000-60,000 innocent people in jail. Right now some of our jails hold the people who came across the border and are too weak to handle being thrown on the street in Tel Aviv. Our government decided to just leave them in the jails near the Southern border. I’ve certainly heard people say to me “Well, what would you have us do?” Not having any better plan isn’t a good enough reason to keep them in jail, either.
The current problem is manageable. We are talking about fewer than 60,000 people. It is not a threat to our nation’s identity as a Jewish state.
The right thing to do is agreed upon. Give people work permits. Whether you should do more than that is a question of self-interest. I would argue that it is in our self-interest to subsidize their learning English or Hebrew, and giving them work training.
I’ll go deeper into each of the issues, and more, in future posts.