I am ashamed

I am ashamed.

“I hate that you say that whenever the Holocaust comes up,” she says.candle

I am ashamed.

“You shouldn’t say that.”

I shouldn’t say that. There were a lot of people who didn’t say things they shouldn’t say then. Weren’t there?

Then there were the people who did say what they shouldn’t have said. They didn’t fare so well.

Which one am I?

I’m ashamed, because most of the time I’m among those who didn’t speak.

Or maybe it’s the other way around.

Maybe it is easier not to say it, because then I can pretend I don’t know it. It makes it easier if I pretend, like we all pretend, that we don’t know.

But I know it. I know just what I am ashamed of.

“We should remember on this day. What, do you think we should forget?” she asks.

We remember, but we forgot why we should remember.

We should remember.

Why should we remember?

“We should remember so that it can never happen again.”

It’s happening again.

Have you noticed that it’s happening again?

“… so that we will never allow it to happen again.”

We are allowing it to happen again. We are doing worse. We are pretending it is not happening. We are pretending it is not our problem. We are pretending it is not our promise.

I am ashamed.

I am ashamed that in Congo, in Sudan, in Syria and in Myanmar, it is happening. I am ashamed that it is happening in Ethiopia, Somalia, Pakistan, in North Korea and in Afghanistan. I am ashamed that it took me all of 90 seconds to look up where the genocides in the world are happening today and they are happening in 9 countries.

I am ashamed that I don’t really care. Well, if I really cared, I would be ashamed. Maybe I don’t even care enough to be ashamed. Maybe if I think about it for more than 90 seconds and the problem is so big, I’m too small to even wrap my mind around it.

Let me start small. Let me start with the country that is supposed to remember, with Israel.

I am ashamed that my country has closed its borders to refugees from Sudan and Eritrea.

I am ashamed that we changed the law and that now we don’t call them refugees. We call them “Infiltrators.”

I saw a campaign poster in the January elections for parliament. It took full credit, it boasted, that it had succeeded in stopping infiltrators.

I am ashamed that my countrymen voted into power the party that is proud of its achievement of turning away refugees at the border. In every city a billboard. “We turn away refugees. Vote for us.” Not in those words. Because we changed the vocabulary, you see. I am ashamed.

We were once refugees.

It is Holocaust remembrance day.

We should remember.

Why should we remember?

So it won’t happen again.

I am ashamed that my country jails hundred and thousands of refugees, called infiltrators, with no right to legal representation, no name, no number, not even – not even – not even proper winter clothing for cold nights. Even in jail, the prisoners get clothes. Not these ones.

I am ashamed.

I am ashamed that at my country’s borders, my sons and sons of my neighbors sit and watch as the refugees reach the border and my soldiers, my sons, it is their job to watch and wait for the Egyptian soldiers to take the refugees away.

I am ashamed my soldiers are following orders. They are following orders to give the refugees some water and chat them up, and give them hope until the Egyptian soldiers come to get them, and I don’t know what the Egyptians will do with them.

Yes I do.

And they do.

And every. Single. One. Of those boys. Should recognize the phrase:

“I was only following orders.”

I am ashamed that I and my countrymen are not up in arms about this. At least one day a year. At least on this day. Holocaust remembrance day.

We should remember.

We were once slaves in Egypt.

We should remember.

We should be ashamed.

“You shouldn’t say ‘we’,” she says. “It’s wrong to generalize. You say it like you are blaming others.”

I am ashamed.

It is happening again.

I am allowing it to happen.

It is happening again.

I am doing nothing about it.

I am ashamed.

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How Many Refugees Are There?

The government propaganda would have you believe that the refugee problem is this huge threat to our identity as a Jewish nation. The numbers don’t show that is the case at least not for now. I will devote at least one entire blog on “what will happen if we treat them well and they all come?” But that is not this entry. This is a short blog with just the current official government numbers.

  • 57,000 is the approximate number of refugees currently in Israel. The majority are Eritrean (35,900), with approximately 15,000 Sudanese.
  • 75,000 is the number of legal migrant workers. This includes construction and agricultural workers, mostly from the Far East. The government mandates these workers and takes a hefty tax on each one who is brought here.
  • 95,000 is the number of people who just outstayed their visas. These are people who are not refugees, who have passports, and who came here looking for work. This is a bit of a mixed bag, but to my understanding, mostly people from Eastern Europe. This blog series won’t touch on the traffic in women, but obviously, this category covers that situation as well.

So there you have it. Looking at the numbers, it would appear that the refugees aren’t our biggest problem, and that there is something else behind the scare tactics to demonize them.

Refugees: What We All Agree On

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:

  1. It is wrong to jail innocent people.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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”.

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.