carnegie logo

Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

« Previous | Babylon & Beyond Home | Next »

ISRAEL: African immigrants caught between Israeli government and society

Israeli officials frequently say Israel is the only First World economy that can be reached on foot from the Third World: You can walk from Africa straight to Tel Aviv. Tens of thousands have done just that -- and if the country doesn't do something about it, many more will, officials warn. 

The large pockets of foreign communities grow in different ways. Foreign workers, like Filipino nursing professionals, come in the front door but stay through the window, overstaying their work permits and settling down.

Most Africans do it the other way around. They climb in through the window of the long, sprawling and largely open border with Egypt and then knock on the door for asylum. About 15,000 African hopefuls have entered the country this year, roughly double the amount of last year. 

The government is determined to stop the influx. For starters, it is fencing off its 150-mile border with Egypt. Work began last month

The border fence will cost about $370 million, but government indecision on immigration matters is costing dearly. Fear of the impact on politics, religion, demography, diplomacy and the economy has paralyzed decision-makers, negating a cohesive immigration policy. Years of Band-Aid solutions have produced a situation that is rapidly approaching a crisis.

All non-Jewish foreigners challenge Israel's aspirations for a Jewish majority and character while treating others fairly. But the African issue offers a test of humanitarianism and international law -- and social tolerance too. 

Largely lumped together as "infiltrators," many of the Africans come from war-torn regions. Most come from Eritrea; Sudan is a close second, with a number from Ivory Coast and other countries. All asylum seekers undergo a process of "refugee status determination, " or RSD, except for Sudanese and Eritreans, who enjoy a temporary sweeping protection. Last year, the RSD process passed from the U.N. to Israeli government authorities. Since then, bureaucratic treatment of asylum seekers has deteriorated, Saed ed-din Ibrahim, a Sudanese living in Israel, told Israel Radio in impeccable Hebrew.

Out of 4,000 asylum seekers interviewed this past year, only two met the criteria, said Yossi Edelstein, who heads the immigration administration's enforcement branch. Israeli authorities say most are impostors, using borrowed identities to qualify as asylum seekers.This distracts authorities' resources from "helping the people who really do need protection," Edelstein said. 

In one case, a man's request for protection was rejected by Interior Ministry officials, who did not believe he was a Borgo tribesman from Darfur. He wasn't Sudanese, officials concluded, based in part on his poor knowledge of "elementary details about Sudan" and his meager Arabic. 

But a district judge overturned the decision, which he called biased and arbitrary. Small wonder that the man doesn't know Khartoum landmarks, the judge said of the petitioner who never left his village 300 miles away until escaping it at 24. And the Borgo tribe speak their own tongue, not Arabic, the judge noted, granting the petitioner the residential and working rights to which Sudanese are entitled.

The government is moving to bar employers from giving asylum seekers work. Some municipalities forbid renting to them, threatening eviction. Some Israelis complain they take jobs and housing; others say they spread crime, even disease. "This isn't racism, it's survival," read banners in a demonstration held this week in southern Tel Aviv, where locals said they were now afraid to let their children out after dark. Politicians have entered the controversy, some jumping on the bandwagon with nationalist agendas.

Public atmosphere is approaching panic, breeding xenophobia and violence. A few African men barely escaped when their Ashdod apartment was torched recently. A group of teenage girls -- Israeli-born with African parents -- were beaten up on their way home from a Scouts activity.

"Citizens must not take the law into their own hands," a stern Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned Israelis via Youtube Wednesday, amid concerns the heated debate would spur more hotheads into action.

Netanyahu listed a number of steps the government was taking to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, including returning them to their home countries. Last week, Israel returned a planeload of Sudanese to their own country, via a third one that wasn't named.

Non-governmental organizations have quietly coordinated smaller returns before. This time, reportedly, the government was involved in providing travel documents and money, though other bodies -- one believed to be the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem -- helped. Government spokespeople did not want to talk about the operation, which leaked to the media. Too sensitive, too dangerous, sources said.

Sudan's future is unclear, with a key referendum in January. So is the future of the returnees, who some fear could be endangered if their children let their native Hebrew slip. William Tall, a U.N. refugee official in Israel, told media last week that the organization was "satisfied" that the individuals had "made a voluntary choice" to return and were not "coerced to go back."

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem  

Video: African refugees in Israel, via YouTube


Comments () | Archives (21)

I've heard/seen many new reports on this issue recently. It seems to be a hot topic, as we discover more is going on in Israel besides just the conflict withe Palestine. Here's another article I found with some more analysis on the subject:

Jews still live in some Muslim majority countries, like Iran ironically where an Iranian Jew holds a seat in that nation's parliament.

Ethiopian Jews, who are sub-Saharan Black Africans, have complained of racism in Israel. They have argued that Israel is no place for "Black" Jews, a community who trace their roots to the reign of Solomon in the Old Testament and the Queen of Sheba.

Even the Christianity of Ethiopia is Judaic in nature.

Arab Jews have often complained that Israel pursued policies which punished them for their "Arab ethnicity" and "Arab identity." Israel had a policy of assigning Arab Jews to border regions prone to attack by neighboring Arab communities, this act was intentional, to breed hatred for non-Jewish Arabs.

Being an Arab and Jew are not mutually exclusive.

Now, Israel is confronted by the wave of non-Jewish and non-Arab immigrants, including Muslim immigrants from Africa who are testing that nation's commitment to "First World" status, where all nations in the industrialized world are confronted by issues with immigration, cultural and demographic change, and questions of identity.

Israel is a nation of mostly European Jewish immigrants who appropriated the lands of Arabs, Bedouins, Druze, and various Christian communities of Greeks and Armenians who lived in what is called "Eretz Yisrael."

The "promised land" since the Roman expulsion of Jews was home to a multicultural and multifaith collective of humanity.

The thoughts of a progressive and liberal American Muslim.

I understand every country has the right to protect its borders and curb illegal immigration but any humanitarian and civil country also should not close its borders completely to all refugees. The Jewish people know more than any other nation how it feels to be refugee in exile. The Jewish people sought Asylum and shelter during the hard times in almost every country in the world and most countries accepted them with open hands and sympathy except some countries like Nazi Germany. It is so pathetic to hear from many Jewish people complaining and bearing so much hate towards the African refuges who sought Asylum in Israel in the past few years. Do not forget what your fathers and grand fathers went through; the least you can do is be sympathetic to the refuges who are coming to your land seekign shelter and temporary worling and living status.

We love Israel and its people please don't make us change our view.

Boston, USA

I know how the Israeli people must feel; their borders are not secured just like in America. There are some innocent hardworking illegals in America that come here in search of a better life, but on the other hand there are also imposters, terrorists, drug cartels etc. I guess people are breaking down borders all over the world.

Excuse me? I read the Bible. I also memorized the 10 commandments. Moses stole high technology from the high priests of Eqypt. The Ark of the Covenant. He lead an army through the desert wandering and raiding for 40 years. Then he told his followers that God said to go into "the promised land" and slay the Cananites.?? Excuse me? So if I hear voices in my head that tell me to kill someone and take their house it is "ok"?? Because God said it was OK??What about: Thou shalt not Kill. and Thou shalt not Steal??The bible is a double dealing mess of contradictions from less than God like beings

For those who think Israel occupies a land that doesnt belong to them they are sadly ignorant of the Bible, To those who are in favor of these refugees burdoning the Israeli economy you only have to look at whats happened in the American southwest to get an idea of whats in store for Israel. The Jewish immigrants from Europe become productive members of society while the poor Africans become lifetime members of the welfare system. There are exceptions to the rule of course but they are very few, If Israel is to remain a first world nation they will have to make unpopular decisions.

I think these Africans are "undocumented" and are doing jobs Israelis won't do. Therefore they should be provided with driver's licenses, free healthcare, government publications in their own languages and a "path to citizenship." Not to mention everyone in Israel calling a government agency or bank now needs to "press 1 for Hebrew"....

From Deanblake:
"Self-determination for Jews in a world that recognizes 42 Muslim nation states who preclude Jews from even entering their territories and expelled all of their Jewish citizens and residents confiscating all their worldly possessions, money, homes, profession and land while shipping them off to Israel."

The Karmic consequences of Israel's having invaded and expropriated the land belonging to the Palestinians. Those Arab countries didn't want to just sit by and do nothing so motivated by revenge they expelled those Jews.(I don't justify it but just telling you the facts as they happened).

Excuse me, LA Times, but those Africans are guest workers, not immigrants! Israel has made no commitment to allow them to stay beyond the limit on their visas!

Miss Marple, the fact is that those "mistreated" Muslims in Europe were treated even worse in their Islamic countries of origin, otherwise they would not have emigrated to Europe. Unfortunately, many of them bring to Europe their barbaric, Draconian code of conduct known as Sharia Law...with it's arranged marriages, "honor killings" & general mistreatment of their own Muslim women.

"socalmaverick" loves to throw stones at Israel for their "racism" toward Africans while conveniently ignoring the fact that most Arabic/Muslim nations in the region usually allow black Africans in for only 2 reasons:

* Athletes who can help countries like Qatar & UAE win gold medals at international competitions like the Olympics/World Championships.

* Indentured "servants" like the black African that the Saudi Prince in the UK was recently found guilty of beating to death.

Most of the actual PAYING JOBS in those countries involving manual labor are usually held by Filipinos or other Asians. Shuffle that one into your deck of "race-cards" that you so clearly love to play...

Gee, lanceman, maybe it has something to do with the 5 wars Arab neighbors have waged and lost to the Jewish state. Ya think? Or, more to the point, do ya ever think?

The vast majority of those who have arrived in Israel over the years have been refugees; some non-Jews, but mostly Jewish refugees: people who have come with little or nothing in the form of material goods from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.

All of these refugees have been welcome in Israel, housed, clothed, fed, given proper medical care, education and employment and today one finds these former refugees in every walk of Israeli society.

These people, however, came to Israel legally, having no other place to go on earth.

By contrast, the vast majority of people who presently enter Israel through the Egyptian Israeli border come on foot from Africa; not being given a place of refuge in Egypt, and make their way into Israel ILLEGALLY.

Any country in Europe, Australia or North America would be concerned about such a wave, just as Israel is, a country the size of Wales in the UK or Slovenia in continental Europe...!!

"Israeli officials frequently say Israel is the only First World economy" Clear as a bell!
Attention Congress, U.S tax payers. No need to continue the $3,000,000,000
annual gift plus bonuses to this rich country.

"Israel is a special purpose state created specifically for the saftey and preservation of the Jewish people in their aboriginal homelands."

So why don't they do this within their original 1948 borders?

I wish that were true Joe. Not so. Muslims are maltreated in every country in Europe. Just look at France. They are kept in poverty, segregated, discriminated against, can't get jobs even when educated, which is hard. Thugs go after them in Germany and Sweden. The average Muslim is blamed for what some do. It isn't as bad in England, but there is still discrimination, and they are a hated minority.

Israel has a small population, so what looks like a tiny number to us, doesn't seem so small to them. As I know from contact with cousins who live in Israel, there is rampant ignorance of the world outside the Middle East. I think that is the fault of the news media in Israel. They should cover what is going on in Africa, so people will understand better who these immigrants are. It is interesting that Sudanese have Carte Blanche to come in. Too bad the Ministry Officials are so ignorant. But that can be fixed. Once South Sudan is officially its own country, the problem may be solved. Those people are not Muslim, and that has been the problem with the North. If it is a peaceful transition, perhaps they can work together.

Isreal doesn't even belong to the Jewish Isreali, everyone knows European Jews invaded the country during the end of WW2.

@ socalmaverick - Israel is a special purpose state created specifically for the saftey and preservation of the Jewish people in their aboriginal homelands. Just like Armenia was carved out of Turkey for Armenians, Greece and Macedonia, too, Poland, the Crimea, Lapland, Serbia, Croatia, Portugal, the Scottish Parliment, NW Canadian territoris for Inuits, and the American Indian reservations for American Indians. Self-preservation of an ancient and unique culture, language, religion that is the foundation of our modern civil society is a virtue, not a vice. Yes, its about keeping a Jewish majority, absolutely.
Self-determination for Jews in a world that recognizes 42 Muslim nation states who preclude Jews from even entering their territories and expelled all of their Jewish citizens and residents confiscating all their worldly possessions, money, homes, profession and land while shipping them off to Israel.

socalmaverick - so what's stopping you from inviting some of these refugees to live in your house, at your expense?

No country should be forced to admit ANYONE they don't want. We can see with our own eyes what happens when ignorant peasants are allowed to come and go as they wish. Here's a newsflash: most poor people are poor because they're useless.

"Public atmosphere is approaching panic, breeding xenophobia and violence. A few African men barely escaped when their Ashdod apartment was torched recently. A group of teenage girls -- Israeli-born with African parents -- were beaten up on their way home from a Scouts activity."
No modern nation practices such racial hatred in such wide scale and these immigrants are not even Arabs, world nations can help Israel and immigrants by cutting their financial trades with Israel since immigrants will stop going to Israel when they find out that Israel is as poor as their own native country!

1 2 | ยป


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

Recent News
Introducing World Now |  September 23, 2011, 8:48 am »



About the Contributors