If You Do Only One Thing for Israel This Year, Let It Be This

The asylum seekers want nothing more than to live productive lives and contribute to this society. Their children are as Israeli as anyone, they belong in the only home they have ever known.

There are things no one wants to discover. Starting with the deaths of children. In this case, children who used to live among us, who were born here and called this place home. Children who loved this place, and whom we sent away - some, it now turns out, to their deaths.

For six weeks in June and July, Israel pushed the repatriation - in many cases, the forced deportation – of some 900 refugees to their South Sudan homeland, among them families with small children. Requests to delay the process so that the transition could be more orderly were denied. Many had to leave without much of their personal possessions, which were only returned to them after two months.

This week, journalist Dimi Reider reported in +972 Magazine that at least seven of the children forced to move to Sudan this summer have since died of disease. 

The summer expulsions came at the initiative and the order of Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who has now vowed to resume mass deportations of asylum seekers beginning as soon as this coming Monday, October 15.

"We will make the lives of infiltrators bitter until they leave," Yishai said in late August. Two weeks earlier, Yishai asserted that Africans migrants posed no less severe a threat to Israel than the Iranian nuclear program.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his position as strongman of Israel's largest religious party, Yishai has staked his reputation on policies, plans and declarations that have at times bordered on the sadistic. 

Accusing asylum seekers of bearing a wide range of infectious diseases and of having committed dozens of unreported rapes in Israel, Yishai has lobbied the government to build and expand detention centers in the south. His spokesman has said that literally all of the tens of thousands of African asylum seekers currently in Israel could be locked up, pending eventual deportation.

Yishai's ministry has also sponsored a bill which would force refugees to leave the country before being allowed to appeal the government's decision to deport them.

"Whoever wants to act, in order to ensure a Jewish and Zionist state for our children, should act," Yishai told Israel's Channel 2. "I choose action."

So should we all.

If you do only one thing for Israel this year, let it be this: Send a message. Write a letter.

Message Prime Minister Netanyahu. Write Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both.

If you live abroad, contact Israel's ambassador in your area. Write your member of Congress, senators, or members of parliament.

Tell them that the deportations must be put on hold. Tell them that the influx of refugees into Israel has largely ceased, and that the refugees - and certainly their children - pose no threat to Israel. That special consideration should be given families with children, as it has been in the past.

Tell them that human rights organizations have said that rounding up and jailing survivors of genocide from Darfur and north Sudan violates the UN Refugee Convention.

Tell them that creating what amounts to a concentration camp for refugees would be a moral catastrophe for Israel.

Israeli officials have acknowledged that up to 35,000 of the estimated 60,000 Africans in Israel are from Eritrea, north Sudan and Somalia, and cannot be repatriated in any event because their lives would be at risk.

But Yishai is determined to continue to expel asylum seekers from South Sudan at once, despite indications that more preparations must be made for an orderly return to a difficult new country.

At the same time, Yishai has maintained a tacit but across-the-board ministry policy of refusing to process Africans' requests for refugee status and asylum.

Israel has every right to jail and deport undocumented migrants who have been tried and convicted of crimes in an Israeli court. But that is not at all the focus of Yishai's policy.

Send a message. The asylum seekers want nothing more than to live productive lives and contribute to this society. It makes much better economic sense to integrate asylum seekers into work places and schools, than it does to waste millions on building, maintaining, and operating centers for endless detention of non-criminals and their children.

Their children are as Israeli as anyone. Write a letter before we force one more of these children into detention cells, or abroad, to face malaria or war. They belong here. They belong in the only home they have ever known. 

Daniel Tchetchik