Opinion

If Netanyahu Next Shakes Hands With Sudan’s Genocidal President, the Bloodstains Won’t Wipe Clean

Israel should seek allies in Africa. But not war criminals and despots like Chad’s Idriss Deby or Sudan’s Omar Al Bashir, not least when it won’t let survivors of their genocides find shelter in Israel

Sudanese Darfur survivor Ibrahim holds human skulls at the site of a mass grave where he says the remains of 25 of his friends and fellow villagers lie, in the West Darfur town of Mukjar, Sudan. April 23, 2007
AP

As I read the news about the unprecedented visit by the president of Chad, Idriss Deby, to Israel, I ended up arguing with myself.

Should I praise this historic visit? Or allow my skepticism free rein? My skepticism was rooted in two concerns: Would they discuss the "voluntary" deportation of African refugees from Israel? And was it a step to Netanyahu meeting the war criminal president Omar al-Bashir of Sudan?

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I am an advocate of the expansion of relations between Africa and Israel. I welcome relations based on mutual interests and respect of human rights and dignity.

>> Will International Political Tension Break Israel's Warming Relations With Africa? >> Israel Working to Establish Diplomatic Ties With Sudan, Bahrain

I often argue that Israel needs to absorb its African refugees and asylum seekers because one day, they will be key leaders in Africa. Israel would then find no better allies than the currently unwelcome African refugees and asylum seekers. 

Unfortunately, so far, this hasn’t been the case. Netanyahu has continuously denied African refugees and asylum seekers any chance to remain in Israel with dignity and rights.

I believe these formal visits are important and necessary both for Israel and African countries for their mutual benefit. Africa is in need of Israel’s advanced technology, cyber security and agriculture. And Israel needs Africa’s natural resources. 

But my fear is: If Israel’s Netanyahu can meet with Chad’s Deby, then the next African leader Netanyahu will meet with will be Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, subject of an international arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

I worry that the fast pace of normalizing relations with Chad are a clear harbinger of a similar dynamic with Sudan. After all, both are led by repellent despots with abundant blood on their hands.

Sudan?s President Omar al-Bashir addresses supporters during his visit to the war-torn Darfur region, in Bilal, Darfur, Sudan September 22, 2017
\ Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/ REU

Presidents Deby and al-Bashir have so much in common.

Both presidents are career military officers who assumed via a military coup. They came to power around the same time; Omar al-Bashir was proclaimed as president in 1989, Deby in 1991. Both have survived attempts to overthrow them. Deby "won" his fourth consecutive presidential election in 2011; al-Bashir "won" his second in 2015 and is now he is running for his third in elections due in 2020, even though Sudan’s 2005 transitional constitution limits any president to two terms only.

Amnesty International’s report of 2013 accused Chad’s Deby for violently oppressing his opponents as well as grave violations of human rights. Al-Bashir, as it better known, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide charges, war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities he directed committed in Darfur.

The Republic of Chad President Idriss Deby with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah, before their dinner at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem. Nov. 25, 2018
Heidi Levine,AP

Both Deby and al-Bashir have a propensity to get actively involved in proxy wars; Deby intervened in Central African Republic and Mali to "fight terrorism" and al-Bashir has actively intervened on behalf Saudi Arabia in Yemen in the name of "fighting terrorism." What an irony, that a president who himself is a war criminal and a terrorist, intervening in other countries using the moral justification of "saving lives."

In Yemen, Sudan is now complicit in one of the worse human catastrophes of our time where more than 85,000 people are expected to die through conflict-fuelled starvation. It is exact the same kind of man-made disaster with which Sudan’s president has experience; he used the same tactics, starvation as a weapon, against his own civilians in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. 

Deby and al-Bashir maintain very strong ties, even though the two went through a period of mutual hostility in the  early 2000s. 

In 2012, Deby married the daughter of Musa Hilal, a leader of the Janjaweed militia who’s also wanted by ICC on the same charge sheet as al-Bashir. Musa Hilal is notorious for having called for "changing the racial identity of Darfur," meaning ethnic cleansing through genocide.

Now, the two presidents are coordinating their efforts to dismantle the refugee and displaced people’s camps in Chad and Sudan, in order to remove the minimal protection those camps offer their inhabitants. 

Women and their children walk near a truck carrying government troops in Tabit village in the North Darfur region of Sudan. Nov. 20, 2014
אי־פי

The only difference I see between Deby and al-Bashir is that al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court, and Deby is yet to receive an ICC warrant.

When Deby fled to Darfur in 1989, accused of plotting against his predecessor Hissien Habre (currently serving a life sentence for war crimes), he sought asylum - and the people of Darfur offered him shelter.

But there’s no honor among tyrants: Deby has since thrown mud in the face of the Darfuri struggle, and his wholehearted support for al-Bashir, genocidaire of Darfur, is offensive and unforgivable. 

I am absolutely for the reestablishing relations between Israel and Sudan - but not with Bashir’s genocidal regime. But bearing in mind Netanyahu didn’t flinch at all when he shook Deby’s hand, and bearing in mind Netanyahu’s own domestic political necessity to showcase foreign policy achievements, it’s all too easy to imagine smiles and handshakes between Netanyahu and al-Bashir.

That moment will be a cruel disappointment for the victims of genocide in Sudan. And it’s a cruel doubling down on Netanyahu’s determination not to countenance the continued presence of survivors of al-Bashir’s genocide in Israel. 

Mutasim Ali the is the Public Relations Officer at the African Student Organization in Israel. The first Sudanese to be granted refugee status in Israel, he is a law graduate from Ramat Gan’s College of Law and Business. Twitter: @mutasimali3