Thirty-five prominent Israeli authors penned a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday calling on him not to deport asylum-seekers. “We call on you to stop the deportation of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan, men and women carrying horrific scars on their bodies and souls from their journy and from torture camps in Sinai, and children born in Israel who are asking of us only one thing: to live,” the letter said. Among the signatories to the letter also sent to Knesset members are the authors David Grossman, Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, Meir Shalev, Etgar Keret, Zeruya Shalev, Orly Castel Bloom and Noa Yadlin as well as playwrights Edna Mazya and Joshua Sobol.
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“In light of the huge wave of refugees inundating the West and Africa, the number of asylum-seekers in Israel is less than half of one percent of its population, and its gates have been locked to them since 2012,” the letter stated. “Israel has no refugee problem and has no economic difficulty taking them in, settling them and directing them to jobs in caregiving, agriculture and construction which are crying out for workers. While some 100,000 foreign nationals predominately from Eastern Europe are in Israel without permits, they are neither persecuted nor subjected to forced deportation. It is the 35,500 asylum seekers from Africa – fleeing from fire and needing every possible protection – that the Israeli government has made the objects of persecution and forced deportation,” said the letter.
The writers said the government’s claim that these people are not asylum seekers is “baseless,” and warned that torture and even execution await them in the third–party country to which they will be sent. “Our history as a people is turning over in the grave that is being dug for it, and you have the privilege of preventing this.” Noting that deportation is set to begin just before Holocaust memorial day, the letter states: “We call on you to act morally, humanely and with compassion worthy of the Jewish people, and to stop the deportation of refugees to the hell from which they fled before it starts. Otherwise, we will have no reason to exist.”
The authors wrote the letter amid a number of other public pronouncements of protest over the past few days in opposition of asylum seeker deportation. Hundreds of people took part Wednesday in a demonstration at the Knesset initiated by members of Knesset Michal Rozin (Meretz), Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union) and Dov Khenin (Joint List). A similar event sponsored by the Hartman Institute and Rabbis for Human Rights was held on Tuesday. Protests were also held Tuesday in front of ministers' and Knesset members' homes in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Be’er Sheva and Haifa. Eli Nehama, principal of the Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv attended by many children of asylum-seekers, called on the government this week to prevent deportation with a warning that such a policy immoral and would be a tragedy for generations to come.
The national director of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt, wrote Netanyahu on Monday: “The sweeping nature of this deportation scheme, coupled with the extreme difficulty to access the Israeli asylum system is having a devastating impact on the refugee community in Israel and betrays the core values that we, as Jews, share.”