Israel Must Pity Foreign Workers' Children, Lest We Pity Their Parents

The Israeli immigration authorities give their victims a terrible choice: indefinite imprisonment or deportation.

Gideon Levy
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African toddlers in an unsupervised facility, in Tel Aviv's Hatikva quarter.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Gideon Levy

God has mercy for the warehouse children. Fact: The Prime Minister’s Office is considering granting 14 million shekels for the makeshift day-care centers serving African migrants’ children, or child warehouses. Say what you will, Israelis are a merciful, compassionate people. Nothing human is foreign to them, nor their prime minister. Just look at how much of a stir the deaths of these warehouse babies has caused. Yedioth Ahranoth dedicated two full pages, perhaps the biggest show of national compassion; Channel 2 spoke about the issue as well, and the volunteer and aid organizations are mobilizing.

Right, talk has been full of expressions of the most vile hatred and racism that likely wouldn’t have surfaced in other societies (“Deport them, first and foremost,” “The infiltrators were brought here by our enemies to conquer us slowly but surely,” “Why save a Sudanese child over a Jewish child?”), but alongside those remarks there were also some heartfelt responses. Hundreds have already volunteered and donated; “all of this aid is essential for building a healthy society,” wrote Orly Vilnai in Haaretz Wednesday, after exposing the children’s deaths.

This is likely the reason behind the discussions that took place this week at the Prime Minister’s Office, in an attempt to find funding for these makeshift day-cares. Since when does someone in the PMO care about Africans? Since when do most Israelis care? But it’s imperative that the warehouse children don’t die (and cause a stir). If they die, they could give rise to questions about the way Israel treats their parents, and that must be prevented at all costs. Therefore, we must have mercy on the warehouse children, lest we need to have mercy on their parents.

But we won’t have mercy on them. Soon, it will be decided to deport them forcefully. The news about the two dead babies came at the same time as news about possible forceful deportations, the kind that do not take place in any other country in the world. Now the immigration authorities give their victims a terrible choice: indefinite imprisonment or deportation: Uganda/Rwanda or Saharonim Prison.

I will never forget my “chocolate flight” moment: a flight to Amsterdam a few years ago. In the back row of the plane sat an African asylum seeker, bound at hand and foot, accompanied by two officials from the Immigration Authority. I will never forget his anguished cries. From Ben-Gurion to Schiphol he cried out like an injured animal, screaming and crying, in Hebrew and in his own language. I will never know where his connecting flight went, or what his fate was. But that is what deportation looks like, and that scene will now become more common.

This cruel, violent, brutal act of deporting refugees from a state of refugees will not awaken many from their indifference: These aren’t Jews, not even white people. The mass arrests without trial went on with hardly a protest. Interior ministers competed for the title of most wicked – Eli Yishai, Gideon Sa’ar or Gilad Erdan – and the Israeli public yawned.

Now that the deaths of the warehouse children have threatened to kill our joy, we need to do something, donate, volunteer, protest and maybe even allocate large government budgets so that we can look ourselves in the eyes in our beautiful Land of Israel. As long as we don’t think about their parents and start to get embarrassed about what we’re doing to them. Therefore God (the prime minister and the Israelis) does have mercy on the warehouse children.

Gideon Levy tweets at

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