Who doesn't pity the tens of thousands of African migrants who demonstrated this past week, demanding the right to live and work in Israel? Actually, the ones to be pitied more are the millions left behind, their immediate families, more distant relatives and friends, who are still in their homelands in the Horn of Africa. These are among the poorest countries of the world. Eritrea appears at the bottom of the list, with an annual GDP per capita of $600. It has a population of six million, and undoubtedly all Eritreans would all like to come to Israel, as would the populations of Somalia and Sudan.
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Israel’s annual GDP per capita is $32,200 and it seems to be an irresistible magnet to the people in these poverty-ridden countries. Israel is the only country with a Western standard of living that can be reached from the Horn of Africa without necessitating travel by sea. Millions are eager to come here. There are many countries that are closer – like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Egypt – but none offer the economic opportunities that Israel does. So the migrants bypass them and chose the route here, through Egypt. Their attempt to reach Israel has nothing to do with a search for political asylum, it is driven by dire economic need. Yaakov Kirschen, the well-known cartoonist ("Dry Bones"), pictured in one of his recent cartoons a demonstration by Africans who got to Israel after going through Egypt, who were demanding jobs. When asked why they did not make such a demand while still in Egypt, they answer in chorus “We’re not crazy!”
The fence erected last year along the Israeli-Egyptian border has managed, just in time, to keep this stream of migrants from becoming a flood that could wash over Israel. It is sad to say but the news of any improvement in the condition of the 80,000 people who are now illegally in this country will make its way to the Horn of Africa, and serve as encouragement for others who would make desperate attempts to join those here. Even the fence may not be able to stem this tide.
Over the years, Israel has overcome three waves of aggression intended to destroy it. First the repeated attacks by Arab armies, repulsed each time by the Israel Defense Forces. Then the wave of terror as part of what is called the “second intifada,” which brought terror into the streets of Israel’s cities. That was defeated by the entry of the IDF into Judea and Samaria in 2002. During the past few years we have been dealing with the third wave: the BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions) campaign – an attempt to destroy Israel by isolating it and choking it economically.
The migrants from the Horn of Africa have no intention to harm Israel. On the contrary, they like it here and hope that Israel will prosper. But their migration, if it continues, has the potential of destroying the State of Israel. These migrants already constitute 1 percent of the population of Israel, a country living in constant worry over its demographic balance, and determined to maintain its Jewish character. Although this country is easier to reach for those fleeing African poverty, it is also the Western country that is least able to absorb them. Richer countries, with larger populations, which are not surrounded by enemies, should offer them hospitality, and most important: provide economic assistance to those countries in Africa that should be lifted out of their present state of poverty.
Those Israelis who demand that their country offer hospitality and work on behalf of these migrants, and who helped organize the mass demonstrations last week, may be well intentioned, but their actions are not in Israel’s best interests: They will only reinforce the feeling of the majority of the country's citizens that if their Israel is to remain Israel – the migrants need to return to their countries of origin.