Infiltrators All, Whether From Sudetenland in 1939 or Sudan in 2014

My father was an infiltrator during the British Mandate; his fate is not so different from that of Ahmed from Darfur today.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

He was an infiltrator, entering here illegally, which is why he was sent to a “holding facility.” He was not considered a refugee, so it was permitted to deport him to a third country, as indeed he was.

War had not (yet) broken out in his country, though the storm clouds were gathering, and there did not (yet) seem to be any immediate risk to his life, so he was not considered a war refugee. And he had come here via a second country (and a third, and a fourth), which facilitated his expulsion.

He also infiltrated here alone, a young man with no relatives – more eternal proof that he was no refugee. In fact, you could say that he infiltrated in order to improve his living conditions. Perhaps he was even a work migrant; he had been fired in his homeland.

This man was my father. If Dr. Heinz Loewy had not been a Jew, and had managed to infiltrate a country governed by Benjamin Netanyahu and Gideon Sa’ar, he would have faced a fate similar to the asylum seekers from Africa. Only his Jewish origins protected him. He was a Jew, but at the time he did not meet any of the current State of Israel’s criteria for recognition as a refugee. True, he was a Jew, but the moral obligation to rescue refugees cannot be based on race or ethnicity.

In the spring of 1939, my father said goodbye forever to his parents and his fiancée, and set out on his Palestine adventure from the Prague train station. Europe’s skies were starting to darken, but no one could have predicted what was going to happen, and the British clerks who expelled him were going by the book, just like the officials of our own Population, Immigration and Border Authority.

My father did not have a “certificate,” so he was considered an infiltrator. He was one of 84,000 other “infiltrators” who came here in an operation whose name made its unlawfulness clear – “the clandestine immigration,” or Aliyah Bet. We called them ma’apilim, “those who ascend,” but they were infiltrators.

My father did not “ascend,” his act was not heroic in the least; he was trying to flee to a safer place because he felt his life was in danger. The Africans are the same. My father bounced around for months, on land and at sea; several countries shut their gates in his face, and the shores of Palestine were also closed; he was deported to a detention camp in Beirut. Even after he managed to sneak in, most of his fellow passengers on the ships Frossoula and Tiger Hill had been sent to a detention camp in Sarafand, now Tzrifin. I have no idea if that facility was open or closed, but I know they were infiltrators, and their imprisonment was legal under the laws of the land.

I cannot help but think about my father’s saga and that of tens of thousands of other Jews whenever I consider the situation of the African asylum seekers. The fate of Heinz from the Sudetenland is not that different from that of Ahmed from Darfur. My father fled to here because he thought it was possible to flee to here, even though some of his friends fled to other countries. If my father hadn’t sensed approaching danger, he would have stayed in his homeland. The difference between Ahmed and Heinz at that point – before the Holocaust – is solely ethnic. Heinz is a Jew, while Ahmed is a Sudanese or an Eritrean.

Both fled their countries because they felt a threat to their lives and freedom. Both are infiltrators from a legal perspective. Those countries that closed their gates to hundreds of thousands of Jews were condemned by the victims to eternal shame. Now the state of the Jewish refugees and infiltrators, Israel, is doing the same.

It’s unbelievable: The excuses being raised against absorbing the Africans are exactly the same ones used by those who locked the gates against the Jewish refugees. It’s the same righteous-but-immoral claims about obeying the law and the same fear-mongering about a “flood” of refugees to justify closing the gates.

And that refugee was my father. But he got lucky here; he was a Jew.

African migrants at a protest march in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, Jan. 2014.Credit: David Bachar

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