Opinion |

Genocide Victims as Refugee Dealers

It's hard to believe that the people behind the deal to expel asylum seekers from Israel to Rwanda are the leaders of two peoples who suffered genocide recently

Yair Auron
Yair Auron
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.Credit: Stringer/AP
Yair Auron
Yair Auron

The summit between the Israeli prime minister and the Rwandan president at Davos aroused more interest than Netanyahu’s meetings with the German chancellor, the French president and even the U.S. president, according to the press. The two leaders were trying to close a deal allowing the continued expulsion of refugees from Israel through Rwanda into hell and often their deaths.

It is hard to believe that the people doing this are leaders of two peoples who suffered genocide recently – we in the 1940s (the last Holocaust survivors are still with us) and the Tutsis in 1994. Tutsi forces, whose commander was current President Paul Kagame, came from outside the country. They, not the international community, stopped the fastest genocide in history. Close to a million people – we will never know the exact number – were murdered in 100 days. That’s about 10,000 people a day, 416 an hour, around seven people like you and me murdered a minute. The world knew it and saw it yet remained silent. It turned its back and did nothing.

We in Israel watched and remained silent. We sent a field hospital to save lives, but we also sent arms while the genocide was going on, when we knew it was happening. Even if we didn’t know the exact number of murdered people, we saw hundreds of bodies floating in the river on both our television stations that were on the air in those days. The weapons were sent from Israel to the murderous Hutu regime, and not by illegal arms dealers but rather by the Rabin-Peres-Meretz government, of all governments.

The Supreme Court refused our petition to reveal documents, which the state admits it possesses, that prove once and for all the crime committed both according to Israeli law and international law. The crime is complicity in genocide. The delivery of arms to Rwanda during the genocide is very similar to the delivery of arms to Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. This must be said, no matter how difficult.

Kagame, who is among the Tutsi survivors, knows this. It didn’t keep him from attending the 90th birthday celebrations of the late Shimon Peres, and it didn’t keep him from receiving Netanyahu at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center and avoiding mention of Israeli crimes during the genocide. Ministers in his government even tried to deny them. Mention of those arms sales is liable, heaven forbid, to undermine many arms deals that the two governments are now negotiating.

The morally and perhaps even statutorily criminal deal, seen now in shocking light against the backdrop of Israel’s support for a UN resolution debated on Friday (a day before International Holocaust Memorial Day) to change the name of the international memorial day for the Rwandan genocide: from Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda, to Day of Reflection on the Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda. No doubt the Tutsi were the main victims, but thousands if not tens of thousands of moderate Hutus were also murdered.

The Tutsi forces, which halted the genocide, are also known to have murdered most likely tens of thousands of Hutus (we will never know the exact numbers), often strictly out of revenge. It is hard to research these facts because of the Kagame regime’s harsh restrictions.

Two nations well-versed in genocide, which constitutes an important if not the most important component of their identities, are knowingly sending some refugees to their deaths and others to a living hell. There is much proof, evidence and testimony from survivors of the horrors that amount, at times, to their saying, “Better to die than live like this.”

The two governments are trafficking humans like you and me; there is no other definition for these deeds. The Israeli government is paying a kind of head tax, which some claim to be $5,000, for every refugee that Rwanda agrees to pass through it.

Both nations seemed to have learned their lesson: Some human beings – those from one’s own side – are more equal than others. Some are worth less, and some aren’t worth anything at all. There are no moral boundaries. Survivors may do anything.

It is hard to believe, but this is reality, and it is playing out before our eyes, right around International Holocaust Memorial Day. When I absorb this, I know that evil, almost any evil, is possible even today. True, without doubt this is neither the Jewish Holocaust nor the Rwandan genocide, but it is horrible enough. It is incomprehensible enough and deeply demoralizing. It is hard to believe that at a time when we justly fight against the distortion of historical memory in Poland regarding the Holocaust, we are actively abetting the denial of another genocide. Cynicism has no limits. Prejudice has no limits. And Israel’s representative at the UN dares to say: “As one who suffered the horrors of the Holocaust ”

If anything, the awakening among wide, diverse swaths of Israeli society, who have joined the protest in recent weeks, arouses a little hope. This obliges us to continue until the expulsion decree is struck down.

Prof. Yair Auron is a researcher of genocide.

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