Over the last five years, the tiny Nation of Israel has been flooded with illegal workers, mostly from the African Nations of Sudan and Eritrea. Over 50,000 desperate human beings, fleeing war, famine and religious persecution, have crossed Israel’s border from Egypt’s Sinai desert. They enter Israel seeking shelter and employment at the end of a harrowing journey through the harsh desert region. These impoverished people are often brutally victimized by desert bandits and slave traders who hold them hostage, steal their meager possessions, rape, enslave and murder them. Despite all the risks, Israel has become the destination of choice for many fleeing the troubles of Africa.
Although the Israel government is not without sympathy for the plight of people who have been victims of the horrors of the recent turmoil in Africa, the flood of immigrants is posing a major problem for Israel. While 50,000 people may seem a small number to an American living in a nation of 300,000,000, it is the equivalent of over 400,000 people illegally entering America every year. Considering the impact the illegal immigration problem is having on the United States economy, it is easier to understand how the flood of illegals into Israel can cause considerable concern among Israelis.
According to Prime Minister Netanyahu, “Israel is a small country. We cannot allow ourselves to be flooded by illegal work-infiltrators. This threatens our society, our economy and our security. Therefore, we must expedite our dealing with the problem.” The government of Israel, ever sensitive to international opinion and pressure, has used the rather unique term of “Illegal Work Infiltrators” to refer to the illegal workers. Many observers of Israeli politics feel that because of Israel’s policy of “The Right of Return” for any Jew who wants to become an Israeli citizen, Israeli officials have been forced to tread lightly when referring to their own problems with illegal workers. By emphasizing the fact that this is an issue of people seeking to enter the country illegally to find employment, the government hopes to avoid opening the door to claims of prejudice against non-Jewish immigrants.
While the Israeli policy on Illegal Work Infiltrators will lead to the eventual deportation of the vast majority of those who are caught by the authorities, the government is trying to deal with the problem in a fair and compassionate manner. On Sunday, December 11, 2011, the Israeli cabinet unanimously approved a plan to implement a NIS 630 million budget to stem the tide of illegal workers from Africa. The multi part plan includes the important step of building a 240-kilometer Egypt border fence from Kerem Shalom to Taba over the next year. To complete the much needed border fence, the Cabinet allocated an additional 280 million NIS. Not only will the border fence help to deal with the problem of illegal workers but it will enhance Israel’s security against terror attacks from the Sinai.
As the government continues to seek other nations willing to accept the illegal workers, plans were drawn up to build a 250 million NIS housing center to hold the growing population of migrants. The center will provide all the basic necessities including homes, medical care, food and clothing for those who are unable to be quickly repatriated to their countries of origin. An additional 100 million NIS is to be allocated annually for the running of the center. According to the Jerusalem Post , “The new center will allow Israel to round up IWIs without violating international law, which requires governments to feed and shelter migrants while their status is being resolved.”
The Government of Israel is trying to resolve this pressing problem in a humane manner while following or in many cases, exceeding international standards. Despite the continuing attempts to de-legitimatize Israel in some circles, this is another example of the many ways in which Israel tries to be a “Light unto Nations.” Instead of just rounding up every single illegal worker and imprisoning them without trial for years, Israel is trying its best to make sure the African workers are only sent to countries that are willing to accept them. Instead of rounding them up into prisons and then just busing them back over the border, as is often done with migrants who cross from Mexico into the United States, an entire living center is being constructed and funded at great expense to the Israeli budget.
Perhaps nothing sums up the situation better than this quote from NY Times reporter, Ethan Bronner, “All well-off countries face the challenge of how to handle poor foreign migrants and how much credence to give their accounts of political persecution. But the situation in Israel is complicated by Jewish history and has led to a national debate. On the one hand, this is a small country that wishes to maintain a strong Jewish majority. On the other, the Jews’ past of eviction and persecution makes some here argue that Israel should have special sensitivity for those fleeing prejudice and conflict.”
Israel has always claimed that it tries follows the highest standards of human governance, even in times of war. Many Israelis feel that the world has viewed them with a jaundiced eye and unfairly held Israel to a standard of perfection that no other nation is ever expected to follow. What is your opinion? Does Israel try its best under difficult circumstances to be fair and compassionate? Is Israel being fair to the illegal workers or should they just allow them to enter the country at will? Is the sovereignty of nations and the sanctity of national borders still a valid concept in the 21st. century?