Monday, August 20, 2007

Israel, Sudanese Refugees

The media has labeled the situation on the Sinai border, where thousands of Sudanese refugees wait and hope to be accepted into Israel, as a crisis. This is not true. It is, in fact, an opportunity, albeit one rife with controversy. Israel finds herself in a precarious dilemma: ever conscious of her Arab and/or Muslim population, she must decide whether these people are more a benefit or harm to the state.

Israel should welcome these refugees into the state not only to save them from their brutal homeland but also to return this state to the welcoming homeland she once was.

After the 1967 Six Day War, the State of Israel caught its breath atop a glorious position: despite unifying Jerusalem, adding Sinai, Golan, and the West Bank, and solidifying its existence as a legitimate state, Israel was still seen as an underdog fledgling state by most of the world.

This image was reinforced at home by an almost utopian state. The Kibbutz movement was rolling, with communities of social living espousing lives of togetherness, unity, and a secular Jewish culture that put hand to land, making millions of citizens intrinsically a part of their state (a feeling only compounded by universal conscription). Further, with the dusty cobwebs of the Holocaust still common in every Jewish living room, Israel also existed as a place of refuge. That she enacted the 1950 Law of Return, welcoming any and all Jews of any descent to make a home in Israel, did not show non-Jewish discrimination but idealistic Jewish nationalism—it was the act of a country sincerely hoping to become a home to a people who hadn’t had one for centuries. What followed, through secular international organizations such as Youth Aliyah, was a social commingling of Jews from all over the globe in a truly amazing (although not always sunny) example of integration. Israel finally became a homeland and wars like the one in1967 only helped entrench it as such.

Today, times have changed and Israel faces a social and political breaking point. Far from seeking to be a comfortable place of refuge, it has instead turned to any means necessary to further its entrenchment as a state, even though 1967 (and 1973 and 1982) established it. By focusing too much on short term national defense solutions, Israel has replaced its nationalistic idealism with supercilious stubbornness. Too much of Israel’s policy today is dictated by national security at a time when Israel is relatively well set in. Too much of her domestic policy is meant to keep Israel exactly as it was, when its role of homeland must change along with the times.

Most tragically, the occupation of Palestinian territory and policy proximity to the United States has placed her in a drastically more unfavorable international perspective than the green, adolescent, and innocent one the world held half a century ago. Israel is gradually falling out of favor and referring to the Jews as a prosecuted people will not have the affect it did closer to the Holocaust. What’s more, the war in Lebanon last summer proved that Israel is far from the level of military infallibility it held, for example, in 1967.

Nevertheless, it is possible for Israel to move forward today, maintaining her defense, while returning to the hospitable idealistic country it once was. Faithful Zionists all over the world are appalled at the rise of non-democracy that has managed to influence Israel, masquerading as national defense and uber religiousness.

That huge numbers of Sudanese refugees are waiting on Israel’s Sinai border, therefore, should not be seen as a crisis. No, it should be labeled an opportunity—an opportunity for Israel to welcome a battered group of people, Jewish or not, and become their home. More than just welcome however, Israel is in a position to save these people. There is a reason they decided to risk a trek across Africa instead of staying home. Their home is a murderous place.

Israel should accept these people when her neighbors will not. Saying bruchim ha’baheem would make a statement to the world that Israel is indeed still a homeland, that it is indeed a place of refuge and tolerance. Why can’t Israel repeat the hospitality that was behind Operation Magic Carpet in 1949 and brought thousands of battered people from Yemen, Djibouti, and Eritrea?

By accepting these people as Israeli citizens, Israel can save them and their families from death, and more, she can save herself.