Katie, one of our 10 month Coexistence track participants, recently had the following to say about asylum seekers in Israel:
Unlike many of the people in our program, I don’t work directly with African refugees. I can’t call them my students, my neighbors or my friends. My experiences have largely come from observation, conversation with my fellow participants, and my commute to and from the Secular Yeshiva. Watching young, unemployed African men crouched on the side of Har Tsyion, waiting for day labor contracts to come their way, raises a plethora of issues, but first and foremost, it raises the issue of what a Jewish State should be.
As a Jewish national home, does Israel have the room and resources to provide for the thousands of Africans who have fled conflict and settled throughout the country? The Talmud teaches that “Jews are the compassionate children of compassionate parents. One who is merciless toward his fellow creatures is no descendant of our father Abraham.” Does deporting young Sudanese refugees back to uncertain and possibly dangerous situations or interning them in a holding facility in the Negev fit in with this Talmudic understanding of a core Jewish value?
I could share with you terrifying anecdotes about the labor exploitation, xenophobia, and deportation of asylum seekers. This is a country that absorbed more than a million Russian olim within the span of a decade. Can it not provide paperwork and justice to a few thousand with no home to return to? Disentangling the issue of undocumented asylum seekers from the heated rhetoric oftentimes used to discuss it is a necessary step in order to truly begin to seek justice for the young men on the side of the road.