In the coming days, every decent doctor will become a criminal. A bill that passed the first reading forbids Israelis to assist ill-fated refugees who fled for their lives and arrived in Israel. The bill calls for a five-year prison sentence on anyone treating them. If the doctor really goes too far and treats a refugee from Sudan, an enemy state, that doctor will be sent to seven years in prison. This is the way Jewish refugees choose to respond to refugees from Africa.
The wave of African refugees is a result of genocide, which the world chooses to ignore. The murder of about one million Rwandans within three months was characterized as a domestic problem, and the intervention of international forces was delayed because of budgetary constraints. The murder of four million people in Congo was characterized as a civil war, and even in the wake of a “peace agreement” we still see thousands of people being murdered and raped there. Yet the terminology to describe it has changed to a “dispute between gangs,” and this is of course of no interest to us.
Sudan provokes interest mostly because of its oil reserves. The United Nations characterized it as the world’s gravest humanitarian disaster and the US Congress says that what’s happening there is tantamount to genocide. In addition to the acts perpetrated by humans, the Africans are afflicted by hunger and disease that kill many more of them – the world could have helped in remedying these plagues had it wanted to.
We are awash with explanations of what we cannot do for the sake of the refugees, yet the little we can do remains undone, and not only these days.
All of us learned the story of the St. Louis refugee ship, which carried 600 escaping Jews and traveled from one country to another while all of them refused to let it in.
Refugees defined as enemy nationals
Few of us know that during a period of 58 years, Israel let in only about 150 refugees – less than one quarter of the number of refugees aboard the St. Louis – and not because such refugees did not seek a safe haven here. In the years 2003-2006, for example, we rejected about 99% of all refugee applications.
The 600 Darfur refugees we took in this year are a mere tranquilizer for our conscience.
As part of the justification for this conduct, we saw the emergence of the argument that Israel is a state of refugees, with the refugees being the new olim we absorb. That is, the Jews for whom we keep a home in case their current place of residence becomes less welcoming are the refugees. On the other hand, the Africans who are fleeing for their lives and seeking entrance to our country are opportunists who try to exploit us. Again we are seeing this common phenomenon in our society: Recognizing human rights only if the person in question is Jewish (if it happened elsewhere we would characterize it as racism.)
The disregard for universal definitions of “refugee” contradicts the fact that Israel was among the states that drafted and first signed the refugee convention in 1951. The UN commission for refugees in Israel is barely functioning and is granted inadequate funding. The result is that thousands of refugees walk around here with nothing to their name, trying to survive until their application for refugee status is approved.
Israel does very little for these refugees, with most of our creativity focused on preventing their arrival and facilitating their expulsion – ranging from defining them as employment immigrants or enemy nationals, to handing them over to Egypt immediately after they cross into Israel.
As a doctor, I am not bothered by questions such as who’s a Jew and who’s a refugee. I’m only interested in the question of who’s sick. I will be treating whoever is ill, with or without the approval of authorities.
However, I am sadly looking at an ailing society; this new bill is just one of its attributes –who will be treating it?