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A letter from the Egyptian border

African Refugees from Darfur and Sudan attend a Passover dinner in Tel Aviv

Photo Credit: Michal Fattal/Flash90

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My name is Aron Adler.

I am 25 years old, was born in Brooklyn NY, and raised in Efrat Israel. Though very busy, I don’t view my life as unusual. Most of the time, I am just another Israeli citizen. During the day I work as a paramedic in Magen David Adom, Israel’s national EMS service. At night, I’m in my first year of law school. I got married this October and am starting a new chapter of life together with my wonderful wife Shulamit.

15-20 days out of every year, I’m called up to the Israeli army to do my reserve duty. I serve as a paramedic in an IDF paratrooper unit. My squad is made up of others like me; people living normal lives who step up to serve whenever responsibility calls. The oldest in my squad is 58, a father of four girls and grandfather of two; there are two bankers, one engineer, a holistic healer, and my 24 year old commander who is still trying to figure out what to do with his life. Most of the year we are just normal people living our lives, but for 15-20 days each year we are soldiers on the front lines preparing for a war that we hope we never have to fight.

This year, our reserve unit was stationed on the border between Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip in an area called “Kerem Shalom.” Above and beyond the “typical” things for which we train – war, terrorism, border infiltration, etc., – this year we were confronted by a new challenge. Several years ago, a trend started of African refugees crossing the Egyptian border from Sinai into Israel to seek asylum from the atrocities in Darfur.

What started out as a small number of men, women and children fleeing from the machetes of the Janjaweed and violent fundamentalists to seek a better life elsewhere, turned into an organized industry of human trafficking. In return for huge sums of money, sometimes entire life savings paid to Bedouin “guides,” these refugees are promised to be transported from Sudan, Eritrea, and other African countries through Egypt and the Sinai desert, into the safe haven of Israel.

We increasingly hear horror stories of the atrocities these refugees suffer on their way to freedom. They are subject to, and victims of extortion, rape, murder, and even organ theft, their bodies left to rot in the desert. Then, if lucky, after surviving this gruesome experience whose prize is freedom, when only a barbed wire fence separates them from Israel and their goal, they must go through the final death run and try to evade the bullets of the Egyptian soldiers stationed along the border. Egypt’s soldiers are ordered to shoot to kill anyone trying to cross the border OUT of Egypt and into Israel. It’s an almost nightly event.

For those who finally get across the border, the first people they encounter are Israeli soldiers, people like me and those in my unit, who are tasked with a primary mission of defending the lives of the Israeli people. On one side of the border soldiers shoot to kill. On the other side, they know they will be treated with more respect than in any of the countries they crossed to get to this point.

The region where it all happens is highly sensitive and risky from a security point of view, an area stricken with terror at every turn. It’s just a few miles south of the place where Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. And yet the Israeli soldiers who are confronted with these refugees do it not with rifles aimed at them, but with a helping hand and an open heart. The refugees are taken to a nearby IDF base, given clean clothes, a hot drink, food and medical attention. They are finally safe.

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