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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

Even though I live Israel and am aware through media reports of the events that take place on the Egyptian border, I never understood the intensity and complexity of the scenario until I experienced it myself.

In the course of the past few nights, I have witnessed much. At 9:00 PM last night, the first reports came in of gunfire heard from the Egyptian border. Minutes later, IDF scouts spotted small groups of people trying to get across the fence. In the period of about one hour, we picked up 13 men – cold, barefoot, dehydrated – some wearing nothing except underpants. Their bodies were covered with lacerations and other wounds. We gathered them in a room, gave them blankets, tea and treated their wounds. I don’t speak a word of their language, but the look on their faces said it all and reminded me once again why I am so proud to be a Jew and an Israeli. Sadly, it was later determined that the gunshots we heard were deadly, killing three others fleeing for their lives.

During the 350 days a year when I am not on active duty, when I am just another man trying to get by, the people tasked with doing this amazing job, this amazing deed, the people witnessing these events, are mostly young Israeli soldiers just out of high school, serving their compulsory time in the IDF, some only 18 years old.

The refugees flooding into Israel are a heavy burden on our small country. More than 100,000 refugees have fled this way, and hundreds more cross the border every month. The social, economic, and humanitarian issues created by this influx of refugees are immense. There are serious security consequences for Israel as well. This influx of African refugees poses a crisis for Israel. Israel has yet to come up with the solutions required to deal with this crisis effectively, balancing its’ sensitive social, economic, and security issues, at the same time striving to care for the refugees.

I don’t have the answers to these complex problems which desperately need to be resolved. I’m not writing these words with the intention of taking a political position or a tactical stand on the issue.

I am writing to tell you and the entire world what’s really happening down here on the Egyptian/Israeli border. And to tell you that despite all the serious problems created by this national crisis, these refugees have no reason to fear us. Because they know, as the entire world needs to know, that Israel has not shut its eyes to their suffering and pain. Israel has not looked the other way. The State of Israel has put politics aside to take the ethical and humane path as it has so often done before, in every instance of human suffering and natural disasters around the globe. We Jews know only too well about suffering and pain. The Jewish people have been there. We have been the refugees and the persecuted so many times, over thousands of years, all over the world.

Today, when African refugees flood our borders in search of freedom and better lives, and some for fear of their lives, it is particularly noteworthy how Israel deals with them, despite the enormous strain it puts on our country on so many levels. Our young and thriving Jewish people and country, built from the ashes of the Holocaust, do not turn their backs on humanity. Though I already knew that, this week I once again experienced it firsthand. I am overwhelmed with emotion and immensely proud to be a member of this nation.

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