The government of Israel is working methodically and quickly to build a fence on its mostly unfenced border with the Sinai. There are valid security reasons for doing so, especially in light of the hostile Hamas rulers in Gaza who employ a cadre of smugglers and other cutthroats near that vulnerable area for purposes inimical to the Jewish state.
But there is another very urgent reason for Israel’s fence-building on the Sinai border. It was reported on Israeli television last week that hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Horn of Africa, mostly from Sudan, are said to be on their way to Israel, a long line of humanity looking to escape the utter poverty, destitution and disease of their homeland for the possibility of sanctuary, if not new beginning, in Israel. At considerable reward, Bedouins smuggle the human cargo into Israel. At all costs, they avoid the Egyptian security forces, for they know the Egyptians shoot the smugglers and the migrants.
It is estimated that some 1,000 illegal migrants cross the Sinai into Israel each month. More than 50,000 such migrants are already in Israel. Most live in the poor neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv.
In the wake of a recent wave of violent crime in Tel Aviv, some of the city’s residents have grown uncomfortable with the presence of so large a number of illegal immigrants in their midst and with the lack of any government policy for dealing with the migrant influx.
A demonstration last week in south Tel Aviv against the illegal migrants became violent. Some protesters attacked migrants. Some smashed the windshield of a car carrying three migrants. Some set trash bins on fire. Some threw firecrackers at police and shouted ugly nasty epithets at the Africans and at the government. Some of the nastiest epithets, alas, came from two Knesset members. One referred to the illegal migrants as a plague. The second called them a cancer.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded quickly and condemned the violence. “There is no place for the expressions or the actions that we witnessed last night.”
But he also acknowledged that the status quo cannot continue. “The migrant problem must be resolved, and we will resolve it. We will complete construction on the fence [along the Egyptian-Israeli border] within a few months, and soon we will begin returning the migrants to their countries of origin.”
Israel is in a quandary. It faces a social and security problem of immense proportion. To its credit, however, it has resolved to find a solution that is based upon pragmatic recourse, humanitarian considerations, regard for the legitimate fears of its citizens, the application of the rule of law and a complete and utter rejection of racism, prejudice and bigotry.