Dear Consul General Schneeweiss,
We planned to write to you after celebrating Pesach, the festival where we remember our escape from persecution to liberation. The message of freedom during the Seder reminded us of a recent experience in Israel that made us uncomfortable; and so we write to you to express our feelings and to seek guidance. Now that we have recently celebrated Yom HaAtzma’ut, the message becomes all the more urgent.
During a visit to Israel in February to participate in meetings of the World Zionist Congress and the Jewish Agency, we were invited to visit the Holot Detention Camp in the Negev that houses African men who have fled to Israel from Eritrea and Darfur. The young men whom we met told us that they had agreed to go there in order to expedite the processing of their applications for asylum following years of living in limbo in Israel.
We were distressed to learn that nothing of the sort has taken place. These young men escaped horrid conditions in Africa to seek temporary refuge and asylum in the one country in the region that they believed would understand their plight. Instead, the Government of Israel has refused to grant them work permits, compelling them to live in parks and seek menial day labour. Their applications for refugee status were ignored, and they were duped into travelling to this terrible camp where they have remained without hope or support, even after the flow of such people into Israel was halted.
Recently we learned that the Attorney General has authorized their deportation to countries where they have no connections, and where they face persecution, imprisonment and even possible death. We met and spoke with these people and know that they have no desire to make Israel their permanent home. They all long to return to their homelands and to their families, hoping that conditions there will improve sufficiently to allow them to return safely.
As ardent supporters and defenders of Israel, we never miss an opportunity to speak of Israel’s many achievements and gifts to the world. We understand that, as a small country, there is a limit to the number of asylum seekers that Israel can absorb. However, we also remember the time when Israel was among the first among the world’s nations to welcome the Vietnamese “Boat People” who sought refuge from similar persecution. After all, the Torah reminds us many times to treat the stranger with compassion, since we were once strangers in the land of Egypt
It is because we support Israel as a democratic and caring nation, that we ask you to convey our feelings of disappointment to the Prime Minister and Government of Israel, and our request that Israel make every effort to provide help and support to these people seeking refuge.
Les Rothschild Rabbi Lawrence Englander
ARZA Canada ARZENU
cc Ambassador Rafael Barak