Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sudan's 'Genocide' Lands at Israel's Door ; Israelis Ask If They Have a Moral Obligation to Take in Sudan's Refugees

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sudan's 'Genocide' Lands at Israel's Door ; Israelis Ask If They Have a Moral Obligation to Take in Sudan's Refugees

Article excerpt

Shlomo Reisman remembers vividly from his childhood the visage of Jewish refugee kids after World War II. They sneaked into pre-state Israel illegally, defying a ban by the British authorities.

"They came here without anything," says Mr. Reisman. "Without underwear, in shorts, with torn shoes."

Now, a new group of refugees is slipping into the country illegally - a mix of Muslims and Christians from a country that's officially at war with Israel. But the 230 Sudanese refugees that have arrived are landing in an Israeli jail. As Israel decides what to do with those who have fled what the US has described as a "genocide," Reisman says the government should be mindful of Jewish history.

"In principle, the state of Israel and the Jewish people who have known discrimination ... should give asylum to people who are being persecuted," he says. "Given our history, the Jewish people must show mercy toward persecuted people."

That sentiment is part of an emerging debate in Israel over whether the Jewish state has a moral obligation to release from jail the refugees fleeing Sudan's civil war and genocide.

On Monday, Israeli human rights groups plan a demonstration outside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Jerusalem residence. They have already petitioned the Supreme Court on behalf of the refugees. And by the end of the week, the government must submit to the court a plan to grant judicial hearings for the refugees.

The flow of refugees to Israel has picked up over the past six months since 27 Sudanese asylum seekers were killed late December in clashes with Egyptian police at a sit-in demonstration at a UN refugee agency office in Cairo.

"I wasn't protected by the UN in Egypt. I was afraid that my visa had expired and they would take me back to Sudan," says Deng, a Sudanese refugee who paid $600 to a Bedouin guide to sneak him into Israel from the Egyptian Sinai desert. …

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