I created you, and appointed you a covenant people, a light of nations – opening eyes deprived of light, rescuing prisoners from confinement, from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
The shortest route from Shorashim to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is via Rt. 784, a busy two-lane country road that winds south through the mountains of the central Galilee to Hamovil Junction, where it spills out into the new highway that connects either to the Rt. 6 tollway or the coastal highway. I often find myself driving down 784 in the morning, passing a number of the Jewish communities of Misgav County, and Kibbutz Hannaton, and Kfar Manda, a village of about 17,000 Muslim Arabs, just at the foot of the Yodfat ridge, with fields radiating out around the village center into the fertile Bet Netofa Valley. The village has a reputation for being relatively religious, and poor, with a high unemployment rate. I have hiked through it, and stopped for gas, and visited a center for women’s employment there. Several years ago I collided with a local at the entrance to town, an accident resulting in some minor injuries; the crowd that gathered was scary at first [to me], but in fact many people offered to help. Otherwise I have driven by dozens of times, but really have no knowledge about the community, or any acquaintances there.
Over the past few months, there has been a new feature in the landscape: every morning there are a few dozen African men sitting along the guard rail near the bus stop at the entrance to Kfar Manda. Smach, the Arabic editor of our bilingual website, was curious as I was, and did some checking. There are of course thousands of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees in various stages of legal and illegal presence in Israel, some in detention camps, some on the streets of Tel Aviv; it turns out that 700 found their way to Kfar Manda, where local residents have rented them rooms, and where many are employed as day laborers, mostly in agriculture. Those who are not employed on a particular day by the main labor contractor in town walk down to the highway to wait for someone to drive by and hire them for the day. Smach discovered that though the Sudanese have been encouraged to come to Kfar Manda by local contractors, they are not all that welcome in town, and there have been tensions and a brawl or two. This is not surprising: introducing a population of young male strangers, living in crowded conditions without steady income, to a close-knit, traditional village with high unemployment, is not exactly a recipe for harmony and economic cooperation.
The dilemma of the African refugees crossing the border from Sinai has become old news, but that doesn’t mean that anyone has legislated or even proposed a thoughtful, rational policy of how to respond. There are pronouncements by the Minister of the Interior, threatening roundups and deportations that sometimes do but often do not occur. There is the irony that we are busy deporting these desperate refugees while at the same time we are importing temporary workers from Thailand to work in agriculture. There is Israel’s very poor record in considering and granting amnesty. There is immense suffering inflicted by Bedouin smugglers in Sinai on their “clients.” And there is plenty of suffering right here (and now just a few minutes from my home), by refugees without a defined legal status, without eligibility for social and health benefits, exposed to uncontrolled exploitation.
We thought we had enough moral dilemmas to keep us busy, trying to work out the relationship between the Arabs and the Jews. Somehow it doesn’t seem fair that while we’re working (slowly) on that, we have to grapple with what may be even a harder one – the wave of exiles crossing from the continent next door. We dreamed for years of having a border that we controlled. The dream came true, thank God. But we have awakened with quite a headache.