Israel’s “war on work infiltrators”

“Infiltrators” is the government and media’s name for the African refugees crossing the Egyptian border into Israel. “Survivors” is more accurate, but no matter; we’re going to war. 


“How will the program for the war on work infiltrators be funded?” read the subhead in today’s Yediot Aharonot story. “The war on work infiltrators is being stepped up…” the opening sentence began.

The war on work infiltrators. This is what “the newspaper of the nation” calls the government’s program to deter refugees, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, from crossing the Egyptian border into Israel. (In Yediot’s English-language website, ynet, they’re referred to as “illegal refugees.” Nice.) At the bottom of the story, there’s a photo of a woman with a little boy, and it’s captioned, “Female infiltrator and her son on the Egyptian border.”

Infiltrators. When Israelis hear the word “infiltrators,” they think “terrorists,” which, of course, is the point of branding them as infiltrators. And what do you do with infiltrators, with terrorists? You make war on them. (The government doesn’t use the term “war,” but it routinely speaks of the Africans as an “existential threat,” so making war on them is only logical.)

In all this fever over infiltrators and existential threats and war, one fact gets overlooked: During the six years that about 40,000 refugees crossed the Sinai and entered Israel, the number of them who’ve been apprehended on suspicion of being terrorists, of being involved in politically-motivated crimes of any sort, is zero.

The official line on these people is that they’re not escaping persecution, they just want to earn Israeli wages. The truth is that they’re here for both reasons. Even putting aside economics, life was not good under the dictators and militias of Sudan and Eritrea. And the trek across the Sinai left a lot of their family members and other fellow sojourners dead at the hands of Egyptian border guards, or the torturing, raping, robbing, burning Sinai Bedouin “guides” whom the refugees pay to take them across the desert..

Now the government is going to complete the border fence, build a detention center or two and crack down on the refugees’ employers. On the one hand this is chilling, on the other hand I agree that Israel has to do something to deter the refugees, otherwise there’s no limit how many poor Africans will try to get here, and Israel is much too small to be a magnet for Africa.

These people, however, aren’t infiltrators, not terrorists, not the enemy, and we should not make war on them. The lives they left behind were hell; they had to be for them to pay those Bedouin predators to take them through the Sinai past those lethal Egyptian guards. Interior Minister Eli Yishai vowed that “every one of these work infiltrators will be returned home.” That’s an improvement, I guess, from when he warned that they would spread AIDS and hepatitis, which turned out to be exactly as true as the warning that they were being recruited in Sinai by al-Qaeda.

We’re going to war against the work infiltrators, they’re an existential threat. The brutalized, the raped, the grieving, the traumatized – our mortal enemy.  May God grant us victory.