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Israel is at War Again

Israel is at war again. This time, the frontline is deep within the country’s borders—South Tel Aviv. Home to African refugees, foreign workers, and economically disadvantaged Israelis, South Tel Aviv was once a picture of pluralism and coexistence. Indian, Nepali, … Read More

By / July 20, 2009

Israel is at war again. This time, the frontline is deep within the country’s borders—South Tel Aviv.

Home to African refugees, foreign workers, and economically disadvantaged Israelis, South Tel Aviv was once a picture of pluralism and coexistence. Indian, Nepali, Chinese, and Filipino workers gathered in tight clusters, chattering in their mother tongues. Refugees from Darfur, Sudan, and Eritrea lined South Tel Aviv’s parks, their children sharing brightly colored swings and slides with Hebrew-speaking Filipino kids, many of whom were born and raised in Israel.

And then came Operation Oz.

On July 1, hundreds of refugees and foreign workers were detainedin a massive South Tel Aviv raid that marked the beginning of Operation Oz. Waves of arrests continued in the following days. Legal foreign workers and asylum seekers were not immune—they were rounded upand warned to keep out of Tel Aviv. The next time they were caught, the police cautioned them, they would be imprisoned—with their papers in hand.

One of Operation Oz’s goals is to enforce the hitherto ignored Hadera-Gedera law, which states that foreign workers and African refugees—legal or not—must live outside of the central area bound by Hadera in the north and Gedera in the south. The fragile community of African refugees—struggling to get on its feet, dependent on local services, and eager to work—will find itself uprooted and relocated to the economically-depressed periphery of the country.

Operation Oz also seeks to deport illegal foreign workers, including families with children born and raised in Israel. In the past, minors were not eligible for deportation, regardless of their legal status. Now, under the newly formed Population, Immigration, and Border authority, led by Yaakov Ganot, these children who speak Hebrew, who attend Israeli schools and observe Jewish holidays—children who are, arguably, Israeli—can be expelled from the only country they’ve called home.

Why the harsh measures? The Jewish majorityis at risk. Speaking of the African refugees, Ganot said, “…we’ve reached a situation in which 1,680 people arrived in one month alone, when our entire aliya [Jewish immigration to Israel] is 14,000 people per year. As soon as we decidedto legally prohibit them from the area between Gedera and Hadera, an amazing thing happened: Within two months, the number fell to just 300-400 a month.

More disturbing than Ganot’s focus on demographics at the expense of aiding African refugees is his depiction of these people, which borders on animalistic. Speaking of the refugees’ behavior in government offices, he said: “There are people who defecate in the waiting rooms, who attack and bite.

How a nation treats those within its borders has implications for how it will treat those outside. Coming just six months after Operation Cast Lead, Operation Oz is disheartening—it seems that when Israel is not raging against those around it, it is raging against those within.

Despite its surface differences, Operation Oz bears a remarkable similarity to Israel’s wars—the “enemies are non-Jews who, in the minds of Israeli bureaucrats, threaten the existence of the Jewish state. And Operation Oz seems to aim to purge Israel of as many non-Jews as possible—reminiscent of the accusations of ethnic cleansing that have been leveled against Israel by its harshest critics.

I have on many occasions asked myself who, exactly, Israel seeks to defeat. When I look at the collective punishment of Gazans viathe Israeli blockade; when I think of the inhumane treatment of African refugees and the children of foreign workers; when I consider Ganot, who likens refugees to animals, I wonder if Israel seeks to defeat itself.

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