By Gal Sitty
More than sixty years have passed since the Arab initiated Israeli War of Independence, yet the Palestinian “refugee” problem remains a contentious issue in the complex Israel-Palestinian peace process.
For a detailed explanation of this issue watch this video by Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Danny Ayalon.
As the video mentions, those who continue to perpetuate this issue do a disservice to the many refugees of current and recent conflicts by diverting the World’s attention from their legitimate and ongoing plight. Further, they incorrectly demonize Israel for its treatment of refugees despite its stellar record for providing a safe haven for refugees from all over the world.
There are at least 27,000 refugees in Israel who have fled conflicts and violence in Darfur, Eritrea, the Ivory Coast and many more places. While their status may be contentious, Israel not only allows asylum seekers to work and attend public schools, Israel also pays to help many of them integrate into modern Israeli society and learn Hebrew. Contrast this with Palestinian refugees and their descendents in Lebanon who for more than sixty years remain in refugee camps, are forbidden from entering most professions, have restrictions on their movement and face other institutionalized discrimination resembling South African Apartheid.
The Oscar winning documentary “Strangers No More” (see the trailer here) shows just how compassionate Israel is to people in need. The documentary shows refugees who have escaped almost certain death in their native lands. These refugees go to the Bialik-Rogozin school in south Tel Aviv where they are embraced with open arms and given a valuable education.
I personally witnessed many such acts of kindness by Israelis towards refugees in Israel. While working as a waiter at an expensive sea food restaurant in Tel Aviv I was privileged enough to meet four refugees, two from Somalia and two from Eritrea, who legally worked in the kitchen. Speaking to them half in Hebrew and half in English I learned how they witnessed genocide and escaped from refugees camps. They all told me how they were simply amazed by how kind Israelis are, how accepting they have been, and how thankful they are to be in country that respects life.
During that same year, I noticed a group of African refugees regularly setting up camp in a hidden corner of a park adjacent to an exclusive five-star hotel on the Tel-Aviv beach front. One random night as I happened to be walking by I saw a group of Tel Aviv residents bring food and drinks to the refugees and together they played music with the drums and guitars.
These stories, and many more just like them, are the truth about Israel and refugees.