Tag Archives: sudan

The South Sudanese Are ‘The Jews of Our Time’

By Charles Jacobs

The stars in Wanyjok’s sky blazed so bright it seemed as though God himself had switched on the lights in the vast blackness. I hadn’t seen a sky like this since I was a boy in the New Jersey countryside. It helped me understand how men from time immemorial have sought patterns in the stars—signs from the Creator of what was to come. I felt that here, in southern Sudan, God was signaling a miracle.

I flew to Sudan on January 6 to witness the birth of a nation. Historically, the Arabs have dominated Sudan. In 1983 the Khartoum’s Islamists imposed Shariah throughout the country provoking southern rebellion. For decades, the north assaulted the African Christian/animist south. Over 2 million have been killed and tens of thousands enslaved.

To break the resistance, the regime sent Arab militias to enslave southern women and children. Girls were used as domestics, boys as cattle herders, women as concubines and sex slaves. The right not to be owned by another human is second only to the right to life. Yet none of the establishment human rights groups screamed out about these slaves.

With an op-ed in the New York Times, and help from Muslim and Christian Africans, I launched an anti-slavery movement. (www.iabolish.org) We built an unlikely left/right coalition – from Pat Robertson to Barney Frank to the Congressional Black Caucus.

I always viewed the Southern Sudanese as “the Jews of our time”—murdered and enslaved—while the so-called civilized world stood by. At a meeting once with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, I asked why America refused to use the word genocide when describing Sudan. Did we not make the same mistake 60 years ago when we ignored the annihilation of Europe’s Jews?  The answer: By law, if we call it genocide we have to act. We were not going to act, so we couldn’t call it genocide.

When UNICEF blasted our partners Christian Solidarity International for redeeming slaves, I argued the group was following Jewish law. When it suggested the slaves must wait for liberation until hostilities ended, I responded: “That’s exactly what the West told the Jews about Auschwitz.”

CSI freed slaves through an existing Dinka-Arab peace treaty. Arabs who needed Dinka wetlands for grazing would travel north and retrieve the slaves. CSI supported the treaty by providing cash to the retrievers.

In 2005 President Bush stopped Khartoum’s war by imposing a peace treaty. The south was granted autonomy and an opportunity to vote for self-determination in 2011. The Southerners I interviewed unanimously planned to vote for secession. The results, just in—confirmed by Jimmy Carter no less—had it at 98% for separation. Why? “They stole our children and our wives. They stole our cattle. They murdered us.”

The north recognized the results and the south likely will be free. But what of the slaves?

An estimated 35,000 remain in the North. We trekked to the liberation sites freeing 397 slaves. We wrote about the liberation in The Wall Street Journal and posted slaves’ photographs at www.iabolish.org.

Their stories are heart-wrenching. Many report hard labor, daily death threats, beatings, racial insults and forcible conversion to Islam.  Women are ganged raped and genitally mutilated; their children sold off or given away as a gift.

Who would we be if we left these people in bondage?

It was good to be a Jew in southern Sudan. An airport guard, upon learning I was Jewish, brightened with a smile and a hug: “Welcome, you are one of God’s chosen people,” he said. And several Dinka men marveled at Israel’s defeat of Arab armies.

We’ve come a long way. Years ago, when an escaped Sudanese slave Francis Bok watched The Ten Commandments, he grew tearful.  “God opened the Sea for the Hebrew slaves, but He’s not yet redeemed my people,” he said.

Go look now, dear Francis, at the stars in Wanyjok.

Charles Jacobs is President of the American Anti-Slavery Group

Israel’s Other Refugee Problem

by Daniel Kieval

On Monday night, a few days after thousands marched for human rights in Tel Aviv, Israel deported about 150 refugees back to their country of origin, Sudan. Israel has said that all of the people involved are leaving voluntarily, that it has ensured they will be returning to a safe environment, and that it is providing each family with $500 to help them readjust to life in Sudan. Still, the action is likely to draw criticism from human rights advocates, especially coming just two weeks after the government announced plans for a new detention center for illegal border-crossers in southern Israel. It is the latest event in a saga that is now several years old, in which Israel has struggled with the economic and social consequences of accepting Sudanese refugees and the ethical consequences of not accepting them.

Over 2 million Sudanese have fled north to Egypt since the genocide in Darfur began in 2003. Even there, however, many have faced harsh conditions, discrimination, and violence from Egyptian citizens and authorities, leading thousands to seek asylum a second time in Israel. While Israel has accepted some refugees (about 1,200 Darfuris currently live in Israel, according to the Jewish Virtual Library), many others have been deported, detained, or chased back across the border where they are shot or arrested by Egyptian border police.

Israel has many good reasons to be strict about whom it allows over its borders. The Darfur refugees are only a portion of the thousands of African migrants who try to enter Israel, many for economic reasons. As in any country, and especially in such a small one already full of demographic tensions, immigration can put stress on economic, social, and political systems if not handled carefully and systematically.  Moreover, Israel certainly seems justified in arguing that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which is officially responsible for supporting refugees and finding them a permanent home, should do more to resolve the issue rather than leaving it to Israel, especially since other countries have repeatedly rejected Israel’s requests to take in some of the refugees. Add to this list the importance of Israel’s borders for national security and the fact that Sudan is officially classified as an “enemy state” because it harbors terrorists, and Israel seems to have plenty of reasonable justification for its strictness toward the refugees.

Yet for many, these justifications do not override the moral imperative to help Darfur’s victims. A country whose very founding was meant, in part, to provide a safe haven for victims of genocide and whose Law of Return permanently engraves its status as such a haven for anyone with a Jewish ancestor might do well to remember its foundational principles in a situation like this one. It is true that Israel only finds itself in this situation because several other parties have not tried hard enough to mitigate it—the UNHCR, Egypt, and other nearby countries, to say nothing of Sudan itself. It may also be true that managing the refugees would be very difficult for Israel (when is a refugee situation easy?).

Perhaps, though, it is precisely because no one else seems willing to that Israel should step into the role of safe haven for Darfur’s victims. To truly be a Jewish state, Israel must embody Jewish values even when they run counter to international trends. In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) it is written, “In a place with no worthy persons, strive to be a worthy person.” As the state of a people who have spent more than their fair share of time as refugees in search of a haven, Israel has even more reason to be that “worthy person.”