As Jews around the world celebrate the start of Passover by recounting the exodus from Egypt, we are reminded of our escape from bondage and becoming a free nation. After telling the story, eating a hearty meal and singing traditional Passover songs, we shout “Next year in Jerusalem!” signifying our eternal hope of returning to the land of Israel. Every year, the story of Passover tells of our 40-year journey through the Egyptian desert, up through the Sinai Peninsula and into the Promised Land. We remember the hardships we faced even as God watched over us and protected us. Now, thousands of years later, people from around the world are also shouting “Next year in Jerusalem!” as they, too, hope to make the same journey into Israel, the proverbial land of milk and honey.
But these days the journey is not nearly as safe, and many have not made it to the end. As migrants from Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea make their way through the north African desert in search of economic opportunity and freedom from oppression and persecution -– an all too familiar journey for Jews –- many more risks stand in their way, from unknowingly selling themselves into slavery at the hands of their smugglers, to being caught and losing their lives. Most recently, a 26-year old Eritrean migrant was shot and killed along the border as he tried to enter Israel; an Israeli journalist, Yotam Feldman, was caught trying to sneak into the country with a migrant worker from Ghana and is now being questioned by Egyptian authorities; and the Israeli government has just approved a $360 million plan to construct a barrier along the border to prevent illegal immigration and smuggling. But I have to wonder, are these really the best tactics to curb trafficking and illegal immigration into the country?
This campaign against trafficking is relatively new in Israel; the country was in the second tier in the U.S. State Department’s 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report, indicating that they have not taken as strong a stance against trafficking as they could … and they should. (How will they rank on this year’s report, being released in a few months?) Slavery and trafficking continue to grow rapidly in Israel, a country whose foundation is built upon migrants from across the globe. More and more seek out all that Israel, a historical land of opportunity, has to offer, but instead find themselves suffering at the hands of their traffickers.
Despite these setbacks, it appears as if the Israeli government and Egyptian authorities have begun cracking down on smuggling and trafficking along their shared border, though through questionable methods. This is not to say, though, that Israel is sealing its borders to migrants all together; the country still welcomes migrant laborers into the constructing and agricultural industries and some other immigrants. But we still have a long way to go in our quest to end slavery for all. Passover should be both a time of remembrance and a time of action, as we think about how we can help those that are suffering from the enslavement we escaped thousands of years ago.
So as we turn to our families and friends and wish them a Happy Passover, let us also turn to the Israeli government and ask them to step up and take stronger action against traffickers, smugglers, and exploiters; keep your borders open for the migrants legally entering the country, but let's protect those that are being exploited and enslaved against their will through legislation, rather than lethal action.