An Israeli court ruled last Thursday to deport an estimated 1500 South Sudanese migrants deemed to have entered the country illegally. The Israeli authorities then announced a one week grace period for the migrants to depart greased with the offer of 1000 euros and a flight ticket home for each adult willing to leave voluntarily. The country’s interior minister applauded the court’s decision as “the first step in the expulsion of all the infiltrators [in Israel]”. He went to say: “This is a war for the preservation of the Zionist and Jewish dream in the Land of Israel”. Without further ado, however, and without regard to the promised one week grace period Israel’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA) arrested on Sunday twenty two people illegally residing in the country, most of them Africans including eight South Sudanese.
The crackdown on South Sudanese migrants in Israel comes at a time as the new nation prepares to celebrate the first anniversary of its independence. In fact, Israel was one of President Kiir’s first destinations abroad after the declaration of South Sudan’s statehood. The relationship goes back to the 1960’s when Israel began its support for the Anya Nya rebellion in the context of its Periphery doctrine. Joseph Lagu, the Anya Nya leader, and dozens of his officers received military training in Israel and were armed with Israeli weapons. Ties between Israel and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) were comparably friendly. The Jewish state allegedly provided the rebel army with weapons during the 1983-2005 war. President Kiir’s gratitude was exemplary. Shortly after independence he told a visiting Israeli delegation in Juba that South Sudan will establish its embassy in Jerusalem and not Tel Aviv. Even the United States, Israel’s staunchest ally, avoids making any sign suggestive of its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, and continues to maintain its embassy in Tel Aviv. “As a nation that rose from dust, and as the few who fought the many, you have established a flourishing country that offers a future and economic prosperity to its children” said President Kiir to his Israeli hosts.
What President Kiir and the ruling SPLM in South Sudan wasted was the nobleness of self-determination, a demand that they once shared with the Palestinian people. The Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad attended Juba’s independence celebrations and asked the world to uphold the right of his people to self-determination. Juba announced its support for the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations and backtracked. Today, as Israel moves to expel the South Sudanese on its territory, and as Juba struggles to accommodate the thousands of returning South Sudanese denied citizenship in the rump Sudan it is worthwhile to consider the merit of principle over expediency. Abd al-Khalig Mahjoub, the late secretary of the Communist Party of Sudan warned in the 1960s that the South Sudanese rebels in their anger against Khartoum might be drawn to the example of Moise Tshombe rather than Patrice Lumumba. The jury is out, I presume.