Monday, November 14, 2011

The Desert of Death


by Mordechai Kedar

I make mention of my sins today. Because of my appearances in the Arabic media, from time to time I receive an email message from Arabs or Muslims who are not Arabs, with information that may interest me, in their opinion. Some of these are requests for me to get involved in a specific matter, either personal or public. I answer them all, and I keep communicating with some of them. I have gotten more than a few insights about the Arab and Muslim world from these people, who reveal to me the most sensitive, hidden, secret, inscrutable aspects of the societies that surround us. There are also a few women among them, who send me their hair-raising stories about their lives and their familial and social settings into which they were born and in which they must live.

This week it was a man from Eritrea who lives in Europe, a Muslim refugee from the hell-on-Earth which is the African Horn, who now lives in tranquility and safety. He sent me an email message that shocked me, and I would like to share this with my readers.

Everyone knows that Israel has served for years as a haven for refugee workers from Eritrea, Sudan and other African countries. A few of the infiltrators into Israel came from the embattled areas of Darfur, and until now Israel has absorbed about forty thousand African infiltrators under this category, who have no connection with Darfur. They come to Israel to find work and a normal life, because of the unemployment, the corruption and poverty in their homelands.

The infiltrators arrive to Israel by way of Egypt and the Sinai Desert, and it's the Bedouin of Sinai who bring them to the border between Israel and Egypt. These smugglers get thousands of dollars per person in exchange for this service, an astronomical sum for those destitute and desperate Africans. Some of them, who cannot pay the smuggler's fee, remain as prisoners of the Bedouin, and are tortured and humiliated until their families send the required sum. The lot of the women is even worse, because they often fall victim to the sexual passions of the Bedouins who rape them. In many cases the Egyptian soldiers who are stationed at the border shoot Africans who try to infiltrate into Israel, apparently because they cannot pay the Egyptian soldier the "passage money" that he demands from them, since the Bedouin have robbed the little that was in their pockets.

However, the bitter reality of Sinai has caused thousands of Eritreans to have disappeared into the expanses of this desert. Recently, the reason for these "disappearances" has become known. Some of them are killed because they could not pay the Bedouins the great sums that were demanded, and some were murdered in order to "harvest" organs: kidneys, corneas, hearts and even livers. A few honorable and creditable media outlets - CNN, BBC - reported on this phenomenon including photographs of bodies of Africans who were discarded in the desert after internal organs and eyes were removed from them.

CNN reported that Egyptian doctors from Cairo and Ismailiya are implicated in the removal of organs: they were found to be in contact with the bedouin tribes, specifically Sawarka and Tiaha; they come to the tribal area in which Eritreans are held, with vehicles equipped with a refrigerator, choose among the Eritreans those who look healthy and strong, put them to sleep, remove from them the required organs and their bodies are discarded as food for the birds of prey and carrion eaters. In exchange for this, the doctors pay the Bedouins great sums of cash.

An Egyptian television station brought Bedouin witnesses who said that sometimes the doctor doesn't even bother to put the victim to sleep for the "operation". One body that was photographed showed evidence of asphyxiation by a rope because "anesthetization" by asphyxiation is less expensive than anesthetization by administering an anesthetic drug. One of the witnesses said that in some of the cases, blood was taken from the African, to be used for blood transfusions.

It may be that these organs are used for transplants inside Egypt or in the coastal area of Sinai, perhaps in the area of Sharm al-Sheikh. The Egyptian newspaper al-Mashhad reported late in October that word of this phenomenon has surfaced in Rafah and Sheikh Zweid, and the leaders of the Salafi (The traditional Islamic) groups condemned it strongly, claiming that it is limited to a small number of people with no conscience, and that it damages the good name of the Bedouins. Sheikh Mar'i 'Arar, official spokesman of the Islamic Salafi organization, noted that "a meeting was held recently near Rafah in which the organ trade, the smuggling of cars, Africans, women and drugs to Israel was condemned". Interesting that he didn't relate to the smuggling of weapons and ammunition to Gaza, because apparently, in his opinion, Israeli blood that is spilled as a result of the smuggling of weapons to Gaza is not considered any great loss.

One additional thing that the newspaper al-Mashhad presents is that Israelis are also involved in the smuggling of organs from Sinai. The newspaper gives no details about the identity of these "Israelis".

Who is guilty?

The finger of accusation is pointed automatically at those same Bedouins in central Sinai, who in the past, out of greed, smuggled everything from drugs to Jihadists, from workers to organs. However, the Egyptian government can not be acquitted from guilt, since they controlled the doings in Sinai for many years and allowed the smugglers' market to develop to these proportions. Egypt did not pave roads in Sinai, and so, practically, they left control of the area to the camel riders and ATVs. Because of the Egyptian neglect, Sinai has been transformed over the years, into a lawless land, which is, today, a haven for terrorists who have escaped from prison in Egypt as well as for murderers who trade in the organs of their victims.

A third accusing finger can be pointed at Israel, which for years has permitted Africans to enter illegally without limitation, which encourages them to embark on the long and dangerous journey to Israel. If Israel would close her border with Egypt effectively, they would not be able to infiltrate, and thus would not try to get to Israel and would not be putting themselves at the mercy of the Sinai Bedouins.

A fourth accusing finger points to the Israeli human rights organizations, which petitioned the Supreme Court of Israel to force the state to allow the infiltrators to enter illegally into Israel and remain. These organizations arrange shelter, food, housing, medical care and work for the illegal immigrants. Recently, a public discussion arose about the building of a holding camp in the Negev for the illegal immigrants, but the "human rights" organizations such as Amnesty registered an objection with the National Committee of Planning and Building, that a holding camp such as this is, in their opinion, against the International Declaration of Refugee Rights. It is true that the actions of these organizations and people spring from good intentions and from a merciful and compassionate heart, but the Eritrean who writes to his friends and family that it's good for him in Israel because the "human rights" organizations make sure that he lacks for nothing, causes additional Eritreans to embark on the journey and to fall victim to the dangers that await them in Sinai.

Part of the guilt can be placed on the UN and the international community, which allowed the situation in Eritrea to deteriorate economically, socially and politically, to the point that its citizens are willing to put themselves in such great danger just to flee from there. The UN refugee organization UNHCR should have taken care of them and defended them but its poor performance allows Egypt and the Bedouins to take advantage of them so shamefully.

Israel can put an end to this phenomenon of death in the desert immediately by hermetically closing the border with Egypt, because when it is not possible to cross the border, the whole smuggling industry from Sinai will freeze automatically, and all of these horrible phenomena that come with the uncontrolled movement of Africans into Sinai will stop.

The hermetic sealing of the border will also reduce the infiltration of terrorists from Sinai into Israel. Additionally, Israel must repatriate the tens of thousands of illegal immigrants back to Africa, so that she will stop being a target for immigration for all of the unemployed of the world. This does not relate to political refugees, who are protected by the UN Conventions, but only to those who seek work. Israel can help Eritrea and other third-world countries to develop economically, in a way that will endow to their citizens work, education, health and a reason to stay in their homeland. That is how Israel can best help these unfortunate people in a better and more effective way, so that they will not fall as prey for the beasts of the desert.

Israel must check the claim of al-Mashhad well, regarding those Israelis who are involved in the organ-smuggling market in Sinai, and if there are organs that are smuggled from Sinai into Israel. Also, it is possible and important to check if there are Israelis who cross into Sinai or Egypt in order to receive transplant organs. Israeli involvement in this issue is against the law, and it is possible and important to put an end to actions like this of Israelis, if indeed it exists.

Sinai has turned into "The Desert of Death", among other reasons, because Israel has neglected the "border of Peace" between her and Egypt. The time has come for Israel to take the necessary steps in order to put an end to the industry of death that operates in Sinai.

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Dr. Mordechai Kedar is an Israeli scholar of Arabic literature and a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University. He served for twenty-five years in IDF Military Intelligence, where he specialized in Islamic groups, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic press and mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.

Source: This article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel.

Translated from Hebrew to English by Sally.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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