A friend recently alerted me to the fact that Elisheva Milikowsky, leader of Israel’s movement to save Darfurian refugees, is****coming to speak at Stanford. Admittedly, I didn’t know who this woman was – but after reading the full article about her online, I knew I had to blog about her remarkable work.
While still a 24-year-old college student (remember, Israelis must serve in the Israeli Defense Forces before going to university), Elisheva stepped up as the sole leader of her country’s movement to help Sudanese refugees seek asylum in Israel. According to Elisheva,****IDF soldiers bring hordes of African refugees, many of whom are fleeing the genocide in Darfur, to the streets of Beersheba, a the largest city in the Negev desert of southern Israel.
The Jerusalem Post describes the journey undertaken by Darfurian refugees before they reach Israel:
Months before, the family fled their home in Darfur to escape the murderous rampages of the Janjaweed, horse-mounted Muslim militiamen, and had survived the treacherous journey to Egypt. But once in Egypt, they found that – for Africans – life was almost as difficult and dangerous as it had been in Sudan.
One Darfurian refugee, Anthony Peter, 36, describes the hardships his family faced during their stay in Egypt:
“My life in Egypt was even more dangerous than my life in Sudan had been. Our lives were even more at risk and we were outsiders who everyone could identify and threaten.”****Peter said he had seen other Sudanese refugees beaten, raped, and killed by Nubian gangs operating in the refugee camps.
“I had to bribe them with a quarter of my wages each week to keep my family safe. I had to tell my wife and children to never leave the house, to always be afraid,” he said.
Peter even tried to return to Sudan, but was turned away at the border.
Fortunately, Peter decided to “take a gamble in Israel, a place he had heard of only as ‘a land of Jews’.” He recalls:
“The only thing I knew about Jews was what I heard about them in Egypt – that they were evil, that they drank blood and were killers and very cruel,” said Peter. “I thought though, that the people telling me this were also killers, so why should I believe them?”
Yet once Peter’s family was spotted by IDF soldiers at the Egyptian borders, the compassionate soldiers promptly took the refugees safely to Beersheva and left them in the responsibility of Elisheva, known as the “Angel of the Refugees” or the “Angel of the Sudanese.” Through donations and the goodwill of local Israelis, Elisheva manages to find food, housing, and clothing for the refugees until she can help them find jobs and build new lives in Israel. She also lobbies for their legal, social, and economic rights, and has helped hundreds of Sudanese refugees become full Israeli citizens.
Elisheva explains part of what compels Israelis like herself – and Jews all over the world – to make a particular commitment to helping victims of genocide, including the Muslim Africans being massacred in Darfur. Says Elisheva:
As Jews, we’d said “Never again,” [with regards to the Holocaust] but here it [genocide] was, happening again – and just like in the Holocaust, the world didn’t care.”
Indeed, Israel has taken to granting asylum – and even granting citizenship – to immigrants, legal and illegal, fleeing persecution from all over the world. Whereas most Middle-Eastern countries punish homosexuality with the death penalty by flogging or hanging, Israel is the only country in the Middle-East that provides full legal protection for gays and lesbians – including those who seek refuge from persecution in Palestine.
Anyway, for anyone with an interest in Darfur, Israel, or simply running a vast network of humanitarian aid whilst still a busy college student, **Elisheva Milikowsky will be speaking at Stanford’s Hillel Ziff Center **on Mon, Feb 1 at 7:00 PM.