LONDON — We hear so much about immigrants coming to the U.S. illegally, and the detention centers we use for them.
Last week when I was in Israel attending a cousin’s 95th birthday party, I had a chance to visit one of Israel’s former “detention” centers on that country’s northern coast. According to Wikipedia, “Many of the detainees during the 1930s and 1940s were Jewish refugees from Nazi-controlled Europe. In the late 1940s, most were Holocaust survivors.” The detention camp had been restored so Israelis could see what people had to live through. The British ran what is now Israel before it became its own country in 1948. My 95-year-old cousin was imprisoned in African by the British, and by his accounts, he was tortured.
We now know the British also developed places they could put “illegal immigrants” first in what is now Israel, and then in detention centers on the island of Cyprus.
Seeing just one detention center, now a visitor’s museum, I can only think about what current “illegal immigrants” are going through. The place I visited is called Atlit Detention Camp. The Israelis take school children there; and indeed when I was there, a school group was being taken though. What were then “illegal immigrants” were called the Ha’apala. The camp was begun in 1934 and did not end until Israel declared independence in 1948.
According to the literature we were given, over its lifetime the camp housed well over 10,000 immigrants. Many of these “illegal” immigrants were escapees from the Holocaust. Apparently, the number of people who were taken and imprisoned, then later released, was taken from the quota the British government had set for immigration into what is now Israel. They said that in 1945, there was a break into the camp by what was then a paramilitary organization, and they freed 208 people who had been labeled “illegal” immigrants. According to the camp literature, between 1945 and 1948 the “illegal” immigrants were joined by resistance fighters at the camp.
In total, there were 52,000 people who were detained in these holding centers in both Cyprus and what is now Israel. The system closed down when Israel became a county in 1948, but continued in Cyprus until it was closed down in February 1949.
It is also interesting to note Churchill did not make it easy for people to immigrate. As WWII was winding down, many Jews tried to enter what is now Israel, but according to Sir Martin Gilbert, only 12,131 were allowed to enter, which was 1,500 less than had been allowed to enter in 1944.
On the tour, we saw showers that the immigrants were forced to take, as well as clothes they were forced to give up for cleanliness purposes. Many of the immigrants must have had post-traumatic stress, as the showers could have only reminded them of the “showers” that took place in the concentration camps where many of the immigrants had been to, or/and where they had last seen their family members. We were told as many as 3,000 people lost their lives while trying to immigrate to Israel from the Holocaust, as well as from non-hospitable Arab countries. America also rigidly enforced a quota system.
What we see now with immigrants – legal or not – from Central and South America is also nothing new. Franklin D. Roosevelt is beloved, but he did two things many people don’t realize.
In 1939, he sent back the German ocean liner “St. Louis” carrying Jewish refugees, and as a result, roughly 250 people (Jews) went to their deaths in concentration camps. Roosevelt also imprisoned many American Japanese citizens in camps not dissimilar to the Atlit camp.
We don’t know what migrants to the United States, now on our borders, have suffered. We know what we are being told. Is there any reason to suspect we are not being told the truth? Could it be possible there is gang violence and people are being subject to the cruelty that we can only image? Why would someone want to leave their county, where they have family and speak the language, and come to an unknown country and an unknown language? Our low-paying jobs are not the only answer.
We tend to think of America as a place to which everyone wants to come; but like the Jews who left their homes and had family members murdered, people want safety. Maybe we should give it to them, and maybe one day we will allow these “detention” centers to be open to the public so people can really see what happened in 2018.
As we approach Christmas, one parish in England portrayed Jesus locked up and said their message is of Jesus taking care of one another. That is clearly not happening with lockups of children from migrant parents who want to come to the U.S.