Summer’s over but worldwide trouble spots rage on. The influx into Arizona of Central American migrants fleeing violence, the ongoing turmoil in Ukraine, and the Israel-Gaza conflict were the subjects of an educational forum on Sept. 10, hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. More than 100 people attended the event at the Tucson Jewish Community Center.
Panelists Perla Trevizo, the border reporter at the Arizona Daily Star; Tom Price, a former U.S. diplomat and adjunct instructor at the University of Arizona; and Asher Susser, a visiting professor at the University of Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, answered questions following their presentations.
More Central American mothers and children are crossing the U.S. border than ever before. Through August, the U.S. Border Patrol counted just over 66,000 unaccompanied minors for fiscal 2014, plus another 66,000 children entering the United States with one or both parents. To document the process of family reunification, Trevizo accompanied one Guatemalan woman and her daughter from Tucson on a bus to reunite with relatives in Dover, Del.
“Oftentimes we simplify the reasons why migrants come here,” Trevizo told the JCC audience. “It’s not just economics or poverty or violence. It’s much more complicated than just one issue,” and the fact that many of the migrants don’t speak English, complicates things further.
“The [U.S.] government can’t detain women and their children with the general population” of detainees, she said, adding that there are only two permanent detention centers for women and children, one in Pennsylvania and one in Texas. In Tucson, the migrants have been released at bus stations, often without housing (see http://azjewishpost.com/ ?p=31698).
Instead of government facilities, for-profit companies now have contracts to hold Central American women and children migrants in makeshift detention centers — often trailers, says Trevizo. “They’re not behind bars but are confined to those trailers. As many as 400,000 detainees have been waiting for years” before their fate is determined in immigration courts. The closest makeshift detention center to Tucson is in Artesia, N.M., about 200 miles from El Paso, Texas.
Trevizo recently attended two immigration hearings, one for a woman from Honduras and one from El Salvador. Both women were granted asylum because they were victims of domestic abuse, which, she said, is true for around 50 percent of the migrant women.
While people coming from Central America want a safe haven in the United States, Ukrainians caught in battles with Russia want to remain safe within their homeland. “My bias is learning about history to understand what’s going on today,” Price told attendees. In the 14th century, “Moscow declared itself to be the third and final Rome” based on the growing strength of imperialist Russia busily building an empire by conquering the Caucuses, Balkans and Muslim countries in Central Asia.
In 1654, the Treaty of Pereyaslav subjected Ukraine to Russian rule forever. By the turn of the 20th century, the Ukrainian city of Odessa “had the third largest Jewish population in the world after Warsaw and New York City,” said Price. “Everybody in Odessa communicated in Yiddish.”
In the early 20th century, the author Sholem Aleichem lived and wrote in Ukraine and died in New York. “He was so popular worldwide that when he died 120,000 people came to his funeral, much more than at Joan Rivers,’” quipped Price.
Russian Prime Minister Putin sees himself as the last leader of the Russian Empire, exemplified by the swift Russian annexation of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in March, Price said, adding, “I have no idea why the world didn’t respond more strongly” to Crimea’s plight. Many now fear that Odessa, another Black Sea port, may be in danger of Russian aggression.
The Ukrainian government in Kiev “has gotten weak and has been corrupt since independence” in 1991, said Price. “It has not set a good example for human rights. Many don’t like Putin but don’t like the government in Kiev either. They’re between the devil and the deep blue sea.”
As far as the incessant conflict between Israel and Gaza, in “Israel, Hamas and the Palestinians: Is There a Resolution?” Susser attempted to place this summer’s events in the larger Middle East region’s perspective.
“We’re creating a Middle East that’s very different from what our founding fathers envisioned,” he told the audience. “We were surrounded by countries more powerful than us in 1948. The Arabs outnumbered us. There was Soviet militarism. There was great anxiety. The reason why Israel went nuclear was because of this pessimistic assumption that Israel wouldn’t be able to stand up. The Arab states have gotten weaker and weaker than they were in the ’50s. The Arab Spring was an explosion of this crisis in the Arab world. They’re not as threatening to Israel anymore. It’s now Hamas and ISIS.”
In Israel’s early years, maintaining its security was based on quick action to defeat the enemy. But this “isn’t true anymore. It’s difficult for the Israeli public to [understand] that Israel can fight Hamas for 50 days and still have to keep fighting them,” explained Susser. “The enemy we’re fighting is much weaker than Israel. But it’s harder to deter non-state actors. There are no decisive victories anymore.”
The Palestinians in Gaza “desire normality too,” he said. Meanwhile, it will take five to 10 years to rebuild Gaza. Would Israel accept the reconstruction of Gaza for non-rearmament? “It won’t work. Hamas won’t willingly accept demilitarization. Will it be possible to impose restrictions on what goes in and out of Gaza, through Israel and Egypt? Maybe with the help of the EU.”
Egypt is more openly against Hamas than Israel is, said Susser. “They don’t want Hamas. They want to see Israel pulverize Hamas. The Saudis would like to see Iran” as less of a player in the region.
Susser raised other possibilities for the future of the region, including part of the northern Sinai put aside for Palestinian refugees. “That would be good,” he said.
At the same time, said Susser, Israel must make it clear that if it can’t get non-rearmament from Hamas “Israel must make it known to all,” that it wouldn’t hesitate to make “a pre-emptive strike to prevent Gaza from attacking it yet again. There aren’t any great options. The one historical reason for Israel is to be a nation-state for the Jewish people. We must do what’s best for that.”