“In May of this year, I went on a hunger strike for 45 days in front of the White House and the United Nations,” Simon Deng told me on Monday, Nov. 16, as we walked up College Avenue toward Murray Hall, where he would be speaking. He was referring to his seeking of global intervention over the 28 new states that South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit wishes to implement in South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation. He explained to me that the creation of 28 new states has divided and torn apart many communities that were living peacefully amongst each other for ages, and are now suffering the continuation of war. Simon Deng, a native of southern Sudan and a victim of child slavery, is a leading human rights activist. He now lives in the United States and speaks about his life story.
Several organizations on campus, including the Black Student Union, Hillel’s Scarlet Knights for Israel and Alpha Epsilon Pi brought Deng to campus with the support of CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America). The focus of his visit was to speak about Southern Sudanese finding refuge in Israel. Their flight to Israel started after they began demonstrating outside of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ offices in Cairo in 2005, where Egyptian police killed 28 asylum seekers. Deteriorating asylum conditions and a lack of solutions for the refugees left them no choice but to migrate to Israel for hopes of a better life. “Refugees from Southern Sudan chose one place to go — Israel. It was heaven to them. In Egypt, they were being confronted by the same atrocities that they were facing in Sudan. In Israel, they were seen not as refugees, but as human beings.” Deng stated his strong support for Israel, appreciating its efforts to help the South Sudanese find safety and continue their lives. Israel refused to go so far as to turn away refugees. Rather, the government implemented opportunities for the refugees to become self-sufficient by attaining work permits. With the help of several Jewish friends, Deng visited Israel more than eight times to makes sure that the Sudanese problems were being met by Israel.
In response to the false claims that some people make about Israel being “apartheid,” Deng threw up his hands in exasperation, stating, “I was in South Africa four times, studied what Africa was doing to the black peoples at that time — there is no comparison. I would be the first person to call Israel an Apartheid State (if it were true).” He even went so far as to personally tell Natan Sharansky, an Israeli politician and human rights activist, to protect his land for the Jewish community.
Deng also made sure to call the UN out on the double standard that it holds Israel against. He asked the students where in the world, besides the U.S., refugees would be allowed in, given permission to move freely and even given the opportunity to present their cases to the Supreme Court. Nowhere, except for Israel. He stated that while the South Sudanese were being murdered in Egypt, the “do-nothing UN” stood by silently. “I know what it means to be in the hands of the government where my people are being enslaved. Nothing is being done to condemn the countries that eradicate the black peoples.”
Deng’s final piece of advice for student human rights activists was to be realistic, and not to turn a blind eye when one is being bullied. “This is what is happening to Israel. It is through you and me that change can happen.” Let’s make change happen for the better, for all of us.