A side note for normalization of relations between Somalia and Israel.
Somalia came into my life while I was living in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul. I had been recruited on a Bush Fellowship to the University of Minnesota for my doctorate in Islamic Literature in 1978 focusing on the Golden Age of Medieval Spain and its convivencia – the coexistence of the three Abrahamic Faiths.
I lived in the Twin Cities until 2008. During this time, beginning in the 1990s I began to notice an influx of Somali refugees to the State of Minnesota. Over the years I have developed increasing ties with Somalia as it has become dearer to me than ever.
Several weeks ago, I had tweeted about hoping for normalization of relations between Israel and Somalia. Prior to the tweet, I had been working on normalization of relations with Pakistan by means of citizen diplomacy and continue to do so. It’s been an amazing learning experience. It suddenly dawned on me that my newly acquired knowledge might also be helpful for Somali-Israeli relations. The subject of normalization is currently under discussion in the Somali Parliament – the issue is on the table. Members of both governments have been meeting behind closed doors over the years and others have also been enhancing business opportunities.
But what of the average citizen? There is so much that we can do to move the ball forward. Civic societies must be mutually prepared for such a relationship. If not, relations will remain fragile at best and not as optimally beneficial. Much good will come of normalization between Israel and Somalia, especially now as the Abraham Accords are in place. What could be better than to lend a hand to a country being ravaged by drought and starvation and still plagued by terrorism? These are areas of Israeli know how. See for example.
Similarly, there is much that Somalia and its peoples can teach us – about the Horn and its diverse cultures, its resilience, etc. It is a two-way street, mutually enhancing. I recently tweeted about the ElAl flight that flew over Somalia for 65 minutes that normalization is a dynamic evolving process and it is happening now between Israel and Somalia on the ground and in the air.
Jewish roots in Somalia
In 2007 a young Somali in Mogadishu came out blogging that he was Jewish, born and raised there like his mother and father. This caused me to write a book on the subject, cf. The Last Two Jews of Mogadishu Living Under Al Shabaab’s Fire,
Normalization would allow us to deepen our shared history that is yet to be discovered, for example in terms of archeology.
The 80 Somali refugees in Israel around 2006
Back in 2007 when I was still living in Minnesota, I had been told in passing that Israel had given asylum to 80 Somalis. This was at the time when many Eritreans and other Africans were making the long perilous trek to Israel seeking asylum. In the case of the Somali refugees, some were albinos. Had they been sent back to the Horn; they would have been ritually murdered. I shutter at the thought. Furthermore, since Israel does not have relations with Somalia, to where could they have been resettled? I do not know the specific reasons for the granting of asylum concerning the other Somalis.
July 2022 – A Twitter message: Why is there a Somali flag painted on an Israeli school wall?
Good question. . . The text message was from a fellow Horn of Africa refugee who resettled on the East Coast in the United States. He had been surfing on Flickr and was astounded to see a Somali flag painted on the wall of the Bialik-Rogozin Campus here in Tel Aviv. There is also a Somali flag on their Facebook page, here.
The Bialik-Rogozin Campus is a very special place where the children of migrant workers study. For a good read about the school written by Dina Kraft in 2019, click here. In this article she notes that the children’s parents come from 51 countries which are represented by the different flags. My fellow Flickrer and I assumed, yet we did not know for certain if this flag meant that there were students whose parents were from Somalia. The school is still on summer break so we do not know for certain if this is the case. Back in 2007 there were as yet no children according to a Somali contact I have.
I also turned to the African Refugee Development Center, in the hopes of obtaining more information. The ARDC worker with whom I spoke was not aware of the fact that Israel had given asylum to 80 Somali refugees. The ARDC worker wondered if maybe some present themselves as Eritrean in order to fit in more easily. The ARDC was interested too in the matter.
A follow-up on this subject is a delicate matter: Concerns for family left behind
Nevertheless, such a follow-up might be a sensitive issue to delve into because for some Somalis to come forward and speak about their experiences, could perhaps put their families at risk. Coincidentally, because of my work on Pakistan, this exact same issue also came up. An expat Pakistani Jew living in America was reluctance to get involved in normalization on account of his remaining family in Pakistan.
We are more alike than we are different
Somalia and Israel have a deep interconnected history. These 80 Somali refugees constitute only one story of many. With the Somali flag “waving” on the wall of the Bialik-Rogozin Campus School, I like to imagine that there are now children who carry this special legacy forward, deepening the ties between Somalia and Israel. In all my work on Somalia I have found that the Somali people share many things in common: af-Somali Semitic Cushitic language, being polyglots, a global diaspora, the love to do a business deal, hospitality, the importance of family, sharp wit – and admittedly the love for proverbs.
We even share the color “blue” with a star in the middle of our respective flags.
We both look skyward to the heavens to the G-d of Abraham, to Allah of Ibrahim. Let us hope that there will be normal governmental ties sooner than later. In the meantime, let the good people of Somalia know that Israel sheltered 80 of their own in a time of crisis.
Iskaashato ma Kufto (If people support each other, they do not fall).