Wednesday, September 19, 2012



Remember the movie  EXODUS.  It was about a ship of Jewish refugees trying to make it into British controlled Palestine seeking refuge.  The British did all they could to keep the refugees out.  Eventually, the story turned into to a romanticized view of the birth of the Israeli state and of zionism.

Time for a new movie.

Anyway, fast forward to an Israel today which does all it can to turn back African refugees seeking asylum at the border and when that doesn't work making life as miserable as possible for the asylum seekers....all in violation of international law.

Just a few days ago about 20 Eritrean asylum seekers were stuck and starved in a no man's land between Israel and Egypt, between the border fences.  Eventually according to authorities in Israel the refugees agreed to go back to Egypt.  What really happened was that the Eritreans were teargassed and forced with metal rods toward the Egyptian border where the border guards said they didn't want the men, but they would take the women...and rape them (ah, in some places the Israeli Jewish State and the Egyptian Muslim can find a place to cooperate).  Eventually, the Israeli's decided to take the women and "send the men away."

Israel itself never bothered to officially find out what happened to the migrants who were "sent away."  The High Court of Israel ruled against a petition filed by We Are /refugees to find out what happened to the refugees.

From +972 comes the following:

Israeli officials suggested to the press that the 18 men weren’t interested in asylum, only in work, and suggested that they “agreed” to turn themselves over to the Egyptian army. The affidavits of the three detainees, taken separately at the Saharonim detention compound and released to +972 by “We Are Refugees” attorneys, tell a very different story. The fate of the 18 men forcibly returned to the Egyptians remains unknown, and the Prime Minister’s Office has been denying request for comments on their situation and whereabouts. 

…And then they moved us to the Israeli-Egyptian border, we stayed there for eight days, the hunger and thirst were horrible, the Israelis shot gas at us twice, they shoved a long iron rod through the fence and tried pushing us away. [On the 8th day] the Israeli crossed over and pulled B., N., and me through the fence and threw the other men onto a tarp and dragged them underneath the Egyptian fence. The men had been begging for eight days and on the eighth day they didn’t have any strength to resist, they were fainting and screaming “kill me right here.”

After what we went through everything that B. told you, me and another man were the first to get to the fence. Shooting started from both sides and we started digging. The Israeli soldiers took a long piece of iron and tried pushing us away through the holes in the fence. After we tried breaking through the fence they gassed us. We held onto the fence and wouldn’t let go. When I saw them mending and closing the fence again I fainted. The Israeli soldiers gave me an infusion through the fence. Every day the Israelis said “go to your country” and the Egyptians said we’ll take the women, we don’t want the men, and indicated with their rifles that they’d rape us and spoke about the two women they’ve been raping until now. We begged the Israelis and they said we’ll take the women and let the men go back. The men said we’d rather die here than go back. The Israelis crossed the fence to our side, we scattered in fear and the Israeli soldiers lifted the fence on the Egyptian side, grabbed the men and forcefully shoved them under the fence, to the Egyptian side. The men resisted and screamed, kill us right here, but to no avail. Then they took me, B. and V. to the Israeli side.

And then we saw the fence and right away the Israeli army showed up and told us in Arabic to go back to Egypt, fired into the air and tried driving us off with an iron rod and the Egyptian soldiers said don’t come back. After two days the men tried breaking through the fence and they shot tear gas at us, our eyes burned, we started crying and begging, please save us. A general with rank insignia showed up, a car came and fixed the fence, N. fainted, they started welding the fence and it became hot and the people who were holding onto the fence had their hands burned every day they told us go to Egypt…  The Israelis heard the Egyptians threaten us women and so on Thursday, the Israelis came and said you [men] go and we’ll take the women because we fear the Egyptians will rape them, the “ranks” [officer - D.R.] said women go in and you men go, and the men said, we’ll die, take us in as well. So they started talking at them through a bullhorn, called me because I speak Arabic and D., who speaks English, and said, the men go back, the women go in. The Israelis cut the fence and crossed to our side, and told the Egyptians, come and get them, but the Egyptians wouldn’t come, so we stayed on their side. A lot of the men were unconscious, we crawled in and I saw the others go back and the Egyptian soldiers waiting. We were taken, N. was unconscious, they lifted her and took us to be checked in a military place and then we got to Saharonim.

Holy shit!

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote in an opinion piece:

This shameful incident cannot be allowed to pass quietly. The authorities must immediately launch a probe into who gave the order to treat the migrants this way - in violation of international refugee law and the international conventions Israel has signed - and punish the guilty parties. The way the High Court of Justice evaded hearing the case - first by postponing the hearing for three days, then by deciding that the issue had become moot - is also very disturbing.

In its treatment of migrants from Africa, Israel is gradually degenerating toward committing crimes against humanity. According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, such crimes include broad or systematic assaults on a civilian population. The brutal expulsion of 18 Eritreans doesn't meet this definition, but the interior minister's plan to jail tens of thousands of migrants without trial for three years or more might very well be such a crime. The state must stop this degeneration immediately.

It is bad at the border.

Guess doesn't stop there.

The following is from +972.

Mistreatment of refugees not limited to border

Although the recent incident on Israel’s southern border involving Eritrean asylum seekers received international attention, structural violence against African refugees has been going on for over five years now. It is important to remember that those who make it in face enormous difficulties due to state policies.
Earlier this month, 21 Eritrean asylum seekers, including a 14-year-old child and two women, spent over a week trapped between fences on the Israeli side of the Israeli-Egyptian border. As the temperatures soared, the group was not provided with any shelter; the “most moral army in the world” gave the refugees only small amounts of water and scraps of cloth to protect themselves from the sun.
Soldiers did not give them food and turned away the activists who tried to bring the asylum seekers something to eat.
After the two women and the child were let into Israel – where they were taken to prison – and the men were returned to Egypt, reports surfaced that the army behaved violently towards these refugees. According to the three who entered, soldiers shot tear gas at the group and used an iron pole in an attempt to push them back to Egypt. The 18 men who were returned to Egypt were returned by force.
International law prohibits states from forcibly returning asylum seekers to countries where their lives or liberty might be in danger, as does the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, to which Israel is a signatory.
While this was a dramatic example of the Israeli army’s treatment of the refugees, African refugees in Israel have faced the state’s structural violence and an increasingly hostile public for over six years.
Although small numbers of African asylum seekers have been coming to Israel since the 1980s, a tremendous majority of the 60,000 refugees who are here now have arrived since 2005. More than 80 per cent are from war-torn Sudan or Eritrea, which are gripped by brutal dictatorships. After they enter the country, usually via the Egyptian border, those who are caught are jailed without charge for an arbitrary period; when Israel needs to make way for more prisoners, the asylum seekers are dumped in south Tel Aviv and other cities.
For those bearing the scars of war, detention in Israel is traumatizing. Sunday Dieng, a 26-year-old asylum seeker, left his village in South Sudan when he was 10 years old after he saw his parents murdered by Sudanese forces. In Egypt, Dieng says, he faced racism and violence on the street. So, in 2006, he headed to Israel – only to spend his first 14 months behind bars.
“To live in jail for one year and two months for no reason … it’s terrible, it’s very difficult,” Dieng says. “It causes some damage to the [mind], because you know you didn’t do anything wrong, you didn’t do any crime.” Although Dieng was an adult when he arrived, unaccompanied minors make up a significant part of Israel’s refugee population. And those children are also detained without charge.
Once out of jail, the state either refuses to process refugees’ individual requests for asylum or arbitrarily rejects them without adequately investigating their claims. Instead, Israel gives citizens of Sudan and Eritrea group protection. So they get visas, but not work visas – forcing refugees onto the black market where they face exploitation.
Many are unable to find jobs at all and, because they do not have citizenship or residency, they do not get help from the state. South Tel Aviv’s parks are filled with homeless, emaciated refugees. Others scrape by on odd jobs and live in crowded apartments; sometimes two dozen asylum seekers will share a single room.
Their children, even those who are born here and speak fluent Hebrew, are not recognized by the state. Although they can attend municipal kindergartens and schools from the age of three, before then, their parents don’t get help paying for day-care as poor Israelis do. So they are forced to send their toddlers to cheaper, unregulated black market day-cares, places one NGO worker refers to as “storage of children”.
Mimi Hylameshesh, a single mother from Eritrea, earns approximately 2,000 Israeli shekels (about 500 US dollars) a month working as a house cleaner. Her rent is 1,500 shekels; day-care for her toddler runs another 600 shekels. What about food?
She shrugs and looks away, embarrassed. “It’s hard for me,” Hylameshesh says. But her child always eats.
When Hylameshesh doesn’t have the money, she goes without–just like those 21 refugees who spent over a week on the border.

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