Wednesday, January 08, 2014


The scene should hugely embarrass all Israelis and all the Jewish (and other) supporters of the State.  The scene is that of tens of thousands of African immigrants demonstrating, demanding to be treated as human beings within a State that claimed to be a state created as a safe haven for immigrants.  The lie is exposed for all to see.

All across Israel African refugees are protesting and marching, setting up camp in public squares and in front of embassies and government offices striving to receive attention from the international community in hopes that it might help push Israelis to do what they have not done, hoping it will provide them the opportunity to live in peace within Israel.

The African Globe, however, points out:

Israel does not want them, and last year it completed a formidable fence on the Egyptian border that’s doing an effective job of keeping what Israelis call “illegal infiltrators” from reaching the Promised Land. 

If Israel acted according to its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention — which, as a freshly minted nation of refugees, Israel played a significant role in creating — the government would review the individual claims of refugees, and either designate them officially as refugees or send them back home, provided they do not face persecution there.

The problem is that most of the refugees are from Sudan, where simply entering Israel carries a 10-year prison sentence, or Eritrea, where the threat of retaliation to returnees is regarded as so real that in countries where their claims are viewed, 90% of pleas for asylum are granted, according to human-rights groups. So rather than deport the 50,000, Israel is making life uncomfortable for them — sending thousands to a remote desert concentration camps, where they are locked down at night and must report for roll call three times a day.

“This means in effect indefinite detention,” the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees complained on Monday in a statement. The agency scolded Israel for calling them “illegal infiltrators” rather than “asylum seekers” and said Israel’s “current policy and practices create fear and chaos among asylum seekers, not taking into account their specific situation.”

On Wednesday the protest came to the Knesset where 10,000 migrants demonstrated "in a quest for recognition as refugees and freedom to work legally without fear of incarceration." 

“I want to say to them that they should not fear us, we are human beings too,” a tall, slim 25-year-old man from Eritrea, who gave his name only as Mulugieta, told Reuters.

The Forward reports:

Mulugieta said he fled Eritrea six years ago, fearing that his criticism of its rulers had put him in danger.
“We asked for shelter, we do not deserve jail,” read one of many large banners in a park opposite the Israeli Knesset as the crowd demonstrated against Israel’s refusal to grant them refugee status.
“Being black is not a crime,” another sign said.

The Forward adds:

 David Grossman, a writer identified with the Israeli left-wing, told the protesters that the Jewish state’s treatment of the migrants was shameful. 

“I look at you now … I feel embarrassed and ashamed,” Grossman said in English. 

Other speakers gave speeches in Hebrew, English, Arabic and Tigrigna. They called on the government to revoke a recently passed legislative amendment that provides for their imprisonment, stop arresting asylum seekers, release those in detention and recognize them as refugees.

Eight asylum seekers who had arranged to meet with MKs Michal Rozin of Meretz and Dov Khenin of Hadash were denied entry to the parliament building, after Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein agreed to a request by LikudMK Miri Regev, known for her vehement opposition to the presence of the asylum seekers in Israel to keep them out.  Haaretz reports:

Edelstein’s decision to bar the representatives of the protesters was in response to a demand by Likud MK Miri Regev, who sent Edlestein a letter saying that letting the Africans in would “demonstrate disrespect toward the Knesset and infringe on the rule of law.” She also said it would give “a tail wind to the struggle against Israel, intended to harm Israel’s image and portray it as a state that violates human rights.”

MK Michal Rosin (Meretz) responded and said, 
“This is a narrow-minded decision on the speaker’s part, in response to unenlightened MKs who want to spread incitement against the asylum-seekers,” Rosin said at a news conference. Communication and discussion are the heart of democracy. We see here a serious deterioration of Israeli democracy in preventing MKs from meeting people they want to talk to. That’s all they’ve asked for – to talk.”

Richard Silverstein writing at the blog Tikun Olam says:

Tonight I am proud and ashamed at the same time.  Earlier today, 30,000 African refugees and their Israeli supporters massed in Rabin Square demanding that Israel treat them as human beings and accord them basic rights guaranteed under international law.  They do this in the face of rampant Israeli racism fomented by the ugliest ranting of elected officials who call them a “cancer.”  They do this in the face of fevered pogrom-like nights of violence in the poor neighborhoods of Tel Aviv; despite arbitrary sweeps by Israeli border police who arrest first and ask questions later (or never).  They do this in the face of concentration camps set up to accept prisoners for indeterminate periods and offering no right to legal redress.  They do this in the face of Israeli legal officials who refuse to use the names of the refugees in court documents, referring to them instead by their official numbers.

So I am proud of both the refugees and their supporters inside Israel.  I am proud that despite an overwhelming rush of racist rhetoric from the large majority of Israelis, they haven’t backed down.  They haven’t given up on democracy even if most of their fellow citizens have.  This is a tough row to hoe.

But on the other hand, I am ashamed of headlines like this one from Yediot, which describe the protesters as “infiltrators conquering Rabin Square.”  Two bits of explanation of the Hebrew: “infiltrator” is the name historically given after 1948 to the Arabs who attempted to return to Israel after Nakba.  You could either be an ‘infiltrator’ if you planned a terror attack; or if you were a refugee attempting to reclaim your property.  It is a word replete with furtiveness, fear, and hatred.  The word I translated as “conquered” usually means “occupied.”  In this case occupied would be a more apt translation.  But I wanted to also connote the sense of hostility the word conveys toward the demonstrators.  They are both occupying the square, but also potentially usurping Israeli Jews of their own territory.

The sub-title adds further to this sense when it calls the refugees an “existential problem.”  Usually, Iran is referred to in common Israeli parlance as an ‘existential threat.’  But in this case, the rising tide of African refugees is such a threat because they aren’t external as Iran is.  They are within Israel and therefore pose even more of a danger.  Imagine a nation most of whose inhabitants believe their state is, and must be Jewish.  Now imagine 65,000 non-Jews streaming into it from the dark, fetid south–from the heart of Africa.  It’s a colonizer’s worst nightmare.  The black hordes.  How can we stop them?

That’s why racist ranters like Miri Regev have become political celebrities with their chants of hate against these displaced people.  If it brings any echo of others who’ve ranted against foreigners in their midst and engaged in acts of mass violence against them–it should.  Let’s leave it at that.

Finally, the picture that really makes my blood boil is the convoy of Israeli police skunk trucks filled with noxious liquids meant to be sprayed at unruly mobs (almost always Palestinian).  I’m sorry that many of you don’t remember the newsreels of Alabama Sheriff Bull Connor siccing his fire hoses and German shepherds on African-Americans demanding their civil rights in 1962.  That’s what a skunk truck means to me.

Here’s how this works: first they treat Palestinians like non-people; then come the African refugees; followed by the unruly Israeli left; and then, after it’s too late, they’ll treat everyone including the Jews as sub-human.  By then, as Pastor Niemoller wrote, it will be too late.

May I add that, of course, Israel is far from alone in the atrocious and racist treatment of migrants.  We don't need to move too far from Israel to see  Saudi Arabian police beating Ethiopian migrants protesting against the kidnapping and rapes of Ethiopian women by young Saudi men.

 More than 100,000 Ethiopians expelled from Saudi Arabia since the kingdom began deporting illegal migrants in November.  The African Globe says,

At least 115,465 Ethiopians have been repatriated, according to the International Organization for Migration, or IOM. Hundreds of thousands of Asian migrants are also being deported from the oil-producing nation, which was home to about 9 million foreign workers in a population of 29.9 million, according to Saudi government statistics.

 Ethiopians said Saudi citizens armed with sticks, machetes and firearms attacked Ethiopians in Manfouha on Nov. 9, according to Human Rights Watch. 
One 30-year-old witness saw the bodies of two Ethiopians who’d been beaten to death and one who’d been shot, it said. Another had a video that “appeared” to show a Saudi man raping an Ethiopian woman, the advocacy group said Dec. 1 in an e-mailed statement.
Mohammed Shime was near the area’s Al Rajhi Bank after a Saudi man was killed in clashes. The 22-year-old says he saw six Ethiopians stabbed to death when they fought back against Saudi youth — shabaab in Arabic — who arrived in cars.
“Four come to you and start cutting you and asking for your phone,” he said in an interview in Addis Ababa. “Then other shabaab come with their knives shouting ‘Allahu Akbar.’”

Abuse, mental, physical and sexual are common complaints among African domestic workers in the Kingdom.   Ethiopia temporarily stopped issuing permits for unskilled work abroad in October, mainly because of mistreatment. “The returning migrants are arriving in desperate condition,” the Geneva-based IOM said in an e-mailed statement. “They are traumatized, tired, anxious and some seriously sick.”

The following personal story is from Mondoweiss.

NOTE: Because of some of the comments I have seen regarding my piece on various sites and facebook pages, I must now include the following.  I am not surprised that I do.

 I would point out, however, for all those who want to pretend that Israel is somehow unique in its treatment of immigrants that they are blind. The truth is about the only countries that treat immigrants worth a shit are countries where no one is trying to get into. I did point this out in my intro and it is also why I included the part on Saudi Arabia. I know there are people who will pretend this sort of crap is unique to Israel, but tell it to immigrants in the USA, in Sweden, in France, in Germany, in the Gulf States, anywhere. However, no is excused of being an asshole because the guy next to him is an asshole. Again this does not excuse the actions of a State which should really understand what it means to be a "stranger." It merely makes it even more sad...

‘We need rights as refugees’: African asylum seeker on why he’s marching to Jerusalem

Filman Abraham. (Photo: Allison Deger)
Filman Abraham. (Photo: Allison Deger)
Two weeks ago on Christmas day I was on my way to a political meeting with other African asylum seekers when I saw unmarked cars and buses pull into a dim parking lot beside Levinsky Park. Men dressed in plain clothes stopped every African on the Tel Aviv street and asked for their paper work. In Israel even though we who fled conflict do not have refugee status, we have conditional release orders, a temporary license that allows staying in Israel legally, but not working or seeking medical care.
The men identified themselves as being from the Ministry of Immigration. They asked for the Africans’ paperwork, to show that their conditional release orders were up to date. We have to renew these documents every three months and the original, which they also wanted, is big, so most of us keep it at home. On that day everyone who did not have the original was arrested. They did not even ask if the people they were arresting were fathers, or had families, nothing.
My friend Ahron and I were standing in the middle of Neve Sha’anan Street, the center of culture for refugees and immigrants Israel. Some of these plain clothed men asked for Ahron and my identification documents. Ahron’s had an appointment the next day to re-new his papers. The men separated from me. I followed them and they took him to a corner in the parking lot where border police shoved him into a car. I saw other Africans in the car, Sudanese and Eritreans.
When we, Sudanese and Eritreans came, we came from the same direction. Through the Sinai we entered Israel together and now live in the same neighborhood and we face the same problems. Now the Israeli government is jailing refugees that were once living freely, with documents of non-removal inside of the cities. Israel placed theses people here, and now they are rounding them up.
The immigration authorities then took Ahron to jail in Ramle. I’ve talked to him twice, but I haven’t heard from him since two days after his arrest.
When I first entered Israel in 2011 from Eritrea, I crossed the desert border at four in the morning. There were 29 people with me. The Egyptian army shot at us. It looked like war. But everyone entered safely. At six or seven in the morning Israeli soldiers met us and took us to an army camp. They asked if any among us were hurt and if we needed to go to the hospital. They were really, really nice and that gave us hope.
Me, I went to the hospital because barbed wire was stuck in my leg. The next day I went to an army detention camp. After 15 days I was questioned: where are you from? How did you come here? Were you robbed in Sinai? Then I was given a document in Hebrew that they told me said I entered the country illegally. I signed it then I got my conditional release paperwork and one free bus ticket from Beersheva to Tel Aviv.
When I got to Tel Aviv it was winter and raining. My leg still hurt. The bus driver told us to walk to Levinsky Park. No one on the bus knew where the park was, or that it was where Israel was dumping refugees. We asked Israeli people on the street in English where was the park and no one answered us. Finally we saw an Ethiopian man. We saw his kipa, but we thought our chance was fifty-fifty because he worked at the bus station. We formed a circle around him and said, “please, please show us where the park is, because we only feel safe to talk to you.”
From the next month I lived in the park. The cut in my leg got infected. I used to clean it from a water fountain. One day I was sitting on a sofa in the garden and a man approached me and he offered that I could sleep in his area. He gave me two blankets. Now he’s back in Sudan, because he hated the life in Levinsky Park. He felt it was worse than Sudan because people looked at him like he was a slave.
Today I live in an apartment in Florentin, a bohemian neighborhood that separates the refugees from Israeli society. I have a job, I’m a community organizer with the Eritrean community, and I am a volunteer translator for an Israeli elementary school. But always I’m suffering because since Christmas I can no longer renew my conditional release order. Quietly, in December, maybe the 15th of the month, I don’t know, Israeli police began arresting people in the street like my friend Ahron. And even inside of the Ministry of Interior, when African people line up to renew their paperwork, the Israeli police pull up buses and take us to jail. For those that get to meet with someone from the government, instead of having their residency permits renewed they are given something we call “the white paper,” which is a summons to show up at prison.
I escaped from danger in Eritrea. I escaped through danger in the Sinai. I thought finally now in Israel I will get rest. But now I feel differently. I feel the story of danger is returning again. I saved myself once, but now I have to do it again. So tomorrow I am going to Jerusalem in front of the Knesset to ask for my right to asylum by a fair and transparent process.

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