Shock at fate of black refugees to Israel
Ketziot Military Prison, which holds Palestinian political prisoners and next to which Israel plans on building the closed “compound” for asylum seekers: Alternative News. At the moment, there are only tents and shipping containers, run by the Israeli Prison Service, for refugees
Immigration in Israel: African outcasts in the promised land
As African refugees are put into camps and attacked by racist gangs, Donald Macintyre reports from Tel Aviv
Donald Macintyre, Independent
June 25, 2012
Amine Zigta is not a timid man. If he was, he would not have risked his life by escaping indefinite enforced army service in Eritrea, or making the hazardous journey through Sudan and the Sinai desert to Israel. Nor would he have kept open his corner bar in south Tel Aviv after 15 local hoodlums shouting “what do you care, you black son of a bitch?” broke off table legs in March to assault him after he refused to serve teenagers below the legal drinking age. “But now,” Mr Zigta, 36, says in fluent Hebrew, “I am afraid, all the time. At night I can’t sleep. I am in danger.”
Given subsequent events, his fears are understandable. On 23 May, with a demonstration against African refugees planned for the evening, he locked up at around 4pm. Hours later, residents phoned to say demonstrators were breaking in. Mr Zigta went to two police stations for help and was still waiting at a third when he got another call to say a police patrol had finally turned up. When he arrived, he found the plate glass windows smashed by bricks, tables upturned and all his stock stolen by looters.
This month, a motorcyclist hurled a firecracker into the bar, injuring a customer. An Eritrean woman working there was threatened by two men that “her stomach would be cut open with knives”, he says. “I have been to the police but they say they can’t guard the place 24 hours.” Friendly local Israelis phone in warnings when trouble is afoot. “But then they are told: why are you helping this man?”
Mr Zigta’s experience is extreme. But otherwise he typifies the 60,000 African men and women who have crossed the still-porous Egypt-Israel border since 2005. Many of the more recent have braved kidnappings, torture and rape by their Bedouin traffickers. Of the 50,000 “infiltrators” (the official term has been condemned by the US State Department) still here, Eritreans and Sudanese cannot be deported because the dangers at home qualify them for “collective protection” under international conventions. A third group, 1,000 South Sudanese, are being deported after a court ruling that the new state is safe to return to.
But with a suspended deportation order hanging over them, the remaining African asylum-seekers are in legal limbo, unable to secure refugee status and therefore access to health and social services. Their entry documents forbid work, and though Israel’s Supreme Court has ordered the state not to enforce this, the Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, says he intends to find a way to do so. A new law permits detention of refugees for three years, and so Israel is constructing a 12,400-place desert prison camp – along with tented facilities across the country – “to house tens of thousands of infiltrators until they can be sent out of the country”, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this month. The inmates will not be allowed to work.
Until this month, when the government decided to keep new “infiltrators” in jail, refugees have been detained and screened before “conditional” release. They generally say they were humanely treated by the soldiers on arrival. It’s after that that life got difficult.
“I was shocked. I thought Israel would give us our human rights,” says Abdo Omar, 32, a university graduate who is one of around 200 Darfuris currently living at a grubby shelter rented out at a steep £2,000 a month, with sleeping bags on the floor and in corridors. Israel says that, as the nearest democracy to Africa with a first-world economy, it is uniquely vulnerable to a migrant influx. And it’s true that south Tel Aviv has replaced Calais as the highest-profile flashpoint of a global crisis, the handling of which by European countries, including Britain, has been criticised.
But it’s hard to imagine the British Home Secretary, Theresa May, say, surviving the generalisations deployed by Mr Yishai about the asylum-seekers he says have made south Tel Aviv Israel’s “garbage can”. The minister has suggested that “most” African migrants are criminals, and that many, including rapists, are HIV positive. Arguing that the refugees threaten the “Zionist dream”, he has claimed that most are Muslims. Yet official figures show that in south Tel Aviv 13.5 per cent of crimes are committed by foreigners, who make up 28 per cent of the local population. And while Health ministry experts estimate that 17 per cent of HIV sufferers are among legal and illegal foreigners, who are 3 per cent of the national population, police say only one refugee has been charged with rape. And most members of the largest single group – the 35,000 Eritreans – are Christian.
Miri Regev, a Knesset member in Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party, told the May protest that African migrants were a “cancer in our body”. That evening, rampaging demonstrators attacked Africans and ransacked businesses – including Mr Zigta’s bar. Because of the overtones of Hitler’s wartime language against the Jews, Ms Regev later apologised to Holocaust survivors (and cancer patients) but not to the Africans. Both the language and the violence were subsequently condemned by Mr Netanyahu. But Ms Regev also unwittingly touched on comparisons some liberal Israelis make with the country’s own foundation largely by refugees. Each evening, in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park, up to 500 Africans queue for a hot meal provided by Israeli volunteers.
One volunteer, Vardit Shlafy, 50, explains that her parents were also refugees – from Poland – and that her mother was saved by a Catholic priest who helped her fake an ID that would allow escape to Russia from the Nazis. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be here today. I am saying how grateful I am to that priest by doing something for others.”
Even some Israelis in south Tel Aviv express unease about the government’s policies. Shop owner Meir Yakoby has participated in “anti-infiltrator” demonstrations. Yet he employs an Eritrean worker. While he wants the refugees dispersed across the country, he says: “He has to work, he has to eat.” Israel, he acknowledges, has “not been showing a good face to the world”.
Certainly, it’s hard to see how mass detention will help. According to Sigal Rozen, of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, a non-governmental organisation, government hopes that the Eritreans (whose average asylum application success rate is 83 per cent in countries – such as those in the EU –which process them) will thus be persuaded to return home are baseless. Israel is hardly going to follow Eritrea’s example by raping inmates or torturing them in basements, she says. “No matter how they are abused, they know their own country will abuse them worse.”
Kidane Isaac, 26, an Eritrean community activist, says if he returned to his homeland he would face torture or even execution after escaping from the army and then from jail. He says the Eritreans are increasingly “nervous about the general atmosphere because of the new campaign against refugees”. Of Israel’s “right-wing government” he says: “They are forgetting their own history.”
Migrants from Sudan and Eritrea beaten, robbed and threatened with deportation
By Abayomi Azikiwe, Pan-African News Wire
June 25, 2012
Since late May the rising animosity toward African migrants in Israel has reached a boiling point. After months of anti-African speeches in the Knesset and the cabinet of Binyamin Netanyahu, mobs began to attack Sudanese, Ethiopians and Eritreans in south Tel Aviv.
People were beaten on the streets, and their businesses were looted amid calls for the banning and deportations of Africans. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other Israeli politicians have likened migrant workers and small businesspeople from Africa to a “cancer” within society.
On June 4 four people were taken to a hospital suffering from burns and smoke inhalation after their home was firebombed in Jerusalem. The arson attack took place at 3:00 a.m. in a two-story building in a poor neighborhood close to the Mahane Yehuda market (Alarabiya.net, June 4).
It was reported that about 18 people lived in the building where the fire was started in a narrow entrance corridor. Outside the building, racists had painted, “Get out of the neighborhood.”
Violence given official support
These attacks against African migrants are by no means spontaneous but are taking place within a broader political context. The state of Israel, founded on the racist and imperialist notions of entitlement to the land of Palestine, has for decades engaged in massacres, imprisonment and forced removals of the Arab population.
On May 23 a rally in Tel Aviv of 1,000 people was addressed by several leading Israeli politicians, many of whom are members of the ruling Likud Party of Netanyahu. The speakers, accusing African migrants of criminal activity and of taking employment opportunities from Israelis, worked the crowd into an agitated state.
Likud Member of Parliament Miri Regev told the crowd: “The infiltrators are a cancer in our body. The infiltrators must be expelled from Israel! Expulsion now!” (Press TV, May 29).
Later mobs carrying sticks and stones began to rampage through areas populated by African migrants. The crowds shouted, “Blacks Out!” and “Infiltrators, get out of our homes.”
In addition to the vandalism and looting of shops operated and frequented by Africans, two men sitting in a vehicle were assaulted while their car was smashed up. The mobs claim that Africans have disrupted their lives and neighborhoods by threatening Israeli women with sexual assaults and stealing.
Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai told the army radio station in an interview, “We must put all these infiltrators behind bars in detention and holding centers, then send them home because they come and take work from Israelis.”
It has been estimated that up to 60,000 African migrants have entered the state of Israel from Egypt since the collapse of the Hosni Mubarak regime 15 months ago. The migrants say they are fleeing the unstable political situations in Sudan and the Horn of Africa where drought, food deficits and Western-backed internal conflicts have created massive dislocation of civilian populations.
On June 3 the Israeli government put into effect a law passed by the Knesset in January that allows for the detention of African migrants for up to three years. Israeli officials say the new law will both discourage migration and provide a legal mechanism for the detention and mass deportation of Africans.
After the mob attacks on May 23, Netanyahu stressed, “The problem of the infiltrators must be solved and we will solve it.” Interior Minister Yishai, who is a member of another right-wing party, the ultra-orthodox Shas, said that the Africans are a threat to the character of Israeli society.
“The infiltrators, along with the Palestinians, will quickly bring us to the end of the Zionist dream. We don’t need to import more problems from Africa,” Yishai said in reference to the burgeoning economic problems in Israel which have sparked demonstrations over the last year by the settler population.
Israel is feeling the impact of the world economic crisis. The Israeli state is based upon the maintenance of a settler population, sustained by government subsidies for housing and social welfare needs. With the overall decline in the manufacturing and service sectors, unemployment and lack of housing have created tensions between the settler population and their government based in Tel Aviv.
Yishai also said of the Africans, “Most of those people arriving here are Muslims who think the country doesn’t belong to us, the white man.” Another right-wing politician, Aryeh Eldad, encouraged the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to shoot on sight Africans attempting to cross the border into the Zionist state (Reuters, June 3).
Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said of the Africans, “Most of those people arriving here are Muslims who think the country doesn’t belong to us, the white man.”
There are already detention facilities for migrants on the border with Egypt that are overflowing with inmates. Reports indicate that these prisons where migrants are held prior to deportation can house up to 5,000 people.
Nonetheless, the Israeli government approved the construction of another prison for migrants last year. The prison was approved at the same time that plans were made to build a $167 million fence on the border with Sinai, ostensibly to keep out African immigrants as well as revolutionaries who may be engaging in attacks against the Israeli state.
Continuing the legacy of racism and forced removals
Many longtime observers of the state of Israel are not surprised at the latest outbreak of violence against African migrants. Although the rationale for such attacks is supposedly based on the lack of legal immigration documents by Africans from Sudan and Eritrea, similar acts of discrimination are carried out against Ethiopian Jews who were airlifted into the settler state during the 1980s.
A drought and famine struck the country in 1984-85, during the Ethiopian Revolution. The Soviet Union supplied planes to relocate people to areas where relief could be provided while the Israeli government targeted the Ethiopian Jewish population for immigration to occupied Palestine.
However, these Ethiopians have suffered discrimination since arriving in Israel. Evidence of such racism occurred during the mob violence in Tel Aviv on May 23, when Hananya Vanda, a Jewish Israeli of Ethiopian origin, was attacked by racists who later said they “did not know he was Jewish” (Gulf Today, June 4).
Nearly 65 years after the establishment of the Zionist state, millions of Palestinians remain in refugee camps in and outside of their national homeland. The United States government and ruling class subsidizes the Israeli rulers with billions of dollars in annual aid as well as sophisticated military and intelligence equipment and technologies.
The state of Israel serves as the most important outpost for U.S. imperialism in the Middle East. Last year at the United Nations General Assembly, President Barack Obama urged the Palestinian Authority not to seek recognition as a legitimate state and to return to the negotiating table with Israel. Since the failed Oslo Agreements, no progress has been made in these negotiations in nearly two decades.
The Palestinian enclave of Gaza remains the largest open-air prison in the world. The IDF periodically engages in aerial strikes on the people of Gaza, killing civilians on a near-daily basis.
The elimination of racism and discrimination in Israel will not take place until the territory is liberated from U.S.-backed Zionist rule. The entire political and economic fabric of the state is based on oppression and exploitation. The recent instances of racist violence directed against African migrants provide an even greater opportunity for unity between the Arab and African populations throughout the region.
Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of Pan-African News Wire, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pan-African News Wire, the world’s only international daily pan-African news source, is designed to foster intelligent discussion on the affairs of African people throughout the continent and the world.
Sign the petition
Nunu Kidane of Priority Africa Network writes: “This petition has been put together by organizations working on immigrants’ rights and racial justice – among them the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and Priority Africa Network. We ask you to sign it in support of the refugees and asylum seekers who are under racist attack in Israel. The petition is available here:
“And you can also get updates and information on the situation from this blog site .”
Plan to keep migrants away from and out of the cities was triggered by a recent spate of protests and attacks against African migrants in Israel, particularly in southern Tel Aviv
By Gili Cohen, Ha’aretz
June 12, 2012
Dozens of bulldozers have sped up construction of a detention center for African migrants in Ketziot, near the Egypt-Israel border. The compound, built by Defense Ministry, is dubbed “Ir Amim” (City of Nations ).
“We’re building the Sudanese a political asylum,” a tractor driver said. “We’re building roads and structures, setting up a sort of neighborhood.”
The government plan to keep migrants away from and out of the cities was triggered by a recent spate of protests and attacks against African migrants in Israel, particularly in southern Tel Aviv.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who ordered a quick and efficient response to the question of Israel’s migrants, was shown the plan for the detention centers in the south last Thursday.
Yet officials say the Ketziot detention center will not be completed in time to incarcerate the migrants whom the Immigration Police have been rounding up as of this week. The facility also will not be large enough to accommodate all the migrants.
The prison facility is initially planned to accommodate some 3,000 inmates. Inmates will stay in shipping containers turned into mobile homes, which “will be structures, for all intents and purposes, not crude shipping containers,” a ministry official said.
At a later stage, additional structures will be set up for another 8,000 migrants.
“We want to ensure that all the migrants entering Israel will be placed in the detention center,” a Defense Ministry official said. “The plan is intended to reduce people’s motivation to come to Israel. They won’t be taken to Tel Aviv in a coach but to a compound in the south,” he said.
The ministry said it expects to complete the facility’s first stage by the end of the year and begin placing migrants there in November.
However, since an estimated 2,000 migrants enter Israel a month, the facility will not be sufficient to hold them all, officials said.
A few days ago, the Defense Ministry said it would erect 20,000-25,000 tents for African migrants at various detention centers by the end of the year. Ministry officials said each migrant will have a 4.5-square-meter space, even in the tents.
The tents are to be set up in five different detention centers over the course of a few months. Once built, the centers will be run by the Prison Service.
The first tent-city will be built on the ruins of an old army base several kilometers south of Ketziot. The site already has a cement foundation suitable for tent floors.
The ministry intends to build another tent city near a permanent detention facility.
Although thousands of people are to live in the tents, no apparent sewage system exists there.
The ministry’s engineers, who have been setting up infrastructure systems in the area, had planned to use vaporization pools as a temporary sewage system for thousands of migrants. But now, with tens of thousands of people expected, the government will have to build a sewage treatment plant in the area. This is expected to take many months.
People in the area already suffer from an irregular power supply, some residents told Haaretz. This is expected to be even worse once an additional “city” is erected among the isolated communities.
Ramat Negev Regional Council head Shmuel Rifman said he objects to building the tent cities, which the ramshackle infrastructures in the region – especially the sewage, power and water systems – will not be able to sustain.
“Setting up a tent city simply looks bad. You take people from south Tel Aviv, stick them in tents in the middle of the desert, and now [I’m supposed] to look after them,” he said.
“I’m told it’s temporary, but in Israel the transient becomes permanent. There is no reason Ramat Negev should take all the failures resulting from years of negligence in dealing with the migrants,” Rifman said.