Israeli Police Use Force To Stop African Asylum Seekers From Marching To Freedom
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
On Sunday, Israeli police used force to break up a three-day desert sit-in by hundreds of African asylum seekers who fled a detention center near Israel’s border with Egypt, Israeli and Western news sources reported.
The asylum seekers, most from Sudan and Eritrea, marched toward the Egyptian border, but were stopped by Israeli soldiers.
Police dragged the asylum seekers across the desert floor and onto buses, and from there returned them to the detention center in Holot, which is a tent city prison in all but name only.
Israel claims the Holot facility is a "residence" that is open, and claims that asylum seekers can come and go as they please. This, Israel insists, means it is not violating international law by housing them there.
But Holot is located about a one hour drive from the nearest town. It is operated by Israel’s prison service. Asylum seekers are mandated to be present for three daily roll calls and must sleep there each night.
“There is no medical care [in Holot], there is no decent food, and there’s nowhere to go. It’s like a prison, but they tell people it’s an open facility. This is why we have to move out of Israel and are marching for our freedom,” Hassan Shakur, a 27-year old Sudanese asylum seeker told the Christian Science Monitor by cellphone as Israeli police surrounded the asylum seekers.
Police asked the asylum seekers to get onto the buses and return to Holot. Otherwise, mounted police and police water cannon would be used to force them.
Israel’s government reportedly previously promised to consider the asylum seekers’ requests for asylum and refugee status, but then did not do so.
Israel has the worst record in thew Western world for accepting refugees. According to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, between July 2009 and August 2013, Israel approved just 26 asylum applications out of 17,194 applications – .0015%.
The African asylum seekers say the indefinite detention at Holot is being used to coerce them into accepting ‘voluntary departure’ – small grants from the Israeli government that include several thousand dollars and a flight to Uganda or Rawanda, but then face deportation into the same region where they originally fled danger and persecution.
The asylum seekers say they are pressured by Israel Prison Service employees at Holot to agree to these ‘voluntary departure’ packages. The asylum seekers note that those among them who have accepted those ‘voluntary’ packages and have returned to Africa often aren’t given residency visas in Uganda and Rawanda, despite Israeli claims that they would.
African asylum seekers have reportedly asked the United Nations to intervene to stop their mistreatment and imprisonment by Israel.
Israel signed the Convention on the Status of Refugees in 1951. The Convention is the key international treaty that governs who is a refugee, what rights they have, and states’ obligations toward them.
But since signing the Convention 63 years ago, Israel has accepted only about 200 actual refugees – as opposed to fostering and facilitating hundreds of thousands of Jews to immigrate to Israel, some of whom might have been able to get refugee status if they had sought it but most of whom likely would not.
Israel often points to its acceptance of tens of thousands of Jews from Ethiopia, some who came as refugees directly out of Sudanese refugee camps, to prove that its mistreatment of African asylum seekers is not racist.
However, Israel repeatedly refused to rescue those Ethiopian Jews and it was only the direct intervention of the US Government and a large amount of US Government funding that made the rescue of Ethiopian Jewish refugees happen. The first major rescue of Ethiopian Jewish refugees that began in late 1984 abruptly ended in the first week of 1985 after a series of Israeli government ordered leaks killed the secret US-Israeli rescue operation.
In the decades leading up to that US-led operation, Israeli political leaders – with noted exceptions of Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi, and Prime Minister Menachem Begin – were openly opposed to helping the Jewish community in Ethiopia and blocked efforts to bring them to Israel. During Begin’s government, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan without any prompting at all in a press conference revealed secret weapons transfers by the Israeli government to the Government of Ethiopia put in place by Begin to facilitate rescue of Ethiopia’s Jews.
The attempted rescue, still in its infancy, was opposed by many Israeli politicians – including a large number from Begin’s own right wing political party and from his coalition partners, including Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. That rescue was aborted by the Ethiopians as a result. Ethiopian Jews, activists for their rescue, and several close Begin aides (and, I was told by a family friend, even Dayan’s wife) believed Dayan leaked the weapons transfers intentionally in order to keep ‘schvartzes’ out of Israel – a common sentiment among politicians from all parties.
The National Religious Party, then under the leadership of Rabbi Yosef Burg, was notorious for its attempts to block the rescue of Ethiopian Jews and his close confidant and aide, Yehuda Dominitz, openly referred to Ethiopian Jews as “schvartzes” and primitives who should not be rescued or helped.
Today, Israel’s government insists that, despite their clear status as refugees under international law, most of the non-Jewish African asylum seekers in Israel are really only economic migrants – not refugees from oppression – and says its treatment of them is justified.