Saturday, October 19, 2013

Video: Israel's New Racism: The Persecution of African Migrants in the Holy Land

Dear friends,
for the last couple of years, Israeli journalist David Sheen has been documenting the increasing racism inside Israel against African migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.  Currently, according to the Israeli Interior Ministry there is to 55,000 undocumented workers and asylum seekers from Africa inside the Zionist state.

Please find below Sheen's latest video, produced in collaboration with American Jewish activist and author, Max Blumenthal.  Blumenthal has noted in an article on Electronic Intifada, that their report was initially commissioned by the New York Tiimes.  However, once the New York Times has seen the content of the story, they refused to publish it.  You can read Blumenthal's full article here.

I have also included below an article I wrote in 2007 which looks at Israel's anti-African racism and the connection between it and Israel's anti-Palestinian laws and racism. As Sheen notes in the video the laws used to detain and persecute African migrants and refugees in Israel and deny them rights are an updated version of laws enacted by Israel in the 1950s to prevent Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes and property after their expulsion during the Nakba.  

I have also included an article from JTA which includes interviews with African refugees, outlining the conditions they are forced to live under inside Israel.

You can also keep update on this topic via David Sheen's excellent blog and website on the issue, which you can access here.

In solidarity, Kim 



Sunday, August 26, 2007 - Green Left Weekly

On August 20, Israel deported 50 Sudanese refugees who had entered the country from Egypt. The deportation went ahead despite 63 of the 120 members of the Knesset (Israel's parliament) signing a petition calling on the Olmert government to allow them to remain in Israel until an alternative country could be found to take them in.

The deported refugees were from the Darfur region of Sudan, where an estimated 200,000 people have been killed in the past two years. There are currently 2800 asylum seekers, primarily from Africa, within Israel. Around 1200 are from Sudan.

Sudanese citizens arrested in Israel are officially considered a "security threat", as Israel has designated Sudan an "enemy state". As a result, Israel has detained many Sudanese refugees under the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law, rather than the Entrance to Israel Law. Under the Entrance to Israel Law, refugees and illegal immigrants have the right to judicial oversight. There is no similar provision in the Prevention of Infiltration Law.

The Prevention of Infiltration Law allows refugees to be held for years in detention. Israel first enacted the law in order to prevent 750,000 Palestinian refugees who had fled Zionist terror gangs in 1947 and 1948 from returning to their homes in the territory claimed by the newly established state of Israel. The law was enacted in contravention of international laws and resolutions passed by the UN recognising the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.

Under the law, an "infiltrator" is anyone who "entered Israel knowingly and unlawfully" after November 29, 1947, despite the fact that the state was not established until six months later. According to the law, a person is "unlawful" if they are a citizen of Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Trans-Jordan, Iraq or Yemen; if they were resident or a visitor of anyone of those countries or any part of Palestine outside of Israel; or if they are a Palestinian citizen or resident without Israeli nationality or citizenship, or whose citizenship is "doubtful" and who had "left his ordinary place of residence in an area which has become part of Israel for a place outside of Israel". Under the law, an "infiltrator" can be jailed for up to 15 years.

Around 30,000 Palestinian refugees were either arrested by Israel and deported to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan or jailed and then expelled when their prison sentence ended. In addition, many internally displaced Palestinian refugees who remained in the borders of what was to become Israel but had been unable to gain Israeli citizenship were rounded up and deported under the law. In an attempt to prevent Palestinian refugees from re-entering Israel, the Zionist state also razed Palestinian villages along the new Israeli border and established settlements. A policy of "free fire" was adopted in the border settlements, enabling the shooting of any Palestinians attempting to return to their homes.

According to Badil, an Israel-based Palestinian residence and refugee advocacy group, the 1954 law worked hand in hand with the "absentee" property laws that allowed the Israeli state to "legally" take control of property and land belonging to Palestinian refugees and prevent their return to their homes.

In the case of the Sudanese refugees, Israel contends that it has the right to return refugees to the country they were "resident" or "visitors" in prior to arriving in Israel, in this case Egypt.

A poll by the Kevoon Institute found that 47% of Israelis supported the government expelling the Sudanese refugees, while 39% opposed it. YNet reported on August 6 that "Of those who identified themselves as strictly Orthodox, 67% were in favor of expulsion compared to 13% who opposed it. Among respondents who identified themselves as religious, 55% were in favor of expulsion compared to 35% who were opposed. Similar figures were noted for respondents who defined themselves as traditional — 52% favored expulsion compared to 31% who opposed it.

"The only sector where support for the government's policy was the minority opinion was among secular respondents — 39% favored expulsion compared to 49% who opposed it."


For African migrants in Israel, a life in legal limbo

Eritrean refugees gathering outside Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem for a demonstration against the deportation of refugees from Israel, June 9, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Eritrean refugees gathering outside Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem for a demonstration against the deportation of refugees from Israel, June 9, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Hanging by his feet in a torture cell in the Sinai Desert, Dawit Demoz knew he had only one way to escape a nearly certain death: He would have to make good on his captors’ demand of a $3,500 ransom to buy his freedom.

Demoz, 23, tells a harrowing tale of escaping mandatory conscription in the Eritrean Army and following a desperate journey through Sudan, Libya and finally Egypt, where a human trafficking gang captured him in 2010 as he made his way toward the Israeli border.

For three weeks, Demoz claims, he was beaten, electrocuted and hung from the ceiling until his family was able to come up with the money to buy his freedom.

Demoz then was smuggled across the border into Israel, following a path that tens of thousands of Eritreans had followed before. He had hoped his struggles might finally be over. But as soon as he crossed the border, he was thrown in jail.

“I heard that Israel is a democratic country with Jewish people who know what a refugee is because they suffered before,” Demoz said. “So I thought Israel could save our life. But it’s not what I expected.”

Demoz is one of an estimated 62,000 migrants who have illegally crossed into Israel since 2006 — most of them Eritrean men driven from their homeland by an oppressive dictatorship that drafts them into the military as teenagers and can keep them there indefinitely. According to the United Nations, there are more than 300,000 Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers worldwide.

In Israel, they live without fear of torture and death. But their rising numbers have led to a backlash here, prompting a government crackdown that has nearly eliminated the cross-border flow. In July, Israel sent 13 detained Eritreans back home and has been urging others to self-deport for more than a year.
JTA PHOTO: For African migrants in Israel, a life in legal limbo Sudanese and Eritrean refugees gather in the Levinski Park area in south Tel Aviv. (Nicky Kelvin/Flash90/JTA)
Sudanese and Eritrean refugees gather in the Levinski Park area in south Tel Aviv. (Nicky Kelvin/Flash90/JTA)

But though the influx has stopped, nearly 55,000 migrants remain in Israel, most of them in Tel Aviv. The government affords them limited rights and services, but does not recognize them as refugees, instead giving them temporary IDs they must renew every three months.

For these migrants, who arrived in Israel with no money, no Hebrew and no work permit, daily life often is a challenge.

“These are people who are here five years, and when they go to the Interior Ministry, they don’t know what will happen,” said Orit Marom, director of public activism for Assaf, a nonprofit that helps illegal migrants receive social services. “They’re always temporary.”

Like many Eritreans who have crossed into Israel, Demoz spent his first three months in jail while Israel determined his status. Upon his release, the army took him to Beersheva and gave him a one-way bus ticket to Tel Aviv.

His first three nights were spent with other Eritreans in a park across from the Tel Aviv bus station. But then a friend from back home found Demoz and took him into a one-room apartment he shared with three other men. It’s crowded, Demoz says, but better than sleeping outside.

“Some don’t have a place to sleep,” said Nordin Ishag, a Darfurian who came to Israel in 2007 and last year founded Darfur Friends Association, a social service organization. “They were sleeping in the park, the street. We cannot let them sleep outside. They are human beings.”

Despite its refusal to grant them permanent residence, the Israeli government provides a range of services to the migrants. Children receive free education through high school and infants get free medical care. This year, the Health Ministry opened an emergency medical clinic for migrants at the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, and a Tel Aviv municipal program provides child psychiatric services and access to government services to the migrant population.

An array of community nonprofits also have sprung up to help.

The Schoolhouse provides English classes and helps migrants qualify for employment, while the Darfur Friends Association offers legal advocacy, health care and English classes funded almost entirely by local Darfurians. Ishag estimates the organization receives monthly donations of about $25 each from 300 donors.

For many, $25 is a significant sum. Demoz’s first job in Israel, working seven days a week at a metal shop, paid him just about $6.50 an hour. He has found each of his subsequent jobs — pool cleaning, building platforms for construction and working at a Herzliya hotel — through employment contractors in south Tel Aviv. The contractors match asylum seekers with jobs and pay their salaries — often with fees attached, ostensibly for taxes.

“There is one big problem here — we have no ID, no papers, no life,” said Sammy, 32, an Eritrean who worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week as a restaurant dishwasher before he was fired, with no severance, after three years.

Sammy was interviewed recently at a health clinic for asylum seekers and migrant workers run by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. The clinic, staffed by volunteer doctors with specialties ranging from gynecology to physiotherapy, treats 7,000 people a year. For many of them, it is their only realistic way to get health care.

“It’s difficult to get a doctor beyond the human rights doctors,” said Ananwuna, 41, who said he owes nearly $10,000 to an Israeli health care provider for the 2010 removal of a uterine tumor.
Some Eritreans have managed to achieve a measure of success. Habton Mehari, 31, who came here in 2007 and calls himself “the luckiest refugee in Israel,” is on a full scholarship at Ben-Gurion University.

As of last year, he’s also a father, but the Interior Ministry won’t register his son in his name. He is also $3,000 in debt from his wife’s labor, he says, and often faces racism when he leaves campus.
For Demoz, the future remains uncertain. He hopes to be able to return home at some point. Until then, he wants the Israeli government to recognize him as a refugee.

“I want to be here and for the Israeli government to treat me like a human being,” he said. “All Eritreans who live in Israel want to go back to Eritrea, but we can’t go back now. These people have no other option.”

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