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Refugee crisis: The long journey through Europe

They arrive as families or individuals. They hail from Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan. They travel by sea to Greece or by foot through Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, and Austria. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are seeking countries to host them. Activestills photographers were there to capture the journey.

Photos by: Yotam Ronen, Oren Ziv, Mareike lauken, Keren Manor /, photo editing: Anka Mirkin

Israel cannot turn a blind eye to worldwide refugee crisis
Searching for a way into Europe: A photo dispatch from Hungary
Refugee crisis: Stranded at Hungary’s barbed wire border

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WATCH: Israeli soldiers attack Palestinian, foreign journalists

Soldiers destroy cameras belonging to Palestinian and Italian photographers in the West Bank town of Beit Furik. A firsthand account from the photojournalist who filmed the now-viral video.

By Ahmad Al-Bazz /

Israeli violations of Palestinian “freedom of press” in this country are not uncommon. In fact, the opposite is true. But what I witnessed yesterday in the West Bank town of Beit Furik was nothing short of shocking.

I was there covering the clashes that followed the funeral of Ahmad Khatatbeh’s funeral, 26, who died from his wounds after being shot by Israeli soldiers at the Beit Furik military checkpoint last Friday. While I was on air for the Beirut-based Al Quds television station, I noticed two journalists coming from the Israeli side of the checkpoint, where some soldiers tried to stop them.

Suddenly a soldier snatched a camera from one of the journalists’ hands, smashed it on the ground and threw it beside the road. The journalists tried to complain, but the soldiers pushed them back. I couldn’t actually comprehend what I was looking at. I immediately pressed the record button to start documenting; I was sad that I had missed the moment, but it was only the beginning.

While the journalists were on their way back toward the checkpoint, another soldier picked up the camera from the side of the road and smashed it in the middle of the street. Then another soldier decided to follow the journalists in order to confiscate more cameras and equipment from them. He was followed by more soldiers who came to the scene in their military jeep. One of the soldiers managed to snatch another camera and destroyed it immediately. More cameras and equipment were forcefully confiscated.

Several minutes later, one of the journalists tried to get close and collect some of his camera’s wreckage, At this point the soldiers jumped on him pushed him to the ground.

The two journalists were identified later as Andrea Bernardi, an Italian videographer working for AFP and Abbas Momani, a Palestinian photographer from the same organization. They reported that everything in their pockets had also confiscated, including batteries and memory cards.

My video of the unprovoked assault was rapidly distributed on social media websites. It is worth mentioning that my colleagues and I at our production company, PALMEDIA, were prevented from entering the village from its main...

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Searching for a way into Europe: A photo dispatch from Hungary

One by one, day by day, Europe is closing its gates to refugees desperately searching for a way in. Confused, exhausted and frightened, at times they don’t even know what country they are in. Two Activestills photographers follow refugees as they make their way toward Germany.

Photos and text by Keren Manor & Mareike Lauken /

The train rolls to a stop at a small town on the Hungarian border town, Hegyeshalom. Some 1,500 refugees, the vast majority of them from Syria and Afghanistan, descend and start marching along the tracks in silence. Outside the train station and alongside the convoy of refugees stand Hungarian police, attempting to organize them into rows of four.

We watch the scene in amazement and try to speak with whomever we can, hoping to see who is unable to march and offer what little we can — a ride for any disabled people, the elderly or women with small children.

A family asks us what country they are in. It’s another stop on a long, difficult journey for these thousands of people. Confused, exhausted and frightened, they don’t even know where they are. The police lead them in a march toward the Hungarian-Austrian border, a distance of about four kilometers (two-and-a-half miles) from the train station. Every hour or two another crowded train arrives, packed with hundreds to thousands of people, and then returns to bring more.

We had come to the Hungarian-Austrian border from Berlin, hoping to help people trying to reach Germany. On the way down we heard on the radio that Germany, which has presented itself in recent weeks as the country most warm and welcoming for refugees, had decided to temporarily exit the Schengen zone, which established free movement between EU countries, and reactivated border checks.

Hungary, into which thousands of refugees are crossing from Serbia, has started emptying the camps it set up along the border. The purpose: to push as many refugees as possible outside of its territory, so that it doesn’t have to register them. Registering the refugees in Hungary would mean that the country has care for them according to the EU’s Dublin Regulation. The rule says that the first country in the EU to which a refugee arrives is responsible for him or her and whatever refugee claims they might have.

The march to the border is reminiscent of hard-to-digest historical images. Many of the...

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Refugee crisis: Stranded at Hungary's barbed wire border

Thousands of Syrian, Afghani, and Iraqi refugees are stranded on the border with Serbia after the Hungarian government refused them entry. The refugees, however, aren’t giving up so fast.

By Oren Ziv

HUNGARIAN-SERBIAN BORDER — On Tuesday at around midnight, dozens of reporters and cameramen stand together on the Hungarian side of the border with Serbia. A representative of the Hungarian government, Zoltan Kovacs, steps away from the border crossing and tells the reporters: “Starting tonight the border is closed. Today almost 10,000 migrants crossed here, and we are determined to bring back Europe’s borders.

“Unfortunately the Greeks are not doing a thing, which is why we have decided to act,” he adds.

In its decision, which was roundly condemned by the international community, Hungary closed its border to refugees, blocking the main artery through which they had traveled from Greece to western Europe.

One of the journalists asks Kovacs: “What about Syrians who are fleeing war? You have no desire to help them?”

“We are very worried about those Syrians, and that is why I am telling them to stay in Turkey or Lebanon. Do not make the dangerous and expensive journey at sea.”

“And what happens if someone crosses the fence?” asks the journalist.

“There is no more open border, and anyone who crosses the fence will be detained and imprisoned.”

On Tuesday morning hundreds of refugees are making their way by foot toward the Serbian side of the border. They march along the train tracks until they reach the point that only yesterday was open for crossing. When they reach it, many are arrested in front of the newly-built barbed wire fence.

Over the past few weeks, the Hungarian government has built a 10 ft.-high barbed wire fence across its 100-mile long border with Serbia. While the fence was being constructed, refugees could still find many points through which they could cross over. But since Tuesday, everything has been closed and hundreds of policemen have been patrolling the area.

Three young Syrians march along the fence on the Serbian side, stopping in front of a large group of policemen. They sit down and ask to cross. “We fled Syria because of the war, we spent thousands of euros on the journey,” A., a young man from the Syrian city Homs tells me. “We have nowhere to return to, so I will find a different way.”

On Tuesday...

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'Water filled our boat, we saw death staring us in the face'

Thousands of refugees sleep in tents, waiting to receive a permit to travel to Athens; women suffer from dehydration while the children re-enact the treacherous journey from their war-torn home countries to Western Europe. A special report from the Greek island of Kos. 

Text and photos by Oren Ziv and Irene Nasser

KOS, GREECE — Syrian children are playing in the water on the beach in front of the police station. The beach is occupied with tents and wooden shacks where refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan sleep every night. Afraid to get any further away from the police station, their entire stay on the island revolves around an attempt to move on to the next stage of the journey.

At first glance it seems that the children in the water are simply playing around, trying to cool down from the heat. A few of them are wearing life jackets that have been strewn on the beach from trips made across the sea. Suddenly one of them yells out, “Help me! Help me!” Some of the other children are floating on wooden planks that have been packed with life jackets to keep it afloat. They are swimming toward the boy yelling for help. It is difficult to understand what is happening but they are reenacting their journey to the island — replaying the same scene they endured only a few days earlier. When the waves carry them to the shore, they push the wooden planks back into the water, grasping onto them with everything they can.

The sun sets and one of their aunts comes to the beach and calls one of the boys back to their tent. Wael, a 10-year-old boy from Syria, runs back to the tent where his family is staying. His father is nicknamed Turki and is a refugee from the Syrian Golan Heights. He tells us about how they reached Greece: “We spent two hours in the dinghy until it was ripped. Water began to fill it and it started to sink. Only a small portion remained afloat. That’s where we put the kids. Every else held on to a rope that was wrapped around the boat.” He quietly adds, “We saw death staring us in the face.”

“We spent almost two hours in the water until we were rescued. I have six children. At some point one of them slipped from my grip and...

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Photos of the Month: A long, hot summer of hate crimes

A Palestinian family is burned alive in their sleep, a 16-year-old Israeli is stabbed to death during the Jerusalem pride march, a hunger-striker calls the shots, and more. These are the best Activestills photos of the month.

Photos by: Keren Manor, Ahmad Al-Bazz, Yotam Ronen, Faiz Abu-Rmeleh, Omer Sameer, Oren Ziv / Activestills, Edited by: Anka Mirkin

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PHOTOS: The Gaza families obliterated in just 51 days

Out of the 2,200 Palestinians killed in last summer’s assault on the Gaza Strip, over 80 percent were civilians. Nearly 150 families lost three or more relatives, with some families disappearing entirely. Activestills’ Anne Paq returns to Gaza to tell the story behind the numbers.

Photography: Anne Paq /, Editing: Shiraz Grinbaum /

“Time will reduce the pain, but we will not forget our brothers”, told me 18-year-old Ibrahim Al Khalili in the midst of the burned ruins of the family factory, when I visited them in November 2014.

The entire immediate families of Ibrahim’s brothers, Ashraf and Ahmed, were killed: Ashraf’s wife, Nedaa’ (28) and their children Deema (4), Ziyad (3) and Mahmoud (8); as well as Ahmed’s wife, Aya (23), and their daughter Lama (5). A big fire broke out in the factory due to the plastic and wood materials stored there. The bodies were burned so badly that when they arrived to the morgue they were burned beyond recognition.

The eight members were the last ones waiting to be evacuated when an Israeli soldier fired a shell that fell on them. Seven-year-old Mahmoud was the only person who wasn’t killed on the spot; he remained conscious and witnessed the death of his entire family. At the Shifa hospital he fell into a coma, and died four days later.

I was at the morgue of the Al Shifa when the bodies arrived. One carbonized arm, unable to bend, was sticking out of the green plastic bag where the bodies were put before being taken for burial. In another plastic bag, three bodies, the one of a woman and two children, were glued together.

On that same day I stood outside the morgue and took a photo of Ismael, another Khalili brother, embracing someone while collapsing in tears. How can one forget such a scene of devastation? I tried to find out their names, and the location from which they arrived. Someone explained that this was the Al Khalili familiy from Al Tuffah. “They were unable to escape, and because of the factory, they were caught in the fire,” I was told, writing down the details. But in the chaos at hospital, flooded with constant flow of dead and injured, it was often impossible to even catch the family’s name.

The Khalilis were one of many families in the Gaza Strip that were obliterated last summer by Israeli attacks....

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PHOTOS: Hundreds of asylum seekers released from Holot — with nowhere to go

Approximately 600 African asylum seekers were released from Holot on Tuesday morning, following a High Court ruling. But their ban from entering Tel Aviv or Eilat — where much of their community lives — left them feeling helpless and confused.

By Oren Ziv /

Hassan, a Sudanese asylum seeker, looks on as he stands outside Holot detention center, where he has been held for the past 20 months. Tuesday was supposed to be a happy day for him — the day he was being released following a High Court ruling two weeks ago.

But the decision by Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, which forbids the released asylum seekers from living in Tel Aviv and Eilat, caused Hassan to decide to stay in Holot. “They told me this morning that if I refuse to be released, they will take me to Saharonim prison, and that I will not be able to stay in Holot,” he told +972. Eventually he agreed to be released, and decided to look for friends to stay with outside of Tel Aviv.

Although the state has attempted to present Holot as an “open detention center,” and despite the fact that the number of roll calls per day has been reduced from three to one, Holot does not allow these people to lead normal lives. The detainees there have repeatedly complained of poor food, of being stuck in the middle of the desert and of having no way of getting to work or studies.

At 8:30 a.m., immigration enforcement authorities began releasing hundreds of asylum seekers who have been detained in Holot for over a year. According to the High Court ruling, detention of refugees Holot will be limited to one year. A total 1,200 asylum seekers are expected to be released in total.

Meanwhile, Israel’s immigration authority issued thousands of new orders summoning asylum seekers to Holot starting on August 31.

The 600 asylum seekers released Tuesday morning (600 more are expected to be released the following day) gathered outside Holot, looking confused and carrying with them the few items they have managed to amass. For many, the decision to prevent them from working and living in Tel Aviv and Eilat is “worse than imprisonment,” according to the released detainees.

Without the option of living and working in the area where the majority of their community lives — or even to be...

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WATCH: Christian, Muslim Palestinians protest separation wall route

Days after the army uprooted Palestinian-owned olive trees to pave the route of the separation barrier in Beit Jala, Christians and Muslims from the town hold a joint protest to try and put a stop to the plan.

By Oren Ziv

Hundreds of Muslim and Christian Palestinians protested Sunday morning in the West Bank town of Beit Jala against the future establishment of the separation wall that would cut them off from Jerusalem.

Protesters marched Sunday toward the work zone where the wall is route is being paved, just days after the army uprooted dozens of ancient olive trees to pave the route for the wall last week.

The demonstrators marched toward the area where the trees were uprooted, and began destroying a checkpoint that prevents farmers from reaching their land in an area that, upon its completion, will be on the “Israeli” side of the wall. Border Policemen arrived on the scene and shot stun grenades and tear gas. At least three of the demonstrators were evacuated by an ambulance. The demonstrators took pieces of the checkpoint back with them to the village.

Father Paolo from the Catholic church in Beit Jala, told +972 Magazine: “We are here because they are building a wall that will separate Beit Jala from Jerusalem. We came here to say that this is our land, and that we are against the wall and for living together in peace. All the churches in Beit Jala are opposed to the building of the wall, and we are here to tell the army — get out of here, this is not your land.”

“The goal of the wall is to close off Beit Jala from all directions,” says Salah, who arrived from the village of Ni’ilin, near Ramallah, to take part on the protest. “They took the land, the trees, and the livelihood, and have punished the residents here for no reason. We have come here to send a message, that we can defeat these walls when we, the Palestinian people, are united. Both Christians and Muslims.”

In the past, Israel’s High Court of Justice has recommended the state reconsider the planned route of the separation barrier in the area, as it seriously affects the residents of the area. The Defense Ministry, however, began its work on the wall last week, without altering its route. The ministry has promised to leave a 200-meter gap in the...

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IDF falsely arrested photographers during Palestinian protest, court rules

Israeli soldiers arrested two Israeli and one Palestinian photographers during a demonstration in the West Bank. What followed showed just how differently Israelis and Palestinian detainees are treated.

By Oren Ziv /

Israeli soldiers arrested three photographers, two Israelis and one Palestinian, during the weekly protest in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh last Friday. On Saturday night, an Israeli court ruled that there was no reason for the arrests and released the two Israelis from detention.

On Sunday morning, Israel Police agreed to release the third photographer, Bilal Tamimi, without conditions, following a request by his attorney. Tamimi is expected to be released soon.

Weekly anti-occupation demonstrations have been taking place in the village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, for the past several years. Every week, dozens of Palestinians, Israelis and international activists march toward a spring that has been taken over by residents from the nearby settlement, Halamish. The soldiers arrested Tamimi, himself a resident of the village, toward the end of the demonstration, as village youths clashed with soldiers on a nearby hill.

A short while later, the soldiers arrested B’Tselem Spokesperson Sarit Michaeli as well as Israeli artist David Reeb, both of whom have been documenting the protests with their cameras for years. The two were arrested for refusing to clear the area, which they deemed a “closed military zone.” The soldiers, however, refused to present the required, written order.

The three were taken to the Binyamin Police Station, where they discovered that along with violating the closed military zone order, Reeb and Tamimi were accused of attacking an officer, while Michaeli was accused of obstructing a police officer in the line of duty. After their interrogation, Michaeli and Reeb refused to sign off on the conditions of their release, which would ban them from the village for two weeks, while setting their bail at NIS 1,000. Upon refusing, the two were taken into detention. Tamimi was not offered these conditions and was taken straight to jail at Ofer military prison.

“It was clear that the arrest was unlawful,” Michaeli said following her release. “The fact is that they agreed to release us, even on condition, while it was clear that they would never allow Bilal the same conditions. That is why we refused to agree to those terms, even if it meant a night in jail.”

Michaeli and Reeb...

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WATCH: Dozens of Palestinian-owned trees uprooted to build separation wall

Dozens of Palestinian-owned olive trees uprooted to complete separation wall that will eventually fully encircle the Bethlehem area. 

Text and photos by Oren Ziv /

The Israeli Defense Ministry renewed its efforts to build a section of the separation wall in the Bethlehem area this week, sending bulldozers and Border Policemen to uproot dozens of olive trees in Wadi Ahmed, on the outskirts of Beit Jala.

The plan is to completely enclose Bethlehem and the surrounding villages — closing all entrances to the area — by the separation wall. Entire areas of the separation wall have yet be built, including in southern Jerusalem; they are slated for completion in the coming years.

WATCH: Bulldozers uproot Palestinian-owned olive trees near Bethlehem

“The role of the wall here is very simple: to cut off Beit Jala from Wadi Ahmad, an agricultural area of 3,500,000 square meters with thousands of olive trees,” Mazen Qumsiyeh , a veteran Palestinian activist, told +972. “Building this part will complete the ghettoization of Bethlehem. The route has nothing to do with security — the entire goal is to annex the valley.”

As we speak, Caterpillar bulldozers climb to the top of a nearby mountain, toward Route 60, and return with olive trees that were uprooted from the route of the planned wall. The company contracted to build the wall moves the trees, and re-plants them on land that will remain on the “Palestinian” side of the wall. “They don’t care to destroy a few dozen trees,” says Qumsiyeh , “They are going to be receiving thousands of olive trees on the land they are taking over.”

“This is not merely cosmetic work,” he continues. “They want to show that the army doesn’t uproot olive trees, but rather move them somewhere else. But the way they are doing it, there is no chance these trees survive. You must remove the tree carefully with the roots in tact — not in such a brutal way.”

Over the last few days, Palestinian Christians from the nearby Beit Jala Church have made their way to the area in order to pray next to the work site. On Wednesday, Border Policemen violently arrested three of the worshippers. Local activists have promised that they will continue to pray at the site as long as the work continues.

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PHOTOS: LGBT activists confront far-right protest in south Tel Aviv

‘We are here to protest those who were a part of the incitement that led to the death at the pride parade in Jerusalem,’ says one participant.

Text by Oren Ziv, Photos by Oren Ziv and Keren Manor/

Some 50 LGBT activists confronted a right-wing protest in south Tel Aviv where leaders called to condemn the “dictatorship of the High Court,” for a recent decision that may soon allow the release of African asylum seekers from detention. The protest involved some 30 right wing activists and residents of south Tel Aviv who gathered Wednesday night in Levinsky park, a working class area home to many African asylum seekers.

The right-wing activists were taken aback by the LGBT protestors—who hoisted LGBT flags and signs with slogans such as, “homophobia — racism. It’s the same violence,” and were deterred for a few minutes before returning to their plans to march.

The right-wing protesters had gathered under the leadership of a number of high profile, far-right figures, including Michael Ben-Ari, Baruch Marzel, Itamar Ben Gvir, and May Golan, who criticized the recent High Court ruling that limits the detention of African asylum seekers in the Holot detention center to up to one year. Israel is expected to release more than 1,000 asylum seekers from the center in the upcoming week.

As they marched, the group cried out slogans such as “traitorous left-wingers,” “Go to Syria,” and “take the refugees to north Tel Aviv.”

“We arrived here to protest that extremist right wingers, those who also protested at the gay pride parade and were a part of the incitement that contributed to the death of Shira Banki at the pride parade in Jerusalem,” said one participant from the “pride in solidarity” organization that arranged the counter protest.

“We will go to every place that the Kahanist…racists and homophobes will go,” she said.

Another protestor waving a pride flag approached Michael Ben Ari and Baruch Marzel, who in the last elections ran on the “Jewish power” list that did not make it into the Knesset.

“If you represent Israel, why didn’t you have enough votes to enter the Knesset?” the protestor cried.

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Exclusive: Despite dangers, Israel sending asylum seekers to home countries

For the first time, new statistics reveal that nearly 4,600 Sudanese and 1,000 Eritreans were sent back to their countries of origin, possibly against international law. Israel’s Interior Ministry claims they are returning ‘voluntarily.’  A +972 Magazine exclusive.

By Oren Ziv /

Israel has been sending thousands of African asylum seekers back to their home countries as part of a plan for “voluntary return.” According to new statistics, which are being published here for the first time, most of the returnees have been sent back to their countries of origin — Sudan and Eritrea — rather than “third countries,” in accordance with Israel’s previously-announced arrangement, which would ostensibly ensure their safety.

According to Interior Ministry numbers revealed following a freedom of information request by Dr. Gilad Liberman and Attorney Itay Mack, and were passed on to +972, 4,608 asylum seekers have been sent back to Sudan, while 1,059 have been sent back to Eritrea. Over 4,200 asylum seekers have been sent to third countries, of which 2,600 are Sudanese and Eritrean. The vast majority of Sudanese asylum seekers who have left Israel were returned to Sudan.

The Sudanese government has committed genocide in Darfur, as well as political and ethnic persecution in other parts of the country. Eritrea is under the control of a tyrannical military regime, which forcefully enlists its citizens into the army for long periods of time or puts them in forced labor, while women are forced to serve as sex slaves for soldiers. Citizens from both Sudan and Eritrea are considered “protected groups” — a status that forbids the Israeli government from returning them to their home countries.

In response to the findings, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that while Sudanese and Eritrean citizens have the full right to voluntarily return to their country — their return is recognized only when the returnee has a valid visa and earns a living. “However, leaving the country is not an alternative to detention and — as a response to any denial of rights — does not count as voluntary, and could even be considered illegal deportation according to both Israeli and international law, which endangers the life and safety of the returnee.”

In the past, UNHCR has said that “deporting Sudanese to Sudan constitutes a severe contravention of the [refugee] convention Israel has signed on to.”


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+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

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