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Conscientious objection is yet another Ashkenazi privilege

Praise for IDF refusenik Tair Kaminer’s “ethics” obscures the fact that an illustrious military service is the Mizrahim’s litmus test for social acceptance and allows the Left to bask in its own self-proclaimed enlightenment.

By Tom Mehager

The public debate regarding Tair Kaminer’s refusal to serve in the army illustrates, yet again, the color-blindness of the Israeli Left. Time after time the Left ignores the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi elephant in the room, effectively alienating themselves from the majority of Israeli society. However, it doesn’t prevent the Left’s representatives from praising themselves as the standard bearers of “enlightenment.”

For instance, Haaretz columnist Uri Misgav recently praised Kaminer thus: “Kaminer is a young, ethical person who is politically and socially aware. She spent a year as a volunteer after high school, working with traumatized children in Sderot.” Similar things have been written about Kaminer elsewhere.

It’s interesting to dwell on the meeting between “a young person with values” and the predominantly Mizrahi periphery, in this case the town of Sderot. How do Israeli youths such as Kaminer gain “ethical values”? What is the process that youths in Israel undergo, in which a separation and a hierarchy between an “ethical youth” and the kids who recently disrupted a TV interview and were roundly denounced as “arsim” (a derogatory Hebrew word for riffraff primarily used against Mizrahim), are created?

The Israeli establishment never saw the Mizrahi youth as having the potential to acquire “ethical values,” or a “political and social awareness,” as Misgav put it. Quite the opposite. The Israeli education system, from its founding to the present day, operates on the assumption that Mizrahi youths are less capable than their Ashkenazi peers. In his much-touted series of reports, “The True Face of the Ethnic Demon,” journalist Amnon Levy asked Mizrahi youths what they’ll be when they grow up. Some answered that they’d become soccer players or policemen. Others spoke of the option of serving in the army in a combat unit, which would, maybe, make people “look at them differently.” They were well-aware of the establishment’s racist gaze, directed towards them simply by virtue of being Mizrahim.

This helps explain the high rates of middle- and lower-class Mizrahim enlisting to combat units. They need military service in order to attain a sense of self-esteem and social acceptance. The stark contrast between the military service of most Mizrahim and conscientious...

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Israel's Arab community and its contempt for its youth

I have zero expectations from racist Jews, but I’d expect the Arabs, my own community, to be less judgmental of young people. You have no idea what it’s like to walk down the street fearing the police and criminals, as well as your judgment.

By Abed Abu Shehadeh

Every time a young Arab is killed in our society, social media is flooded with condemnations and expressions of shock for about a week until their authors go back to their arrogant, standoffish selves thanking god, deep down, that some night clubs in our community don’t let young Arabs in.

One of the most formative moments in my life came when I was 17. I went to a have a passport photo taken at a shop on Jaffa’s Jerusalem Boulevard with two friend. An Arab woman in her 40s stood before us in line and the minute she saw us she clung to her handbag assuming, probably, that we were about to rob her.

I have no words to describe the humiliation I felt because at the time my friend and I were ready to do whatever favor she might have asked us. But since that was her attitude, we decided to reciprocate. We came closer and suggested menacingly that she be very mindful of her handbag. We later found out she was a famous local politician.

The problem is endemic to the Arab society. We stereotype and stigmatize our youth only to be taken aback when the sky-high crime rate comes back to haunt us. How about just being straightforward with our youth and saying that we have nothing but contempt for them? Every young Arab is a potential menace – unless he is educated, enlightened, rich or, better still, a hipster.

No sector in our society is immune to that kind of prejudice. The religious moan that we’re not religious enough, and the secularists moan that we’re too religious. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. When demonstrations take place everybody wants to know why we don’t show up, but in the day-to-day routine nobody gives a toss about us. Only when we stand up to the establishment we get some sympathy, but usually from people who want to recruit us to their political ends.

I used to think it’s unique to Arabs within Israel, but I was once humiliated in the same way in Ramallah, where portraits of...

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GOP candidates are sounding a lot like Israel's leaders

Remarks by the most outlandish Republican candidates represent, in the best case scenario, the more moderate positions of Israel’s prime ministers since the state’s founding.

By Abed Abu Shehada

Let’s imagine for a second that Donald Trump gets up on stage at a rally and demands that maternity wards across the U.S. begin segregating black and white women, justifying his demand through stereotypes: blacks love throwing loud post-birth parties, whereas white women are more simply more cultured prefer to rest after giving birth. His remarks would surely be widely condemned. In fact, I doubt that Trump himself is stupid or racist enough to say such things.

But in Israeli politics, racism espoused by members of the government are part of the view, and pro-democracy activists find ourselves writing opinion pieces on why remarks like those by Betzalel Smotrich (“It is natural for my wife to not want to lie next to somebody who just gave birth to a baby that might want to murder her baby in 20 years. That’s the most natural, normal thing in the world”) are unacceptable, explaining why they are so problematic to the Israeli public.

When looking at the election campaign in the United States, it is not a stretch to say that remarks by the most outlandish Republican candidates represent, in the best case scenario, the more moderate positions of Israel’s prime ministers since the state’s founding.

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich seen in Jerusalem's Old City, October 7, 2015. (photo: Faiz Abu-Rmeleh/
Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich seen in Jerusalem’s Old City, October 7, 2015. (photo: Faiz Abu-Rmeleh/

Two weeks ago I met with activists from the Black Lives Matter movement. I expressed my positions as an activist with the Balad party about solutions to the situation in Israel and our struggle for a society based on civic equality — a state that respects its citizens and sees them as equals. I told them that Balad is widely hated and viewed as a radical group in Israel. They looked at me in shock, grasping to understand what could be possibly be radical about what I had just said. In their eyes, equality was obvious. Anyone who goes against this worldview goes against the liberal worldview. It...

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What would we say about the Hebron shooter were he Ashkenazi?

The story of the Hebron shooting is a classic case of the lowly soldier syndrome — mostly Ashkenazi political leaders give the order, yet only those at the bottom of the ladder must pay the price. 

By Adi Mazor and Tom Mehager

What is the difference between the Israeli soldier who shot 22-year-old Palestinian Abed al-Fatah Sharif in Hebron last week after a stabbing attack, and the soldiers from elite unites who shoot and kill Palestinian suspects? The difference is that the elite soldiers do behind the scenes — when no one is there to capture it on camera.

Since the Hebron shooting, much has been made of the Hebron shooter and his extreme right-wing views, the fact that he is a fan of Beitar Jerusalem (a soccer team associated with the Israeli Right) and his belonging to “La Familia,” Beitar’s far-right supporters’ group. This stems from an attempt to distinguish between the “good soldier” and the “bad soldier,” from talk about the IDF’s “code of ethics” and “purity of arms.” Let’s call a spade a spade: there are Asheknazi soldiers who go to the “right” units, where extrajudicial killings are a badge of honor. Then there are Mizrahi soldiers who go and carry out the most of the grunt work of Israel’s military control over the occupied territories. In this case, the soldier in Hebron executed an unarmed Palestinian who no longer posed a threat to anyone.

Take someone like Meir Har-Zion as an example. He and his friends from an elite paratroopers unit murdered five Bedouin as revenge of the murder of Har-Zion’s sister. They were never put on trial; Har Zion is viewed today as an Israeli hero. Or take kibbutzniks such as Ehud Barak or Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon — both of whom were in charge of the targeted assassination of Khalil Al-Wazir (known as “Abu Jihad”) in his home in Tunis in 1988. Not only were they not condemned, the assassination, along with other operations, only bolstered their image as venerated IDF officers. Even the Hebron shooter’s family said the same in an open letter to Ya’alon last week, when they wrote: “Do not forget that you were in the same position as our son when you were in Abu Jihad’s room and made sure he was dead.”

We often hear legitimate criticism of the Ashkenazi Left, which never dared look in...

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What is Martin Luther King's name doing in the ruins of a Palestinian village?

The civil rights leader’s name mysteriously appears on a plaque dedicated to donors who contributed money to building a Jewish National Fund national park — on top of three destroyed Palestinian villages.

By Umar Al-Ghubari (translated by Richard Flantz)

Martin Luther King’s name appears on the donors wall of Ayalon Canada Park in the Latrun area, which Israel conquered in 1967 before it carried out an ethnic cleansing of the area. The site of the donors wall includes many stone panels on walls that were erected on the ruins of the Palestinian village Imwas, which Israel flattened in 1967. Imwas is identified with Roman-Byzantine town Emmaus-Nicopolis; it is believed that Jesus met two of his disciples there after his resurrection (hence why numerous Christian organizations throughout the world are named Emmaus).

Last January people around the world marked Martin Luther King Jr.’s 86th birthday. King was a fighter for human rights and against racism in the United States, who has become a international symbol and a source of inspiration for oppressed peoples throughout the world. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 at age 35, and was murdered on April 4, 1968.

The Ayalon-Canada Park is an Israeli national park that was established in 1972 on the ruins of four Palestinian villages conquered by Israel during the 1967 war, expelling all their inhabitants, demolishing their homes, and preventing them from returning to their lands. To this day they are being prevented from returning. One village, Deir Ayyoub, was occupied in 1948, while three other villages in the Latrun area — Imwas, Yalu, and Bayt Nuba — were conquered in 1967. This area is formally part of the West Bank, but in practice it has been annexed to Israel. In addition to the park, which extends over 12,000 dunams, a section of Israel’s Highway No. 1 also passes through the occupied territory. And of course there are no signs explaining that drivers or visitors are crossing the Green Line.

Immediately after conquering the Latrun area without hardly any resistance, the Israeli army instructed the 6,000 or so residents of the three villages to come out of their homes and to gather in central squares. From there the army sent them – some on foot, some in cars, some on donkeys and some in trucks – in the direction of Ramallah, some 30 kilometers away. One of the...

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A long time coming: Why Ethiopian-Israelis are protesting

Whatever hopes and faith the community had in the state have been shattered in recent years by rampant racism and police brutality.

By Avi Yalou

The story of the late Yosef Salamsa, like the video of Israeli police beating IDF soldier Damas Pakada — which prompted tens of thousands from the Ethiopian community in Israel to fill the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv — was the spark that sparked the fire (Salamsa was tasered by police, left outside the police station, and later committed suicide). The heated demonstrations and unification of the Ethiopian community – people from all walks of life, ages and socioeconomic status — to demand an end to police brutality are an expression of the deep-rooted racism that exists in Israel and goes well beyond these specific incidents. Those who refused to heed the call for an end to the systematic racism against Ethiopians may have been surprised by the intensity of the protests in May of last year. But the truth is that in light of the long series of racist incidents that accrued over the years, it was obvious that if change did not happen, the issue would boil over.

The Ethiopian community numbers only 1.7 percent of the population in Israel, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. This is a small population that has been consistently marginalized in Israeli society. The community screams and no one listens. The State of Israel, in all its various authorities — the government, Knesset, legal system, media, private and public sector – sees Ethiopian citizens as a marginal unimportant community, who at best should be grateful to the state.

Members of the Ethiopian community live an unlivable reality. On the one hand, their electoral political and economic power barely exists. On the other hand, the regime’s forces abuse it, exclude it and violate its members in sophisticated ways that are a clear product of the racist, classist perspective that sees the Ethiopians as a spatial threat to white Israel. Whatever hopes and faith the community had in state institutions in the past have eroded and been pulverized in recent years. What hasn’t yet been destroyed by the state’s failing immigration and absorption policy has been destroyed by the ministries of education, health, religion and police, which have excluded, labeled and trampled all over the community. As if that wasn’t enough, the media has joined...

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It is time to rebuild ties between Mizrahim and the Arab world

Five years after Mizrahi Israelis offered their solidarity to the young men and women of the Arab Spring, it is time to say it loud and clear: real peace will come once we recognize the deep cultural and religious ties between Jews and Muslims of the region.

By Almog Behar

Five years ago in April of 2011, in the wake of the events of the Arab Spring, a group of Jewish descendants from Muslim and Arab countries, second and third generation Mizrahim in Israel, published an open letter of the women and men of the Middle East and North Africa, titled “Ruh Jedida: A New Spirit for 2011.” We looked on with great excitement at the role people our age played in the streets of the Arab world and in the demonstrations for freedom and change. We identified with the hopes for revolution that would bring down the tyrannical regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. We also looked on at the loss of life and great pain of the people of Syria and other places.

We hoped that a movement of people of our generation against oppressive regimes, and the call for change and democracy — which would allow all citizens to take part in the political process — would symbolize a dramatic moment in the history of the Middle East and North Africa. This was a region that had been torn apart in different directions by various forces — internal and external — which trampled over the political, economic, and cultural rights of most citizens.

We wanted to show solidarity as Israeli Jews who are descendants of Jewish communities that lived in the Middle East and North Africa for hundreds and thousands of years. We wanted to show that we too are part of the religious, cultural, and linguistic history of the region, even if we seem like we were “forgotten”: first in Israel, which imagines itself located between Europe and North America; and second in the Arab world, where it seems like the dichotomy between Jews and Arabs, and the attempt to view Jews as Europeans while erasing the history of Arab Jews, has become the norm. Even within Mizrahi communities, in Israel and across the world, we must admit that our past has been forgotten; in the wake of Western colonialism, Jewish nationalism and Arab nationalism, many of us were ashamed to acknowledge that...

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Why do LGBT Israelis leave the country?

Whether because of growing homophobia or their criticism of the occupation, some queer Israelis are leaving and say they’re not coming back.

By Hila Amit

Most academic literature on the issue of emigration from Israel is written from a Zionist perspective, thus telling a one-sided story. According to the story, Israeli emigrants feel a strong connection to Israel; they left the country mainly for economic reasons; they are sad to have left; and they wish to return to their homeland. The literature on the topic addresses a very narrow group of participants, who seem to pop up in most studies. The focus is usually on emigrants to the U.S., mostly married couples, all of whom served in the Israeli army (army service is sometimes even a mandatory criterion for participation in the study), and are heterosexuals. In addition, these academic works did not provide a voice to Israeli emigrants who are critical of Israeli society or policies, and describe this criticism as the main reason (or part of the reason) for leaving the country.

Upon starting my research I asked to investigate these gaps in the literature, which did not include socio-political-based critiques of the State of Israel, antagonism toward Zionism and the sexual orientation of emigrants, or the connection between these complex identifications and emigration from Israel. I discussed some of the findings in a recent academic article, which included 42 interviews with queer Israeli emigrants who left for London, Berlin and New York City.

The decision to interview queers who do not feel a strong connection to Israel — those who left and do not necessarily think of returning — is interesting because of the way the Israeli collective already questions their very belonging. Homophobia in Israeli society cannot be denied. Moreover, the Israeli queer community faces violent attacks on a regular basis (including in the “gay bubble” of Tel Aviv), such that even the most Zionist members of the LGBT community must admit that our rights cannot be compared to the rights of the heterosexual citizens of the state. Even when the Knesset organizes a Pride Day in the parliament, proposals to support the gay community are rejected by Knesset members on both sides of the political spectrum.

Indeed it is interesting to see that queer Israeli emigrants criticize the way Israeli society cherishes markers of a heteronormative paradigm. Their narratives express a...

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What does 'coexistence' look like in a segregated city?

‘Coexistence’ in one of Israel’s major mixed cities means Palestinian citizens must forget who they are, where they were born, and whom they were born to.

By Zohar Elmakias

Two eighth grade girls from Ramle’s Juwarish neighborhood stabbed a security guard at the central bus station last Thursday. Following the incident, I thought a lot of about Ramle. I was born and raised there, and many of my family members still live in the city. Ramle is, for better or for worse, the landscape of my childhood, the place I always go back to. As a child, I participated in various “coexistence” activities with local Arab children. We met at the pool, at summer camp, at school. But I did not live in a “mixed city” — I lived in a segregated city: I did not know their language, and it took me time to understand why our neighbors put up a Christmas tree in their living room, or why fireworks lit up the sky on Christmas Eve.

And though I lived in a segregated city, Haaretz recently published a list of education experts and local leaders who praised the city for its coexistence, among them was Mayor Yoel Lavi, who said: “Ramle is a multicultural city where Jews coexist alongside Arabs as neighbors. We will continue to be good neighbors with no difference between sectors.”

In an interview in 2005, Lavi said: “There are homes in Juwarish that are nicer than those in Kfar Shmaryahu. How can people call it a refugee camp? There is an excellent school there…and houses that are reminiscent of the Loire Valley.” In that same interview, Lavi talked about the local elections and his relations with the Arab population of the city:

In those same years, Lavi refused to give Arab names to the streets in Ramle, saying that those who don’t like the decision can either move to Arab towns or “change their Allah.” He later apologized, although two years later Israel’s attorney general decided not to appoint him to head the Israel Land Administration (ILA). Even the chairman of the ILA, one of the most discriminatory and problematic bodies in Israel, cannot stand Lavi’s remarks and policies.

Lavi’s remarks show exactly what kind of “coexistence” is acceptable to him: the kind in which people are made to forget who they are, where they were born, and whom they were born to....

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Does the state care when its Arab citizens are murdered?

As long as Arabs are the ones being murdered, the State of Israel has no problem with illegally-owned weapons. Only when Jews are harmed does this become a national issue. And then they wonder why we aren’t loyal.

By Abed Abu Shehada

I came home at around 9 p.m. and pressed the button for the elevator. Without any prior notice, dozens of armed policemen jump on me at the entrance to my building. I cooperated, told them where I live, and no, I did not resist — despite the fact that the police did not present me with any arrest warrant, nor did anyone care to explain to me what this was all about.

The only thing I understood was that they were looking for the Abu Shahadeh family, although they couldn’t do the bare minimum of finding out that our entire building is comprised of members of the family. Meanwhile, they pointed their weapons on members of the family while patting us down front of young children, all while ignoring our requests to put down the weapons and let the women of the family get dressed. Needless to say, we cooperated fully.

This was probably too big a request for the police. My attempt to explain to them that they could search the house as long as they respected my mother and sister did little to help. In a matter of seconds I found myself on the ground, surrounded by officers. They held me down with their knees on my head; I felt helpless and begged them to let me breathe. After that I was forced to sit on the wall while my hands were cuffed behind my back. Within a matter of seconds I realized my uncles were also first arrested in the 1950s without any prior criminal history. I was made to sit on the street, humiliated in front of all the neighbors, begging the policeman to stop pressing my head down, that I wasn’t going anywhere.

But who am I to complain? The hunting season of young Arabs in their 20s has begun, and the preferred location is Tel Aviv. These days, if you’re a dark-skinned Arab man with older features — Tel Aviv and Jaffa are not the place for you. Yes, there was an attack last Friday. The attacker has yet to be caught, and there is no solid evidence that...

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Israel bars reporter for 10 years for 'having political agenda'

German journalist Martin Lejeune was detained and interrogated for 24 hours before being deported. A journalist with political viewpoints not aligned with the regime’s is a real danger to democracy, it appears.

By Idan Gillo (translated by Alan Horowitz)

The good news is we can all sleep soundly tonight. A grave danger was thwarted in a timely manner. And not just temporarily, but for the next 10 years. The bad news is that the danger wasn’t related to us, but rather – and this is also doubtful – to the Israeli regime.

A full disclosure is called for: I know Martin Lejeune personally; he is a freelance reporter who during the summer of 2014, risking his own life and livelihood, reported from the Gaza Strip independently of IDF spokespersons or any corporate news agency. I met him in a Berlin café in 2014, just before his famous trip to the Gaza Strip. We have been in touch ever since. Lejeune, as someone dedicated to investigative reporting, is constantly exposed to hostility, not just in Israel, but also in Germany. He will survive; he’s a descendent of the Huguenots, and they have some experience with political persecution. However, the story is not just about Lejeune; it story touches all who, either by choice or by necessity, live between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea. The story is about the nature of Israel’s government – in actuality already for a very long time, but especially these days.

Here’s the short of the story: Earlier this month, at 10 p.m. on a Monday, after about 20 hours of detention and interrogation Lejeune was told that he was being denied entry to Israel because he is a security risk: “You are not a reporter, you have a political agenda.”

I will not get into the wisdom of this decision. There are indeed multitudinous mechanisms that stand between the citizen and the truth. Why resort to such a far-reaching action that will certainly cause a stir? Israel has, on multiple occasions, denied entry of public figures into territories under its unfettered control and did so mainly to enhance its reputation in the world.

So Lejeune now has the honor of joining the list of intellectuals, journalists, artists, activists and, of course, regular citizens, who were not born with the proper Jewish privilege and are not allowed entry...

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How Israel erases Arabic from the public landscape

The Israeli government has begun omitting the Arabic name for Jerusalem from its street signs, erasing not only the language from the Israeli consciousness, but Palestinian identity itself.

By Umar Al-Ghubari

Driving towards Jerusalem on Highway 1, you may notice a relatively new phenomenon taking place on the road signs directing you to the city. Readers of Arabic will see that the name of Jerusalem in Arabic has undergone a change: the word in brackets, القدس, Al-Quds, which appeared there until very recently, no longer exists on the new signs that have recently been put up by the roadsides in those sections where highway’s recent expansion been completed.

The name of Jerusalem in modern Arabic is Al-Quds, which means “The Holy.” The root q-d-s [in Arabic] is similar to the root q-d-sh in Hebrew, and the name is derived from the city’s name “Beit El-Maqdis” which was in use even in the 7th century together with the Roman name Aelia [Capitolina]. The name Urshalīm appears in the Arabic version of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Partial translations of the New Testament into Arabic were begun as early as the 7th century. The first translation of the Hebrew Bible into Arabic was probably completed early in the 9th century by a Muslim cleric, but the most regarded and important translation is that of the Jewish philosopher Sayeed Alfayumi, better known by his Hebrew name, R. Saadia Gaon (882–942). Both Urshalīm and the Hebrew name Yerushalayīm most probably stem from the town’s Canaanite name, Rushalimom, or its Jebusite name Urusalima, from the third and second millennia before the common era.

The State of Israel, and the Zionist movement before that, have acted, and are still acting, to erase the Arabic names from the land and to replace them with Jewish–Hebrew names. The work of renaming was assigned to the government’s naming committee, established in 1950 as a successor of the “JNF Committee for Names of Settlements,” which was formed in 1925. The committee’s tasks include giving names to new towns, intersections and bypasses, parks, springs, streams, etc. Since its establishment the committee has determined thousands of new names. Although there are more methods than one for determining the names, the purpose is one: the Judaization of the land and the erasure of Arab identity from it and from the mind.

At times the committee has based its decision on names from...

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Israel’s ultimatum to refugees: Indefinite detention or danger

An Israeli court upholds the government’s policy of indefinitely imprisoning African asylum if they don’t agree to ‘voluntary deportation’ to third countries with no legal status. The xenophobia driving Israel’s policy is top-down, but there is another way.

By Anat Ovadia-Rosner

The Be’er Sheva District Court rejected a petition filed by human rights organizations earlier this month, thereby green lighting the indefinite imprisonment of asylum seekers unless they agree to leave Israel for a third country. The term “voluntary deportation” has always described a dubious state of affairs: people who risked their lives to get to Israel, whom the state did everything in its power to make miserable, are said to depart of their own “free will.” Following this ruling, the indifference and cynicism suggested by this term will only grow as those humans who fled dictatorship and genocide are forced to choose between indefinite detention and a dangerous journey, during and at the end of which, their safety is not guaranteed.

Sadly, the court failed to grant sufficient weight to testimonies presented to it, collected by the human rights organizations whose researchers actually went to visit those destination countries, witnessing reality there first hand. Asylum seekers leaving Israel for Rwanda (the only country offered to asylum seekers over the last few months, according to what we are told) discovered a reality drastically different than the prospects promised to them by Israel. The travel documents provided upon departure from Israel were taken from them upon their arrival to Rwanda; they were led to an enclosed compound and told they could not leave it unless they pay human smugglers the entire stipend given to them by Israel in order to illegally cross the border to Uganda. Those crossing the border embark on a treacherous journey, on which they are forced to hide from Ugandan authorities and are vulnerable to robbery and violence. (Read more on the fate of those who ‘voluntarily’ leave Israel here.)

Uganda too has nothing in store for asylum seekers: accessibility to asylum proceedings is limited, and asylum seekers have neither papers nor ability to work legally. This means that many of them try to move on. Some individuals who had left Israel were lucky enough to make it safely to countries in Europe, but others, like those executed by ISIS in Libya this past April, were not so lucky. They were forced to leave Uganda...

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