+972 Magazine » Sudan http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Wed, 10 Feb 2016 22:09:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 It’s been 10 years since I applied for refugee status in Israel http://972mag.com/its-been-10-years-since-i-applied-for-refugee-status-in-israel/114595/ http://972mag.com/its-been-10-years-since-i-applied-for-refugee-status-in-israel/114595/#comments Tue, 08 Dec 2015 14:34:40 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=114595 It’s been exactly 10 years since I crossed the border into Israel. I’ve been imprisoned, I’ve become ill, I was forced to renew my visa 62 times, and now I’m back in a detention facility — Holot. Is seeking asylum a crime?

By Hassan Rahima

Hassan Nahima (Photo by Yair Meyuhas)

Hassan Nahima (Photo by Yair Meyuhas)

This Sunday marked 10 years since I applied for refugee status in Israel. I’ve been waiting since December 6, 2005, the day I crossed the border from Egypt. My journey into the unknown continues.

I was 17 years old when my village, Smasm, in the South Kordofan province of Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, was attacked. Most members of my family were killed in that horrible attack, which was the beginning of the suffering I have endured until today. I was arrested.

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I faced various types of torture, including beatings and humiliation at the hands of the Sudanese regime. I realized that my life was in danger, so I decided to escape from the scourge of torture and search for safety outside my country.

I first arrived in Egypt. There, I saw asylum seekers sleeping on the ground and staging a strike in Cairo’s Mustafa Mahmoud Square, demanding better services from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). I saw Egyptian security forces assault, beat, and arrest asylum seekers and deport them back to Sudan. The two countries were close allies in security matters, and death was almost certain for anyone who was returned. UNHCR closed its doors to asylum seekers in Cairo. Egyptian security forces eventually killed 20 of them. Deeply fearing being arrested and deported back to Sudan, I decided to leave Egypt and head to Israel.

I was so scared and nervous! At the border, I asked myself several questions. What will happen to me if I am arrested by the Egyptian border guards? If I were lucky enough, I would be able to cross to the Israeli side of the border. But what will happen when the Israeli border guards realize somebody has crossed illegally into Israel? If had been a way for me to cross legally, I would have taken it. But there wasn’t.

An Israeli soldier stops asylum seekers from approaching the Egyptian border.

An Israeli soldier stops asylum seekers near the Egyptian border. (Illustrative photo by Activestills.org)

In the end, I made it. I crossed the border illegally, but I believe I was justified in doing so. I only had two equally risky options at the time: the first was to step back into to the furnace behind me, which meant possibly being killed at any moment as I walked back to Egypt. The second was to cross the border into the unknown. It was the biggest dilemma I had ever faced.

I chose the unknown. I crossed the Israeli border at 9 p.m on December 6, 2005. The Israeli army welcomed me far differently than what I had expected and treated me respectfully. I salute them for that. However, I was transferred to Ktzi’ot Prison, where I spent 45 days with Palestinian prisoners. I was interrogated by the prisoners who accused me of being a spy for the Jews and an enemy of Islam. They attacked, beat, and assaulted me.

I realized that my life was once again in danger. I told the prison authorities that I had been beaten and isolated by the other prisoners. They transferred me to another prison for three weeks, and then to Maasiyahu Prison in the center of Israel. I lived there for 11 months and 15 days. Maasiyahu not like any of the previous prisons. I was infected with disease there from which I still have not recovered. Due to the harsh conditions, I passed out inside the prison one day.

On December 21, 2006, I was released on the conditions that I: live at Kibbutz Yad Hana and not leave the kibbutz; not speak with the media; do agricultural work on the Kibbutz.

Working in the fields was extremely difficult and impossible to endure. And yet I did it for eight long months, at which point I was told I could live anywhere in Israel. The authorities gave me a letter certifying as much. I’ve held onto that letter to this day. They told me to pay NIS 1,000 ($250 USD) at Ben-Gurion Airport, the receipt for which I’ve kept to this day.

Later, the UNHCR office in Tel Aviv gave me a six-month renewable temporary protection. And despite the UN document, I still had to sign in at an Israeli immigration office three times a week for the first six months. A year and a half later, the immigration authorities replaced the UNHCR card with a “conditional release visa,” which has to be renewed every two months.

A Sudanese woman protesting outside the Israeli Interior Ministry in Tel Aviv displays a UNHCR card issued in Cairo, October 14, 2012. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A Sudanese woman protesting outside the Israeli Interior Ministry in Tel Aviv displays a UNHCR card issued in Cairo, October 14, 2012. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Everything was moving back in time. Instead of receiving temporary protection from the UNHCR, in order to maintain my status in Israel I had to go to an Israeli Interior Ministry office every two months. I renewed the visa a total of 62 times.

The Israeli Interior Ministry revoked my visa on May 17, 2014, at which point they summonsed me to appear at the Holot detention center, where Israel holds African asylum seekers.

Probably because my health situation was unstable, the summons was canceled. But a year later, I was summonsed again to Holot, just across the road from Ktzi’ot Prison, where I was first held in 2005. My health was still very bad and all medical tests indicated I was not suitable to be put in Holot, which would have a detrimental effect on my body. But the immigration authorities did not care. They did not care if I was going to die or not.

African asylum seekers jailed in the Holot detention center protest behind the prison's fence, February 17, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

African asylum seekers jailed in the Holot detention center protest behind the prison’s fence, February 17, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

I asked for asylum on the first day I arrived in Israel. But no one cared about my request at the time. I was told to fill out the refugee status determination form. I applied, but no answer ever came — for a decade!

I cannot fathom what crime I committed for which I was sent back to prison? Is applying for asylum a crime for which I need to be punished for 10 years? Longer? And if it is a crime, then why I was released Maasiyahu Prison in the first place? Is there any humanity left?

There is, it seems, still a slight piece of humanity left. Many people have stood beside me and helped me for the past 10 years and I want to thank them for everything they have done for me. I also forgive all the people who have abused me. Ultimately, their abuse is inflicted on themselves. It does not and cannot take away my humanity.

This article also appears in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Exclusive: Despite dangers, Israel sending asylum seekers to home countries http://972mag.com/exclusive-israel-deports-most-asylum-seekers-to-home-countries-where-they-face-death-or-prison/110614/ http://972mag.com/exclusive-israel-deports-most-asylum-seekers-to-home-countries-where-they-face-death-or-prison/110614/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 10:15:29 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=110614 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 / Activestills.org

Sudanese asylum seekers await deportation to South Sudan. 2012. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Asylum seekers await deportation to South Sudan. 2012. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

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.”

Thousands of African asylum seekers leave Holot detention center without intention to come, June 25, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Thousands of African asylum seekers leave Holot detention center on the way to the Egyptian border, where they hope to bring attention to their struggle, Negev Desert, Israel, June 25, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Due to the dangers facing asylum seekers in their homeland, not a single European country has deported them to Eritrea or Sudan. Even asylum seekers who are not granted refugee status can remain in those countries, pursuant to the policy of non-return, which is anchored in the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Israel’s Administration of Population and Immigration has yet to respond to the above claims.

Breaking their spirits

Asylum seekers living in Israel are in constant threat of being jailed for long periods of time at the Holot detention center. Just a week ago, Israel’s High Court approved the latest version of the “anti-infiltration law,” which allows the state to imprison asylum seekers in Holot for a period of a year.

According to President of the High Court Miriam Naor’s ruling, the state has no intention of “breaking the spirit” of the asylum seekers and does not encourage them to leave, while they are eligible for protection from deportation. In response to the High Court ruling, Minister Gilad Erdan published a Facebook status [Hebrew], which revealed the true intention of the law: to break the asylum seekers’ spirits so that they return to their home countries. “The 20 months in Holot detention center…(is intended) to create an incentive for them to return to their countries of origin.”

“Many of the voluntary ‘returnees’ to their country of origin, who return despite the heavy risks entailed to their lives and freedom, are refugees whom Israel was able to break their spirits through detention and abuse,” says Mack. “Choosing their home country over a third country is not a confirmation that the asylum seeker feels that he or she is safe there.”

African asylum seekers jailed in the Holot detention center protest behind the prison's fence, February 17, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

African asylum seekers jailed in the Holot detention center protest behind the prison’s fence, February 17, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Gilad Liberman received dozens of reports detailing cases in which asylum seekers sent by Israel to their countries of origin were thereafter tortured or murdered.

“The continuation of the current policy will lead to the death of many more in Sudan and in Eritrea, from which the refugees fled because of persecution,” he said. “Since the regime now sees them as spies or dissidents, many have been imprisoned or even put to death” upon their return home.

No safety in ‘third countries’

In light of criticism against the policy of deportation, the Israeli authorities have maintained that the asylum seekers’ security would be ensured in the third country in ways that would be impossible to promise if they returned to the countries from which they fled.

The state has responded to criticism of its third country policy by claiming that the safety of the asylum seekers is ensured, and that there is a taskforce set up to track the goings on in Uganda and Rwanda. However, investigations by aid organizations have cast doubt on this claim. Needless to say, in Sudan and Eritrea, asylum seekers face much greater risks.

“Even if there was legal backing for ‘voluntary return’ by a Darfuri refugee to Sudan — Israel doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Sudan,” adds Mack. “Unless there are secret agreements between the Israeli government and Khartoum, it is clear that Israel has no real way to monitor the fate of deportees to Sudan.”

An handcuffed African asylum seeker shouts as he sits inside a police bus, after he was arrested by the immigration police during a Solidarity March For Freedom, Negev, Israel, December 19, 2013. The march set out from Holot detention centre aimed to reach the Southern city of Beer Sheva, and to show solidarity with the March For Freedom arrestees, demanding freedom and recognition of refugee rights. Israeli immigration officers arrested a hundred of them and they were sent back to prison. (Activestills.org)

An handcuffed African asylum seeker shouts as he sits inside a police bus, after he was arrested by the immigration police during a Solidarity March For Freedom, Negev, Israel, December 19, 2013. The march set out from Holot detention centre aimed to reach the Southern city of Beer Sheva, and to show solidarity with the March For Freedom arrestees, demanding freedom and recognition of refugee rights. Israeli immigration officers arrested a hundred of them and they were sent back to prison. (Activestills.org)

Despite Israeli promises, Rwanda and Uganda do not have proper procedures for absorbing asylum seekers, leaving the majority of them without solutions. In Rwanda, many asylum seekers receive a 48-hour visa, and many choose to continue to other places in the hope of finding a place where they will be recognized as refugees.

Emanuel Yamini, an asylum seeker from Eritrea, says that “in Israel, they promise us that nothing will happen for those who return, that it’s coordinated with the embassies, but when people leave Israel and arrive to the airport in the Eritrean capital they find government officials waiting for them.”

He says that he hasn’t been able to contact a fellow asylum seeker who has returned to Eritrea, adding that “Israel is endangering our lives, if it’s by sending us to Eritrea or to a third country.”

Most asylum seekers that have left Israel have agreed to “voluntary return” while being jailed in either Saharonim or Holot, or having been summoned to Holot. A report by the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, which looks at asylum seekers who were sent to third countries while imprisoned in Saharonim, found that “through cross-checking with a number of sources in Sudan, 13 Sudanese asylum seekers who returned from Israel were murdered in prison by the authorities. Others are currently imprisoned and it is likely that they are being tortured.” Additional asylum seekers have been murdered in South Sudan and Libya, while others have drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe.

Israel’s Administration of Population and Immigration refuses to provide details on the number of asylum seekers who leave the country from Holot.

The process of “voluntary return” began picking up steam in 2014, when the state began sending summons asylum seekers to Holot for indefinite periods of time. Only after human rights groups petitioned the High Court was the detention period reduced, first to 20 months, and now to a year. In the coming days thousands of jailed asylum seekers — who have been in Holot for over a year — will be released. Meanwhile, the immigration authorities have begun summoning thousands of asylum seekers in Israel to Holot.

Sadiq’s story

Sadiq Al-Sadiq seen outside Holot detention center. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Sadiq Al-Sadiq seen outside Holot detention center. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

After Sadiq al-Sadiq signed off on “voluntary return” to a third country, he reached the airport at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, only to discover that his final destination was Sudan. He refused to get on the flight and was able to return to Israel, where he was jailed in Holot.

In a hearing on the case following his return, Gideon Cohen, the head of the Administration of Population and Immigration’s unit dealing with voluntary return, testified that he does not bother to get asylum seekers to sign off on their return. “We used to get signatures,” said Cohen. “This created a big pile of paperwork that no one did anything with. At some point, I made a decision, which was backed by my manager, Yossi Edelstein, that there is no need for the person to come to me, that him coming to me is voluntary. Even if I got his signature, he can always claim that someone forced him to sign. My personal opinion is that this is totally unnecessary.”

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PHOTOS: Asylum seeker theater troupe re-imagines life in Israel http://972mag.com/photos-asylum-seeker-theater-troupe-re-imagines-life-in-israel/107813/ http://972mag.com/photos-asylum-seeker-theater-troupe-re-imagines-life-in-israel/107813/#comments Sun, 14 Jun 2015 18:23:01 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=107813 A theater troupe made up of both asylum seekers and Israelis puts on their debut performance — and lets the audience choose the ending.

Text and photos by Oren Ziv / Activestills.org

Israelis and African Asylum seekers jailed in Holot preform during a theatre show outside the Holot detention center in the Negev desert, June 13, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israelis and African Asylum seekers jailed in Holot preform during a theatre show outside the Holot detention center in the Negev desert, June 13, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Nearly 1,000 asylum seekers and Israelis arrived at Holot detention center on Saturday to watch the premier of a play put on by the Holot theater troupe just outside the facility.

Israelis and African Asylum seekers jailed in Holot preform during a theatre show outside the Holot detention center in the Negev desert, June 13, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The Holot theater troupe in action, June 13, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The play — directed by Avi Mughrabi and Chen Alon, which includes refugees jailed in Holot as well as Israelis — tells the story of Eritrean asylum seekers. The actors depict the escape from forced labor in Eritrea, torture in Sinai, life in Israel, being arrested, and the experiences in Holot.

Israelis and African Asylum seekers jailed in Holot preform during a theatre show outside the Holot detention center in the Negev desert, June 13, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Direct0r Avi Mughrabi seen during the Holot theater troupe’s performance, Holot detention center in the Negev desert, June 13, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

At the end of the show, Alon got up and invited the crowd to re-write the end of the play in order to propose a new solution for the asylum seekers. The crowd made suggestions, which the actors then performed on the spot.

Israelis and African Asylum seekers jailed in Holot preform during a theatre show outside the Holot detention center in the Negev desert, June 13, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israelis and African Asylum seekers jailed in Holot preform during a theatre show outside the Holot detention center in the Negev desert, June 13, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The Israeli government has sent thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to Holot, an open detention center in the Negev Desert, since December 2013. Inmates are allowed to leave the premises, but must report back several times a day. Israeli NGOs have successfully petitioned the High Court to shut down the facility; however the government, unmoved by the High Court’s order, has repeatedly passed a replacement law that would leave the detention center open while somehow feigning compliance with the court’s order.

In March, the Israeli government announced that it would begin deporting asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea to Uganda or Rwanda, or force them to face unlimited imprisonment in Israel. In April, three Eritrean asylum seekers and former Holot detainees were executed by Islamic State militants in Libya.

Related:
ISIS executes three asylum seekers deported by Israel
Israel to indefinitely imprison refugees who refuse deportation
‘I believed them when they said I could stay in Uganda’

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The untold story of Israeli military exports to South Sudan http://972mag.com/the-untold-story-of-israeli-military-exports-to-south-sudan/107137/ http://972mag.com/the-untold-story-of-israeli-military-exports-to-south-sudan/107137/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 12:10:23 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=107137  Since South Sudan’s independence, Israel has continuously sold it weapons, military training, homeland security and surveillance technology. The only problem? They are being used to commit war crimes and potential crimes against humanity

By: Adv. Itai Mack and Idan Landau (translation: Einat Adar)

South Sudanese Soldiers. (Steve Evans/CC BY-SA 2.0)

South Sudanese Soldiers. (Steve Evans/CC BY-SA 2.0)

We now know that Israel sold weapons to Rwanda in the 1990s as genocide was being committed throughout the country. The details of these dealings are still being kept secret and an appeal (Hebrew) to make them public is currently being examined in the High Court of Justice. No lessons, it seems, were learned from that affair.

For the last 18 months a bloody civil war has been raging in another African country, South Sudan, including documented war crimes and potential crimes against humanity. The international media is covering this war on a daily basis. The Israeli media, on the other hand, reported about it during the first few months but has since become silent, even though atrocities are still being perpetrated. This silence probably has a good reason: high-ranking officials in the government and the security industry are selling weapons, military training, homeland security and surveillance technology to factions in South Sudan. Any publication on these activities can seriously embarrass them.

Since the 1960’s Israel has been fighting a secret war in South Sudan by supporting the rebels’ struggle to break free from Khartoum’s tyranny. Israel’s support does not reflect its humanistic values or solidarity with a just and legitimate fight for freedom, but rather is the result of various strategic interests in the region. In 2011 a referendum was held in South Sudan following massive pressure from the international community. Ninety-nine percent of residents voted in favor of breaking away from Khartoum, and on July 9th of the same year South Sudan became an independent country.

The State of Israel was one of the first countries to recognize the new state, and in 2011 Salva Kiir Mayardit, president of South Sudan, came to Israel on official visit. For Israel, an independent South Sudan was a golden opportunity to further its security and economic interests in the area, and it subsequently made hefty investments in civil and military infrastructure there. The relationship between the two countries is exceptional even when compared to Israel’s close ties with other African countries, showing some signs of sponsorship.

This special relationship should also be understood in the context of regional power struggles. The local conflict between Sudan and South Sudan is sponsored by Iran and Israel respectively. As Iran reinforced its ties with Muslim Sudan, Israel strengthened its relations with Christian South Sudan, which also provides it with oil. Two-and-a-half years ago Israel allegedly bombed an Iranian owned arms factory in Khartoum; a year ago the IDF intercepted a ship carrying munitions from Sudan to Gaza; and just this month an Israeli drone was reportedly shot down in Sudan. It is evident that Iran and Israel are fighting a proxy war through their African allies.

The only question is whether this semi-imperial strategy can, in any way, justify supporting South Sudan forces who perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity. No Israeli strategic interest, real or imaginary, can exempt it from the moral and legal responsibility to prevent the sale of any weapons that may be used for such purposes.

South Sudan’s celebration of independence sadly turned into one of the worst tragedies of our times. Since mid-December 2013 a civil war has been raging in South Sudan between opposing ethnic and political groups — a continuation of the bloody civil war that led to the country’s independence after 22 years. According to the latest reports, 50,000 people were killed, 2 million people were displaced or became refugees, and 2.5 million people are at risk of starvation due to the war. Human rights organizations and the United Nations estimate that 12,000 child soldiers are fighting in South Sudan. All parties involved in the fighting, and especially the government and its allied militias, are implicated in war crimes, crimes against humanity and severe violations of human rights.

Neither side is able to bring the war to an end, and no ethnic group has a clear majority in the country. The Dinka tribe, which is currently in control of the government, is only 35 percent of the population. Some of the opposition fighters are former security forces personnel who defected to the other side, taking their weapons and military training with them, thus making it harder for government forces to defeat them. For these reasons, the government decided on an alternative strategy: mass murder, systematic rape of other ethnic groups, and abuse of citizens identified with the opposition. As long as weapons continue to stream into the country, the government has no interest in reaching a compromise, and it continues to cling to a false hope of defeating their enemies in the field.

South Sudanese refugees (Activestills)

South Sudanese refugees in Israel. (Activestills)

This situation led European countries to declare a weapons embargo on South Sudan and the U.S. to suspend its military aid. There were also attempts to pass a similar embargo resolution in the UN Security Council. So far these attempts have been unsuccessful due conflicts and arguments between the members of the council, as well as the fear that the rebels will defeat the government forces. Despite the political difficulties involved in agreeing on an embargo resolution, the gravity of the situation in South Sudan is clear to all. On March 3 of this year the Security Council adopted U.S.-sponsored Resolution 2206, giving both sides an ultimatum threatening a weapons embargo and other sanctions if the fighting is not ended.

Despite the world’s reaction, Israel’s secret war in South Sudan continues according to reports and information provided by human rights activists who have been, or still are, in South Sudan. Since the country’s independence, Israel has continuously sent it weapons, training government forces and providing various security-related technologies. There is also a cooperation between the two countries’ secret services, and Israeli entities have established an internal control and surveillance system in South Sudan, which they continue to maintain.

The current Israeli involvement in South Sudan is exceptional in the history of Israeli military exports. This goes way beyond greed. Israel is currently fighting over the viability of a project that it has invested much in over the years — a project whose failure may damage its credibility in the eyes of other dictators and regimes that receive military aid from Israel.

An official publication by the Ministry of Defense from November 2014 (almost a year after the beginning of the civil war in South Sudan) boasts (Hebrew) about the success of the defense export department at Cyber Security exhibition, visited by 70 delegations from around the world, including South Sudan. There are testimonies that the South Sudan military is using the Israeli Galil ACE rifle. Eighteen months before the outbreak of the civil war, a Sudanese newspaper reported on an airlift from Israel to South Sudan, providing rockets, military equipment and even African mercenaries (after training). The provisions still continue to flow. A South Sudanese delegation will visit (Hebrew) an Israeli armament exhibition to be held next week in Tel Aviv.

Think about it for a minute: a country in which crimes against humanity are perpetrated at this very moment, using foreign weapons and under a complete weapons embargo by U.S. and Europe, sends a military acquisitions delegation to Israel and is being welcomed with open arms.

Both international law and basic human morality forbid the sale of weapons or other military aid which may serve in war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the past, due to the political conflicts of the Cold War, the international community failed to fulfill this obligation, but since the 1990s it has been transformed into decisive law in U.S. and Europe, as well as among international conventions and international institutions such as the UN and international courts.

A man waves the South Sudan flag. (photo: Arsenie Coseac/CC BY-SA 2.0)

A man waves the South Sudan flag. (photo: Arsenie Coseac/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Israel has no real way of ensuring the weapons it sells to South Sudan are not used to massacre civilians or threaten women as they are being raped by soldiers and militia fighters. Furthermore, there is no way to ensure that the training of security forces is not used for the murder and torture of civilians and that the technology it provides is not used for persecuting citizens for their political or ethnic affiliations — not to mention supporting horrific war crimes and crimes against humanity — unless it completely stops all military and security-related exports to this country. It is important to clarify that international law also forbids the sale of technologies and devices that “don’t shoot” if they may be used in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

On March 12 this year, Adv. Itai Mack gave an interview about military exports to South Sudan on the radio program “According to Foreign Media” (Hebrew), which is aired on the “All For Peace” radio station (beginning 47:50). Mack revealed more details about Israel’s involvement in providing weapons and training to South Sudan forces. Following these findings, Adv. Mack appealed to the Ministry of Defense to stop military exports to the country. The appeal, unsurprisingly, was rejected.

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) is currently trying to break the seal of silence, by demanded that the Ministry of Defense cease all military exports to South Sudan immediately. The demand was accompanied by an expert opinion prepared by Adv. Mack, which details the factual and legal aspects of the issue (you can find the request and opinion in Hebrew here).

The Israeli public must join this request. And the time to do it is right now.

Idan Landau is an Israeli academic at Ben-Gurion University. This post was originally published in Hebrew on Idan’s blog, Don’t Die a Fool. It is reposted here with the author’s permission.

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PHOTOS: Sudanese refugees protest gender violence http://972mag.com/photos-sudanese-refugees-protest-gender-violence/99219/ http://972mag.com/photos-sudanese-refugees-protest-gender-violence/99219/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 22:54:12 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=99219 Photos by Oren Ziv / Activestills.org

Sudanese asylum seekers protest outside the European Union Embassy, November 25, 2014, Ramat Gan, Israel. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Sudanese asylum seekers protest outside the European Union Embassy, November 25, 2014, Ramat Gan, Israel. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Approximately 200 Sudanese asylum seekers marked International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Tuesday by demonstrating against the European Union’s lack of action regarding Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The protest comes in the wake of the mass rape of hundreds of women and girls in Darfur at the hands of al-Bashir’s soldiers over the last several months.

The demonstrators marched from Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv to the building that houses the European Union delegation to Israel in Ramat Gan, demanding that the EU intervene in order to stop the rape and ethnic cleansing in Sudan, as well as try al-Bashir for war crimes.

Mutasim Ali, one of the leaders of the asylum seeker movement in Israel, explained in the lead-up to the protest that demonstrators decided to target the EU because “the UN is in Sudan but not doing anything.”

Sudanese asylum seekers march to the EU Embassy in Ramat Gan, November 25, 2014. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Sudanese asylum seekers march to the EU Embassy in Ramat Gan, November 25, 2014. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

“The African Union is also here, but they are hiding,” says Ali. “They do not want to properly investigate and are actually cooperating with the regime. The European Union can call on the government of Sudan to put a stop to this.”

Related:
Israel hasn’t recognized one Sudanese refugee
The origins and politics of Israel’s refugee debate

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Voices from Israel’s ‘open prison’: Feeling caged in Holot http://972mag.com/voices-from-israels-open-prison-speaking-to-the-cows-in-holot/92469/ http://972mag.com/voices-from-israels-open-prison-speaking-to-the-cows-in-holot/92469/#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 16:13:00 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=92469 ‘My curiosity drives me to walk around my prison, where I stand like an inmate near those massive buildings, guarded by imposing patrol towers.’ Musings by a Sudanese refugee in Holot prison.

By Hassan Shakur

I live in a rugged and semi-abandoned grassland. It is a very remote and isolated area that doesn’t seem to support life at all. There are numerous rocky hills without trees, and the area lives up to its name as a deserted desert.

I live in a small confined center enclosed by a fence that reminds me of a cowshed. The detention facility where I currently live consists of several housing units, each with its own small yard. The center is as tough and strange as its surrounding environment.

Detainees in Holot (Photo by Activestills.org)

Detainees in Holot (Photo by Activestills.org)

Sometimes I aimlessly wander and create a lovely evening picnic for myself. There are huge prisons, poultry sheds, animal farms and military bases around us. Often my curiosity drives me to walk around my prison. I just stand like an inmate near those huge and massive buildings guarded by the imposing patrol towers.

As I walk toward the poultry sheds, I am struck by the amount of chickens I see in such a small place. I go around to the cow sheds, hoping to see something interesting, but unfortunately I find that they are also in prison. Sometimes I tell them, “Hi cows! Look, you should come to Africa – your friends there are free to move anywhere.” Finally, if I don’t find anything enjoyable to do, I climb a hill, lay down on the rocks and wait for the wind to blow. At least then, in that moment, I can enjoy listening to the sound of the wind. Instead, I find myself listening to guns firing from a nearby army base.

Hassan Shakur during his goodbye party before being sent off to Holot.

Hassan Shakur during his goodbye party before being sent off to Holot.

The weather here is definitely stranger than anything I’ve ever experienced; it’s always changing. It ranges from very hot, to stormy and windy in the middle of the day, to cold at night. Occasionally we have beautiful, spring-like weather in the morning. This time of day, the morning, is my favorite moment to contemplate; to try and see everything around me as just wonderful.

Written by Hassan Shakur, Schoolhouse student and teacher assistant, and current English teacher in Holot. Hassan continues to work on and develop his English writing via email with his private volunteer tutor, Tamara Elise. 

 This piece was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call.

Related:
Israel hasn’t recognized one Sudanese refugee
Israeli bureaucracy leaves Sudanese vulnerable to arrest
The origins and politics of Israel’s refugee debate

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WATCH: Confronting an Israeli minister for flouting int’l law http://972mag.com/watch-confronting-an-israeli-minister-for-flouting-intl-law/91052/ http://972mag.com/watch-confronting-an-israeli-minister-for-flouting-intl-law/91052/#comments Mon, 19 May 2014 06:00:27 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=91052 Sadiq al-Sadiq was returned to Israel earlier this month after finding himself being sent — against his will — back to Sudan, from where he fled persecution and genocide. Sadiq is just one of hundreds or thousands of Sudanese who have been pressured to leave Israel. Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who is responsible for the asylum seeker population in Israel, has made it clear that he intends to empty the country of African asylum seekers. “If we treat this [problem] like liberals, we’ll lose the country,” he has said in the past. Earlier this month, one Israeli activist confronted Sa’ar outside his home.

By Lia Tarachansky/The Real News

Lia Tarachansky is an Israeli-Canadian filmmaker and journalist with the The Real News Network.

Related:
Sudanese asylum seeker returns to Israel following ‘deportation’

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Sudanese asylum seeker returns to Israel following ‘deportation’ http://972mag.com/sudanese-asylum-seeker-returns-to-israel-following-deportation/90708/ http://972mag.com/sudanese-asylum-seeker-returns-to-israel-following-deportation/90708/#comments Fri, 09 May 2014 19:44:55 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=90708 Sadiq al-Sadiq says he never agreed to return to his home country, where he fears persecution. Israeli authorities, however, say he signed a document agreeing to just that.

Based on Avi Belcherman’s Hebrew article on +972′s sister site, “Local Call”
Adapted by Michael Omer-Man

A Darfurian asylum seeker who left the Israel last week under the assumption that he was going to a third country — but soon found himself being sent back to Sudan — was returned to Israel on Friday. Activists said that his return to Israel took place against his will, and that he was being held in an immigration holding facility near Ben-Gurion Airport.

+972’s Hebrew-language sister site, “Local Call,” first reported on Sadiq al-Sadiq’s case two days ago. Israeli librarian Daphna Lichtman, who knew Sadiq from her work in south Tel Aviv, unexpectedly ran into him at the Adis Ababa airport, where she herself had a layover between flights. When she heard his story she immediately published it on Facebook, where it began to receive attention back in Israel.

Sadiq al-Sadiq at the Adis Ababa Airport (Photo: Daphna Lichtman)

Sadiq al-Sadiq at the Adis Ababa Airport (Photo: Daphna Lichtman)

Lichtman’s original post, as published on “Local Call” by Avi Belcherman:

Last Wednesday (April 30), Immigration Authority officers came to pick him up from his house and take him to the airport. He wasn’t told the name of the third country to which he was being deported… [Only when he got to the plane] did they tell him that it was Ethiopia. When he got to the airport in Ethiopia and asked to go into the city in order to begin his new life, an Ethiopian immigration agent informed him that he was not permitted to leave the airport and that in a few hours, he had a connecting flight to Sudan.

Sadiq refused to be sent back to Sudan, where he fled persecution. According to Sadiq, when he left Israel he only agreed to go to a third country where he understood he would receive protection. He says he felt misled by Israeli immigration authorities, who claim he agreed to voluntarily return to Sudan.

It is not clear whether the document Sadiq signed in Israel was in English, Arabic or Hebrew.

Later in the week, Ethiopian authorities took Sadiq — who had been roaming around the airport for over a week — into custody and told him they were sending him back to Israel, which he did not want. Calling Israeli activists from passenger’s phone on the plane back to Israel, Sadiq said he feared imprisonment. Upon arrival he was brought to the immigration detention facility near Ben-Gurion Airport, where he is currently being held.

Read +972′s full coverage of refugees in Israel

Attorney Asaf Weitzen of the Hotline for Migrants and Refugees told “Local Call” that he spoke on the telephone with Sadiq from the Israeli airport detention facility. “There is a lot of work to be done here and it’s a little early to share that with the media. Among other things, we’ll have to clarify how this — which [could be] a mistake or deceit — took place, and whether Sadiq also wants to fight it legally.”

Population, Immigration and Borders Authority spokesperson Sabin Hadad responded to a request for comment by “Local Call”: “Most of the facts in your request [for comment], certainly including the very basis of the article, are mistaken. Mr. Sadik left Israel voluntarily, after signing a document [attesting to] his consent, and [according to which he would] receive a stipend. He chose — and signed off on — to leave for his country of origin (Sudan) and not to a third country; all of the allegations are fabrications.”

“When he arrived in Adis Ababa, the transit country for his flight, it appears that he chose not to continue on his way and remained in Ethiopia,” Hadad continued. “When the matter was brought to the attention of the [Israeli Immigration] Authority, it was dealt with and we coordinated his return flight to Israel. It is not clear what facts he is telling but they aren’t aligned with reality. Upon his arrival in Israel, [his case] will be dealt with by the Authority, in accordance with the law.”

Read a version of this story in Hebrew on “Local Call” here.

Related:
The origins and politics of Israel’s refugee debate
Israel hasn’t recognized one Sudanese refugee

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No excuse for Israel’s denial of asylum seekers’ plight http://972mag.com/no-excuse-for-israels-denial-of-asylum-seekers-plight/86093/ http://972mag.com/no-excuse-for-israels-denial-of-asylum-seekers-plight/86093/#comments Wed, 22 Jan 2014 19:46:06 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=86093 Refugees’ fear of arrest, torture, and death should be sufficient justification for their inability to return their countries of origin. So why is the Israeli government refusing to grant African refugees asylum status? A personal story.

By Guy Josif and Anna Rose Siegel

African asylum seekers participate in a silent demonstration in front of the African Union office in Tel Aviv, calling for international support in their struggle for recognition as refugees, January 22, 2014. (photo: Oren Ziv, Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

African asylum seekers participate in a silent demonstration in front of the African Union office in Tel Aviv, calling for international support in their struggle for recognition as refugees, January 22, 2014. (photo: Oren Ziv, Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

For the past three weeks, tens of thousands of African refugees in Israel, along with Israeli activists, have participated in demonstrations, hunger and labor strikes, and continual political engagement in opposition to intensified efforts by Israeli officials to detain refugees without due process. In response to these actions, Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that these people are not refugees, but rather “people who are breaking the law and whom we will deal with to the fullest extent of the law.”

This statement reflects the destructive denial by Israeli officials of the very real persecution experienced by Africans who have escaped to Israel. To deny refugees’ experiences and then construct policy based on this denial is to rub salt into refugees’ very real psychological and physical wounds. And, I can tell you, it is painful.

I understand the pain felt by refugees in Israel, because I was a refugee there myself. Although, I am now one of only a handful of refugees who have relocated from Israel to the U.S., I was one of the nearly 55,000 who live in limbo on a daily basis while applying for a status that grants temporary protection from deportation, but no other rights.

The 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which Israel signed and ratified, defines a refugee as a person who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted…is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to think that my story (and countless other stories of other refugees in Israel) does not fit this definition.

I grew up in a village in Darfur, Sudan. One afternoon in August 2003, our small village was attacked by nearly 200 members of the government-affiliated Janjaweed militia. They shot at every human being in sight and burned all the houses. I was able to escape, but many of my good friends were killed. I  never saw my parents or younger siblings again. We experienced all of this just because we were Darfuri, whom the Sudanese government aims to eliminate.

From there I fled to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. In Khartoum, I was arrested and detained on three separate occasions by the government’s security forces. On each occasion I was questioned, beaten, and tortured because I was Darfuri. During my final arrest, the security forces told me that if I did not leave Sudan within one week, they would kill me.

And yet, a law was passed in the Knesset on December 10th makes detention the only alternative to deportation, suggesting that Israeli officials have failed to understand why refugees cannot return to their countries of origin.

I knew other Sudanese refugees who became so fearful of the Israeli government’s xenophobic policies that they agreed to return to Sudan. In dozens of cases, refugees who are still living in Israel have tried to contact those who returned but have received no responses. Those living in Israel also contact the families of those who have returned, but the families have rarely seen or heard from them either. In 2011, a friend of mine decided to return to Sudan, because he feared the intensifying xenophobia and harshening refugee policy that he experienced in Israel. Sadly, within moments of his plane landing in Sudan, my friend was arrested by Sudanese officials. No one has heard from him since.

Refugees’ fear of arrest, torture, and death should be sufficient justification for their inability to return their countries of origin. However, I applied for asylum in Israel and never received an answer from the government.

While approximately 94% of the total refugee population in Israel is from Eritrea and Sudan, not a single Eritrean or Sudanese national has ever been granted refugee status.

We, refugees who have lived in Israel, understand that Israel is the only country where all Jews can feel at home. We recognize that Israelis have a right to protect their territory. However, refugees also have the right to be protected according to the UN Refugee Convention. Moreover, they have the right for their experiences to be acknowledged rather than virulently denied.

Guy Josif is a Darfuri refugee who escaped the genocide in Sudan by traveling to Israel, where he lived for five years before leaving to study in the U.S. in 2013. He is currently a student at College of Lake County in Illinois.

Anna Rose Siegel is a refugee rights activist in Tel Aviv, where she works at the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC) and volunteers with the Right Now campaign.

Read more:
Asylum seekers in Israel globalize protest
Portraits: Detained African asylum seekers in Israel
150 imprisoned African asylum seekers start hunger strike

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Day 2 of African asylum seeker protest: What do they want? http://972mag.com/day-2-of-african-asylum-seeker-protest-what-do-they-want/85092/ http://972mag.com/day-2-of-african-asylum-seeker-protest-what-do-they-want/85092/#comments Mon, 06 Jan 2014 13:59:30 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=85092 African asylum seekers are holding their second of a three-day national protest. On Monday, thousands of asylum seekers, most of whom are employed by hotels and restaurants, went on strike and held large rallies in front of Western and African embassies.

The protesters are calling on the international community to make sure Israel respects its commitments under the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, thus ensuring that the Israeli government ceases rounding up and imprisoning asylum seekers without trial, and that it releases inmates already held under the revised anti-infiltration bill.

In a press release sent on Sunday , the protest organizers wrote:

We turn to the ambassadors and the diplomats in Israel with a desperate call for help. We know that your countries are dealing with the challenge of many refugees arriving at your gates… many of our own brothers and sisters have arrived at your countries and have received protection, shelter and refugee status.

We recognize the difficulty in accepting refugees and hosting foreigners. It’s never easy to let a stranger into your home… yet we see that the treatment of refugees in many countries is much better than the humiliation and harsh treatment we suffer in Israel […] the government of Israel sees in us a threat that needs to quickly be rid, it arrests us in the streets as if we were criminals, it locks us indefinitely, it leaves us in the margins of society without access to basic rights and it incites against us again and again…”

There are some 53,000 African asylum seekers in Israel. The vast majority of them arrived on foot from Eritrea and Sudan to flee civil wars and persecution by the Eritrean dictatorship. The asylum seekers settled in Israel’s poorest neighborhoods; at least half of the community lives in South Tel Aviv, while the others mostly live in Arad and Eilat (due to employment opportunities provided by the tourism business in those cities).

African asylum seekers prepare to march to foreign embassies across Tel Aviv, as part of a three-day general strike. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The previous Netanyahu government made it its goal to stop the influx of asylum seekers into Israel. While recognizing that it could not deport most of them, the government refused to review their requests to be recognized as refugees. Israel then installed a fence along its southern borders, and according to some reports, several IDF units even conducted raids on the Sinai Peninsula in order to turn back convoys of refugees. Many of those who already entered Israel were subjected to the original anti-infiltration bill, which allowed the government to lock up anyone who entered the county illegally without trial for three years, and in some cases, indefinitely.

It is worth noting that this policy is aimed only at the African community, despite the fact that the number of non-African illegal immigrants in Israel – most of them from former Soviet counties – is almost double that of African asylum seekers (Hebrew). Most of the post-Soviet immigrants do not face threats to their lives in their country of origin.

The government also tried to negotiate a deal with other African counties, which would agree to receive the asylum seeker community in exchange for Israeli financial aid, and perhaps other benefits or goods. So far these efforts have not succeeded.

Click here for +972 Magazine’s full coverage of asylum seekers in Israel

The amendment to the anti-infiltration law was struck down by the High Court of Justice several months ago. Last month, the Knesset passed a new bill which allowed for authorities to imprison asylum seekers for a year. At the same time, the police increased the raids on Africans, while municipalities, including Tel Aviv’s, took harsher measures against businesses owned by asylum seekers, shutting down most of them.

Nearly the entire African community is taking part in the protest. Asylum seekers held several large marches in Tel Aviv, and at least 20,000 people took part in a huge rally at Rabin Square on Sunday. Last month, dozens of asylum seekers walked out of the Holot holding facility in the south, before they were apprehended and sent back by the police. Eritrean dissidents also broke into and disrupted a talk by the Eritrean ambassador in a kibbutz in Israel’s north.

In response to the strike, Israeli officials called for harsh measures against the asylum seekers. Interior Minister Gidon Sa’ar (Likud) warned that the protest might turn violent, and stated that the asylum seekers “are not refugees.” Prime Minister Netanyahu wrote the following message on his Facebook page:

Protests and strikes won’t help. We’ve completely curbed infiltration into Israel and now we are [steadfast in our determination] to remove the illegal work infiltrators who have entered Israel. Last year we increased six-fold — to more than 2,600 – the number of infiltrators who left, and the goal this year is to increase that number even more.

The general strike and protest events are due to continue tomorrow.

African asylum seekers set to march from Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv to eight different embassies to on the international community to support their struggle against Israel’s asylum policies. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

An Israeli man shows his support for African asylum seekers protesting in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

African asylum seekers protest outside the Ethiopian Embassy in Tel Aviv. (photo: Keren Manor)

African asylum seekers march to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, calling on the international community to support their struggle against Israel’s asylum policies. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

African asylum seekers protest outside the French embassy, calling on the international community to support their struggle against Israel’s asylum policies. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

African asylum seekers protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv calling the international community to support their struggle against Israel’s asylum policies. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Related:
African asylum seekers strike to demand rights, hold unprecedented rally in Tel Aviv
Prison break: African asylum seekers claim their place on the Israeli political map
Knesset passes revised law for detention of African asylum seekers

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