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150 imprisoned African asylum seekers start hunger strike

African Asylum seekers take part in a protest march on the highway from Beer Sheva in southern Israel on their way to Jerusalem on December 16, 2013, after they fled a detention center in the south where they were being held. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Some 150 Sudanese asylum seekers jailed in the Saharonim prison began an open-ended hunger strike on Sunday. The prisoners, all of whom took part in the March For Freedom last month and were taken back to the facility, announced they would continue to strike until their release. Since Sunday, prison authorities have isolated the hunger strikers, and today four of the leaders were transferred from Saharonim prison to a Be’er Sheva jail. This following is the letter they wrote to the Israeli public.

Read +972’s full coverage of asylum seekers in Israel

Hunger strike for freedom and human rights

To the Israeli people, human rights organizations and the press:

This is a call to all the people who believe in humanity.

We are calling for the recognition of our rights as refugees.

We are calling to put a stop to the Sudanese refugees suffering inside Israeli prisons.

We are Sudanese refugees imprisoned in Israeli prisons. We have escaped from our homeland since our lives are in danger under the terror of the Sudanese government, and since we have suffered from the scourge of war that is still raging on in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile.

All the world knows the scale of the humanitarian disaster that has happened in Sudan: killing, rape, genocide, ethnic cleansing, looting and the systematic targeting of the black African ethnicities by the Sudanese government. The persecution, torture and murder by the Sudanese security forces of political activists and the opposition groups that belong to the black African ethnicities.

We are Sudanese refugees, we escaped to the Israeli state because we had great faith that the democratic state of Israel, that respects human rights, can protect and accept us as refugees until the reasons from which we escaped are resolved.

We are Sudanese refugees. We escaped to the Israeli state to ask for protection but the Israeli government didn’t accept us as refugees. Instead, they put us in prison since June 2012 until today, 05.01.2014.

Only nine months after we were imprisoned we were finally allowed to apply for asylum, but up until today we have not received an answer or a decision in our requests for political asylum. The supreme High Court decided to release all the prisoners from ‘Saharonim’ and ‘Ketsiot’ prison on the 16.09.2013, but the government didn’t respect the court’s decision to release us and instead they sent us to ‘Holot’ prison on Friday the 13.12.2013, calling us infiltrators and not refugees.

On Sunday the 15.12.2013 we left walking from ‘Holot’ prison to Beer Sheva and from there to Jerusalem to protest against the government’s decision to prevent our release. During the protest in front of the parliament we were violently arrested in front of all the media and human rights organizations. Once again, we were returned to the ‘Saharonim’ prison.

We are Sudanese refugees imprisoned in’ Saharonim’ prison; we are on hunger strike because until today we have not received the government’s answer about our asylum requests. We will continue the hunger strike until our requests will be fulfilled, or we will die from hunger. There is no point in life without human freedom.

Either we live as humans with all our basic rights or we don’t live at all.

We request:

1. Release us into Israel and deal with us as refugees according to international law and the Geneva refugee convention.

2. If the Israeli government can’t protect us and deal with us as humans and refugees in Israel, they should pass us to international human rights organizations for refugees to find for us a state that can protect us and deal with us as refugees. We cannot go back to our countries in this time and we can’t spend our lives as displaced refugees in prison.

The Sudanese refugees, ‘Saharonim’ prison 05.01.2014

African asylum seekers gather outside the central bus station in the city of Be’er Sheva, after marching from the new detention center ‘Holot’, close to the Israeli-Egyptian border, protesting the Israeli government’s decision to jail them in a new facility, December 15, 2013. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

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    1. The Israeli government is knee deep in shame.

      This is what happens when you have the High Court ignored. This is Knesset Supremacy.

      The strikers’ bodily reserves must be low; a hunger strike will hit them fast.

      The High Court order on Saharonim is still being ignored, as is the 1951 Convention. There must be hearing with judicial review. The State’s hands are tainted; it cannot be trusted to impartially decide asylum. Now, 30 strong Knesset Supreme majority, you know why 75 MKs didn’t vote.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        The Israeli government is unlikely to feel any shame here as it has the overwhelming support of its citizenry in its approach to dealing with illegal migrants.

        The High Court order on Saharonim was carried out and all migrants were transferred from there. The 1951 convention does not apply, and in any case does not constitute Israeli domestic law. The Court may rule that the new detention facility is not to its liking, but that too would likely be replaced by some other act of the Knesset, and the Court would be made even more irrelevant. It is a high price to pay for an issue on which the Court has no chance of achieving any wide support among the public. In fact, because it would weaken the Court significantly, I would even argue that the Court ruling against the State here runs contrary to your agenda.

        The State is the only body that can determine immigration policy in a sovereign country. It certainly isn’t going to have a policy imposed on it by a crowd of people that have no right to be in the country in the first place over the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the citizenry.

        Reply to Comment
        • “the Court ruling against the State here runs contrary to your agenda” : Maybe not, given the owner call for issuing work visas for their illegal employees in some fields. You are right, however, that a Court standing against popular opinion takes some risk. Sometimes that has to be gambled.

          I have replied to your comment abut “dualist legal system” near the end of the thread on which you made it, here


          I am glad for the opportunity to reply but, as I say there, I do wish the invective would go away. If I am that repulsive, just ignore me.

          Reply to Comment
      • Y.

        The very same Basic Laws the Court uses as an excuse for its expanded authority were passed with a smaller majority (20 vs 7 in one case) and far less public scrutiny. Continue to argue that these votes are non-binding if you wish – but the result would be a much weaker court.

        Reply to Comment
        • Yes, so you had a 20-7 Basic Law enacted which cannot be removed without an absolute majority and can otherwise overrule (I suspect) a 30-15 passed law. This is absurd. Knesset Supremacy means Knesset Supremacy; the past has no binding on the present. Which is why I think constitutional law is going to be a problem for you for some time.

          I’ve detailed what I see as a way out: your Declaration of Independence as a meta-constitution framing all acceptable constitutions and laws. But even that leaves most constitutional law woefully underdetermined, such as the status of the 1951 refugee convention. When you have ruling Knesset coalitions cobbled through various disparate parties, the problem of stable Basic Law, if you want to call it that, is going to be exacerbated, for the coalitions will alter through elections and even between them. And such instability that is what you are seeing right now.

          Reply to Comment
          • Y.

            “Knesset Supremacy means Knesset Supremacy; the past has no binding on the present.”

            It’s more complicated than that, even in the US and Britian. See for example your issues with the filibuster (which the SCOTUS cannot rule upon since its an internal Senate matter – so the parallel is appropriate).

            “Which is why I think constitutional law is going to be a problem for you for some time.”

            It is, since a constitution and constitutional law have been vetoed by the Left and the Orthodox – once at the founding at the state, and once during the legislative “revolution” (coup is just as accurate) of the early 90s.

            “I’ve detailed what I see as a way out: your Declaration of Independence as a meta-constitution”

            Meta-constitutions don’t exist. Here or anywhere else in the world. Moreover, the original declaration was explicitly not meant as such (the original assembly was supposed to come up with a constitution – but instead declared itself as the First Knesset). So while its contents could be a useful basis – there’s no replacement for a real constitutional assembly followed by a direct public vote by the people. This, of course, will not happen anytime soon.

            Reply to Comment
          • Y.

            Come to think of it, there is one parallel to a meta-constitution – the role of Sharia in various Arab state constitutions which dictate that nothing there can supersede Sharia. That’s… not an encouraging example (if one more understandable, in that Sharia was meant in the first place to be a law and to supplant other laws).

            Reply to Comment
          • Your Declaration of Independence is the only part of UN 181 implemented. As far as I know, Palestine is the only time the UN, through UK request, having returned the Mandate, helped create a State. 181 stipulated that a constitution must be written and that both proto States must declare formally that its constitution will conform to 181 demand of equality in social and political rights across race, ethnicity, religion, and sex (obviously, 181 was not written by those living Palestine). Ben Gurion said at the time “this is the best chance we will get,” knowing a war would come. So the Declaration of Independence agrees to conform fully with 181 and stipulates that the soon to be written constitution will enshrine full equality in rights. It makes no difference that a Palestinian State never eventuated or that war came. The promise was made AS PART OF ISRAEL’S FOUNDING and so has internal constitutional standing. It is not, however, a constitution itself: thus it is a meta-constitution placing preconditions on any written constitution. You say there is no such thing. Well, until Israel, I think you correct. It is an innovation in law at Israel’s founding, albeit inadvertent. There is more to the argument, but it would take up more space; if interested, let me know.

            On Sharia Law, I see it not as a meta-constitution but as imported into constitutions through some clause or clauses of the document. It is sort of trans-constitutional, for it enables the import of changes in Sharia Law (which occur incrementally and at multiple decision locations) (and no, I don’t like the contents) which might take place OUTSIDE the country. Yet Sharia is not an international or supranational organization. In this sense, Sharia is an innovation in constitutional law as well, just as your Declaration is; I vastly prefer yours.

            You mentioned the “constitutional revolution” of the 90’s, as Aharon Barak called it. Barak was faced with the dilemma of judicial review absent a constitution and apparent Supreme Knesset. His solution was to raise Basic Law to constitutional status giving courts the power to annul laws deemed to violate Basic Law (which is what the High Court did in the Detention Center Case). He tried to reconcile the Constituent Assembly’s failure to draft a constitution with the Knesset’s historically evolved preeminence. Not all Justices agreed with him, and I do wish I could read their opinions in English. He also expanded the right of petition and the general jurisdiction of the Court, although I think these are being back tracked some now by the present Justices.

            I think Barak was and is wrong, as he still holds these opinions in retirement. Your Declaration is very clear on how equality must be viewed legally, and I do believe it has a meta-constitutional status as it promises or stipulates that any constitution of Israel must so insure equality. I believe the Justices can appeal to the document as trumping all else. I recall one 3 man High Court panel where equality was at issue, decided 2-1. Barak wrote the controlling opinion. The other affirming Justice wrote a concurrence directly employing the Declaration, but Barak wouldn’t sign onto it, I suspect, for fear of directly attacking Knesset Supremacy. With Basic Law he gets to have his annulling power without taking that head on. But look how strange it gets: a 20-7 passed Basic Law can override an absolute majority passed law, yet any Basic Law can on its own internal terms be changed by an absolute majority! Not much of a constitutional constraint.

            And this is your present constitutional crisis. The Courts have no firm, lasting basis for annulling law, and the Knesset tries to act as if it were Supreme. The African refugee cases are partly a product of this tension. A constitution should be drafted outside a regular legislature, as it controls legislative power, and be affirmed by popular vote.

            I do not think the UK much of a parallel for Israel, for the UK’s unwritten tradition evolved over several hundred years, with two or three written documents actually attached to this unwritten tradition, but I will stop here for length.

            Reply to Comment
          • Y.

            That’s a not very accurate history.

            First, the Declaration explicitly mentions the grant of independence is irrevocable, so it rejects your conditional approach. It did not agree to “conform fully” with 181, but mentioned only its economic aspects (There was a debate whether to mention the borders stated in 181, and the opposing position won a narrow 5-4 vote).

            Second, Israel acceptance to the UN was not conditioned on 181 (the UNSC resolution reminds [non-binding] Israel of _what Israel said on 181 and 194_ [which was rather close to the current position] and not the resolutions themselves).

            Third, it’s interesting to note you see Sharia as a dynamic factor in the Arab states’ constitutions. Most of its proponents see it as mostly static..

            In any event, the Declaration is very nice as it goes – and much better than the Basic Laws [which are either administrative, or fail basic clarity tests. That’s one of the things in the American constitution which are very nice – every person can understand what every article and amendment is about, even if many details are debated]. Nonetheless, it was not meant at the time as a constitutional text, nor was it used that way for the next decades, so there are basic problems using it the way you’d like. It would be considered on the right side of the spectrum today and attacked incessantly by the +972 crew – mentions ‘Jewish state’, and no ‘democratic character’ stated, yet IMHO it should be a foundation for any future text.

            Reply to Comment
    2. john goldberg

      Jews have rights too. That includes securing the borders and detaining infiltrators who break the law. It includes keeping the neighborhoods safe and prosperous.

      I completely sympathize with the African migrants. However, the solution is to build a prosperous Africa, not illegally infiltrate a country.

      Reply to Comment
      • Leah

        Mr Goldberg,

        I find the use of your language appalling… Infiltrators?? ‘Keep streets safe’… What are you trying to say? The refugee convention was created so the appalling nature of states towards Jewish people fleeing persecution would never happen again… A bit of reflection in this regard is important.

        It is not illegal to seek asylum. People have a right to seek Asylum. There is no relevance relating where the individual is from ….

        Freedom is Freedom and People are People.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >People have a right to seek Asylum.

          With all due respect, no one is persecuting these alleged asylum seekers, for “reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion”, therefore, they have no right for a political asylum.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            I disagree with you. The key to the problem is the Rule of Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The State of Israel is a country founded on the Rule of Law and also signatory to the ICCPR. Have the “infiltrators” filed for asylum? Where their asylum applications duly considered by the administrative authorities? Were there judicial reviews of the decisions of the administrative authorities? If all these questions can be answered in the affirmative, I will agree with you. If not, it would be very shameful and inhuman to label the Africans as “infiltrators”. Anyone of us could one day, for any unforeseen reason become a refugee in a foreign country, very far away from home, very vulnerable and dependent on the mercy, goodness and benevolence of the host country and its citizens. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you in similar circumstances. These African refugees (and people fleeing poverty are indeed refugees, though NOT within the meaning of applicable laws!) have handled themselves excellently by executing a well-organized, civilized and non-violent orderly protest in front of the Knesset (something the Palestinians can learn from, instead of maiming and killing those they disagree with). Going on hunger strike is a very bad idea though. Besides the fact that it is a form of black-mail and alienates those who may have some sympathy for them, it seriously harms the health of the hunger strikers, while at the same time very unlikely to lead to any positive result. They should not use that method. The law is their best weapon – for better or for worse.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >The key to the problem is the Rule of Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

            It is not only the key to the problem, it is the key problem: The law is far from perfect which allows for loopholes etc.

            >Have the “infiltrators” filed for asylum?

            As it seems from here, at least twice: in Egypt, which they had to cross on their way to Israel, and here, upon arrival.

            >Where their asylum applications duly considered by the administrative authorities?

            Some probably were.

            >Were there judicial reviews of the decisions of the administrative authorities?

            As far as I know, there were no such reviews.

            >If not, it would be very shameful and inhuman to label the Africans as “infiltrators”.

            Hmmm… I’d say that anyone who crosses any border is an infiltrator until proves otherwise.

            >Do unto others as you would have them do unto you in similar circumstances.

            Circumstances is that Eritreans are granted “temporary humanitarian protection group” status by the UNHCR (does not grant a right for political asylum), while Southern Sudanese are not even granted that.

            >These African refugees have handled themselves excellently by executing a well-organized, civilized and non-violent orderly protest in front of the Knesset

            1) I see non-violent protests as a norm, not as an achievement.
            2) They know too well how fiercely Israeli police reacts to violence.

            >Going on hunger strike is a very bad idea though…

            Yep. Going on global limitless strike is even worse. Whoever leftist idiot gave them advice on the whole current campaign, efficiently had shot them in both legs.

            You see, until last week’s strike had begun, GREAT MOST of these Africans were employed. But it is just not so anymore. Any business can withstand absence of an employee for a day or two, however once an employee claims that he is demanding some rights – and won’t work until his demands are met – a business will have to start looking for replacement.

            As it seems from here – advice was given by some new immigrant into Israel, someone European, who just have no idea what is the mentality of Israelis: One can beg, ask, plea, appeal, even cry, and eventually will be given (or not). But do not ever try to threaten us – you’ll end up in MUCH worse position. We promise.

            >The law is their best weapon – for better or for worse.

            Yes, the law. In this particular case, however, the law does not provide that Israel must grant refugee rights to whoever is not entitled by the UNHCR or that Israel must provide employment at the cost of employment of state citizens.

            By the way, there is over 55 000 African asylum seekers in Israel now, meaning that even by some miracle Israeli courts would look at 25 petitions each day (an unthinkable number, since courts are already running at their top capacity) it would take about 10 years to process all petitions (55000/25/221)

            Reply to Comment
    3. Kolumn9

      Strike, protest, march, do whatever.

      You are illegal migrants that have no right to be here. Be happy that you are not getting deported back to your countries where you claim you will be persecuted and enjoy having your basic needs met. Or get out. Your choice.

      Reply to Comment
      • Nenet

        People like you disgust me it would be so great if countries like Canada and the US would boycott the racist apartheid state of israel

        Reply to Comment