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Asylum seekers in Israel globalize protest

After more than a month of continuous protests and actions, the African asylum seeker community in Israel declared Wednesday an ‘International day of solidarity with the African asylum seeker community in Israel.’

Marches and protests have been planned in Tel Aviv, as well as outside Israeli consulates and embassies and UN offices in major cities throughout North America and Europe. Letters will be delivered to Israeli ambassadors and UNHCR officials demanding Israel ceases its policy of imprisonment and recognize the community as refugees, and calling on the UN refugee agency to take immediate responsibility.

Read +972′s full coverage of African asylum seekers in Israel

The asylum seeker community, which numbers around 53,000 in Israel, is now in its fifth week of mass, popular protests to call attention to its plight as refugees, which began with marches from the Holot detention center and culminated in an unprecedented rally in Rabin Square. Although initially the community declared a general strike, they were forced to end it due to financial hardship. They also suspended protests for several days after former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon died on January 11.

More than 30,000 thousands African asylum seekers participate in a protest calling to free all African refugees imprisoned in Israeli prisons and detention centers and calling for the recognition of all refugees rights, Tel Aviv, Israel, on January 5, 2014. The protest was the first event in a 3-day general strike of African asylum seekers in Israel, and is the biggest African refugees protest in Israel's history. (photo: Activestills.org)

More than 30,000 thousands African asylum seekers participate in a protest calling to free all African refugees imprisoned in Israeli prisons and detention centers and calling for the recognition of all refugees rights, Tel Aviv, Israel, on January 5, 2014. The protest was the first event in a 3-day general strike of African asylum seekers in Israel, and is the biggest African refugees protest in Israel’s history. (photo: Activestills.org)

The following video compilation shows highlights from the last months’ activities:

According to a report in Haaretz, Israel has not granted refugee status to a single Eritrean or Sudanese national, as opposed to European countries, which have granted it to over 70 percent of asylum seekers from those two countries. The report also noted that out of 1,800 asylum requests made by Eritrean and Sudanese nationals so far, only about 250 have been examined, of which about 155 were rejected. Israel is not deporting them back to their countries, but is making it clear they do not want them to stay either.

In December, a week after the new Holot “open detention” facility opened in Israel’s Negev Desert, approximately 150 Sudanese asylum seekers transferred there from Saharonim prison refused to check in to their nightly roll call and began marching to Jerusalem in an act of civil disobedience. The act sparked a nationwide protest. On January 9, the same group that was forcefully taken back to Saharonim, began a hunger strike in prison. Over the last few weeks, authorities have increased detentions, rounding up men on the streets to take to the detention center, even those with families, despite the fact that authorities have undertaken not to detain men with wives and children.

Although African asylum seekers currently in Israel are protesting the problematic Israeli government policy they are faced with daily, their struggle is an international one. Israel has become a major stage from which they are organizing and trying to make their voices heard, in an effort to realize their basic human rights. But their grievances are not just with Israel. They are trying to get the world’s attention to a global problem.

From a statement by the asylum seeker community’s Facebook page about their struggle:

While in many other countries we would be acknowledged as refugees, the government of Israel has refused to determine our refugee status in any systematic or transparent manner through a fair and efficient Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process that allows us to have our claims individually heard. Instead, it has chosen a policy of imprisonment and incitement against us. This is the story of our self- organized refugee movement and struggle for freedom, human rights, and recognition as refugees in Israel.

Their list of demands from the government of Israel:

1. Cancel the new amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law; stop all arrests; and release all asylum seekers and refugees from prisons.
2. Start respecting the rights of refugees, including social rights, health and welfare benefits.
3. Check individual asylum claims in a fair and transparent way.

Their demands from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR):

1. Hold Israel accountable to adhere to the refugee commission.
2. Monitor our asylum request process from start to finish, in a transparent and fair way adhering to international standards.

Portraits: Detained African asylum seekers in Israel
150 imprisoned African asylum seekers start hunger strike
African asylum seekers: We will continue to strike until demands are met

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    1. Ginger Eis

      “We are refugees. We need protection”. Indeed. Israel understands that better than no other country. There must be a proper legal procedure on the administrative level to determine legitimate refugee-claims and judicial review of administrative decisions. They who do not make it as refugees must leave the country, and Israel would be wise to turn a blind eye when they try to leave for greener pastures in Europe with false passports/travel documents. Unfortunately the Left Elite in Israel is the real tragedy for refugees, not the State Of Israel. The Left cares not about the sufferings of real refuges, but wants to increase its voting block by flooding Israel with “refugees”, thereby assuring its continued existence – after the Oslo/Arafat-nightmare. We saw similar trends in Germany, The Netherlands, etc. The Right sees through this leftist political machination and is sounding the alarm bells to the public. The Left Elite has immorally turned the refugee issue into political football.

      Reply to Comment
      • This all began when the High Court said that, by the refugee convention, illegal entry does not void asylum plea, so the State may not deport individuals solely for illegal entry. So I guess the High Court is an organ of the “leftist elite.”

        There was later a race riot in South Tel Aviv, with Jews rioting, refugees protected by the police, after a rally that very night held by right nationalist parties including MK’s.

        Not too long thereafter the first prison was built. After about 3 years, the High Court ordered it closed, saying it violates Basic Law (and, by the way, the same refugee convention) to hold people so long without trial. The national right coalition in the Knesset responded by creating an “open detention” facility in the desert which one can leave, but must return to in just a few hours, and claimed this was not a prison so escaped the first High Court decision. Detention is open ended, as it can be renewed administratively every year. You now await Court decision on this new half way house not really a prison.

        The State has apparently secured the borders. The issue is whether those within Israel will be treated according to the convention. This is an institutional fight between Knesset and Court, hardly leftist manipulation.

        As to the refugees themselves, amazingly, they are fighting for better lives. Hearings could have made most of this go away. But go ahead and blame those elitist leftists.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ginger Eis

          From the legal point of view, the length of detention of refugees allowed by the Israeli Supreme Court is lower than that in ALL EU countries (e.g. Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands, etc.). The High Court Ruling is thus perfectly in order. The tragedy though lies in what precedes the detentions. In a perfect legal system a refugee can only be detained after he has (a) had the opportunity to apply for asylum but refused to do so or (b) applied for asylum, (c) had his asylum application duly considered and rejected, (d) exhausted all legal appeals against said rejection, including at least one judicial appeal and (e) the deadline given to him to leave the country has expired. This procedure is not followed in Israel. As you may well know, Israel as a Republic/State is founded on the Trias-politica-principle, i.e. separation of powers. The judiciary applies existing laws made by the Knesset (the legislative) to resolve legal issues, but may not make laws (except by way of extensive/restrictive interpretation of existing laws, otherwise known as judicial activism). When confronted with a “law” that – according to the Justices – does not meet the requirements of what constitutes law, Justices either strike down such law or set it aside – as happened with the first ‘Anti infiltration law’. The problem is thus not the Israeli Judiciary but the Knesset and the Executive. The Elite of the Left claims to be the Ultimate Defender of human rights and the moral conscience of the nation. But what has it – in terms of legislation – done to safeguard legitimate legal interests TRUE refugees? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The Elite Left is dangerously hypocritical and duplicitous.

          Reply to Comment
          • “When confronted with a “law” that – according to the Justices – does not meet the requirements of what constitutes law, Justices either strike down such law or set it aside – as happened with the first ‘Anti infiltration law’. The problem is thus not the Israeli Judiciary but the Knesset and the Executive.”

            We seem to agree here. In my view, the amended law suffers from the same defect that caused the Justices (9-0) to void the first and is a slap in the Court’s face. I really see this as a constitutional conflict within Israel. The conflict has been simmering for some time and the refugee question has become its focus. It is my hope that the Court affirms its independence and forces the review process you outline, above. I expect many refugees would ultimately be deported after asylum hearing with review if that is done. The ruling coalition has brought this on themselves, causing some conservative Justices to oppose them (or so I suspect).

            I don’t expect your Court to often decide as I might like, but it needs its independence, respect, and authority for the long term good of Israel. As to a failure of the left to do anything about it–they really can’t, having been locked out of Knesset law formation by two national right coalitions. Frankly, I am not at all certain that the ELECTED left (what, Labor?), if a majority or viable in a coalition, would do much proactively on this matter; but I do suspect they would not slap the Court as the present coalition has. So I think blaming the powerless left is out of place here.

            Reply to Comment
          • Philos

            Greg, stop feeding the hasbara trolls. You’re only encouraging them. For example, Ginger here has some pretty fascistic ideas about some kind of Left Wing conspiracy. Don’t encourage him. Just ignore him and the rest of them.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            I won’t ignore you, Philos. On the contrary, I will continue to smoke you out from every hole wherein you (seek to) hide and expose you for what you are: an envious, hate-filled Jihadi dunce (who is limited to only specific marching-jargons and clichés, e.g. “BDS”, “apartheid”, “Jews”, etc., but is intrinsically incapable of engaging in thoughtful debates). When you disagree with an argument, you make counter argument (as does e.g. Greg). But doing that would mess-up your brain, no? You can run, Philos, but you can’t hide. Maybe you need to head back to the Al Jazeera-site (where there are no ladies to challenge your empty Arab-pride).

            Reply to Comment
          • Eisbrecher

            Only thing smoked out here is your brain, GingerBread

            Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            Greg, we agree on this one, I concur. But I still think that the Left must accompany its pretentions re refugees with deeds, such as introducing well thought-through legislations to secure the legal interests of LEGITIMATE political refugees, instead of using refugees as figures on a political chessboard. The reason I do not mention the Right is because it’s position is well known: the Right wants the African refugees gone – giving that (a) 99% of them are Muslims, (b) the Zionist dream of settling more Jews in the land is not yet complete, (c) Jewish majority so far in Israel is not yet carved in stone, (d) Israel still faces existential threats, (e) the housing shortages and rising poverty among ordinary Israelis. So, we basically know what the priorities of the Right are and it makes no secrets of them.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Rehmat

      To bad, what Israeli Jews understand about “refugees” – the African refugees don’t have Irgun or any other early Zionist terrorist group to force Israeli government to understand their plight.

      I suggest IDF to apply the non-bullet ‘Skunk’ WMD on the African asylum seeker protesters as it did on anti-government social protesters in 2012.


      Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        Having been ‘skunked’ at numerous pro-Palestinian demonstrations, it is in no way a WMD. It is a crowd-dispersal tool, and is the least lethal one in the Israeli arsenal.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        Rehmat, obviously you mean that UNLIKE your Muslim-Arab brethren, African refugees do not engage in plane-hijackings, takings ELEMENTARY School children hostage and slaughtering them en mass (Ma’a lot, 1974), castration of hostages (München-Olympics, 1972), pushing wheelchair bound hostages into the sea (Leon Klinghoffer), etc. Everything I say are well documented (for non-ideologues). The more you talk the more you expose the evil, barbarous nature of yourself and your kind. I told you before and I will tell you again: obsession with Jews is a mental illness and will destroy you. Be gone!

        Reply to Comment
    3. Philos and Ginger,

      Philos, my view of discourse on this site isn’t exactly like yours, and I’m sure you know I do not hold the some belief set as you. I do not believe legal discourse will solve the day, but it can shift argument in a greater community than 972. So when faced with Ginger (who I am paranoid enough to believe was either assigned here informally or heard of the site’s discourse), speaking of law, I realized that the discourse space had shifted. Unlike K9 or Adam Dayton (and for all I know they are great buddies), she BEGAN her presence here asking if those denied asylum had ever had court appeals; neither of the others would ever ask that.

      So (sorry Ginger), the question is whether the shift in argument and reason space (there is a philosophy text called “In the space of reasons,” a neat title) is an advance; I think it is, although almost always Ginger and I will disagree. Indeed, I fully expect that, upon asylum hearings, most of the refugees will find themselves denied and not on purely factual grounds; rather, admissible facts will be curtailed, especially as their stories’ verifiability decays over time, leaving one at the mercy of the State. But things are so bad for non-Jews in Greater Israel now that any adherence to due process is an advance. There is, here, a small bridge across left and right: the left wants minimally the rule of law, some of the right wants to honor the Judaic history of oppression, expulsion, and, yes, sometimes sanctuary.

      I did not reply to JohnW’s calling me out about what is good about Israel because I got tired of a college student taunting me. But there is a lot of good in Israel and, as a once social scientist, I know that that good can and often did come on the backs of others, certainly in the US. So what to do? Constantly attack each other verbally leading to charges of “self hating Jew” and “fascio-Islamist”? I see in the refugee case a chance to expand Court jurisdiction by affirming its independence with judicial review, and we both know the Court has been ignored by the State in other matters. I fully expect, even in the best possible outcome, that many of these refugees will be thrown aside. But some will not, and present State policy would throw all aside. I also know that if Court independence evolves it will not be Greg Pollock’s ideological utopia. But I recall that the first Justice’s Harlan’s lone dissent in Plessy v Ferguson effectively become the law of the land some 60 years later–and it took another 25 years from then to be actualized to any great degree. Yes, I know people suffer terribly in these interms; but what other choice is there? If Greater Israel comes, and it seems to be coming, you will need a more independent Court. There must be an institutional setting for reply. I’m not your fellow traveler, Ginger.

      Ginger, I’m in the US. I used to watch Al Jazeera English online but it has been blocked (at their request) here to force payment to its new America cable channel. As I don’t have cable, I no longer watch it, a loss. I can assure you that Al Jazeera has many on the ground female journalists throughout the world and at its home broadcast location. Yes, women are oppressed in much of the Arab world, but not all, and it is obvious that the internal social policy of Al Jazeera is not at all what you suggest. You may disagree with them overall, but they are hardly as sexist as you say. This just confirms Philos view.

      The left can introduce no viable legislation. In fact, the left hardly exists. Labor gutted itself; Kadima hardly exists and was “forward liberal centrist” in its dreams. The right is in control and has locked others out. And the left would do the same. It is true that there seems to be potential for shift in the Knesset and electorate; but as far as I can tell, part of the mission of the ruling coalition is to prevent any such shift, dirty or fair. The left can do nothing when Bibi says he wants all of these refugees out and refuses hearings with appeal. This is a blot on the national coalition right, not on the left.

      As to the right populist argument that there is a housing shortage for poorer Jews, the national right coalition government has done nothing about that, and to say that refugees are the cause is wholly inadequate. There is a stark choice here: live up to the Judaic tradition of lived oppression and refuge or not (“remember you where once strangers in Pharaoh’s land”), as well as ratified treaty and Court decision. The national right coalition has failed miserably on the refugees for over 3 years, blatantly ignoring Knesset ratified treaty. If that can be corrected, to the better of us all.

      The only hope I see for Greater Israel (and I do not mouth that phrase with love) is your Declaration of Independence. It enshrines the ingathering of the exhiles, thereby assuring the promise of Israel is perpetual. But it does other things as well. I believe if embraced it will provide a path out where no one gets all of what they want. Getting rid of Israel is silly, like yelling at the sun. Embracing the Declaration is not.

      But I well know that candidate Obama talked of breaking the great divides on his first run, and that gave us the Tea Party, which has indeed harmed my personal life. So when I decide to try and affirm a common ground–I know the risk I take.

      Reply to Comment
      • JohnW

        Mr Pollock

        This “college student” only heckled you because you resolutely refused to declare the onvious conclusion which at long last you made here:

        “But there is a lot of good in Israel”

        Thank you. That is all I was after. It wasn’t that hard, was it? I doubt that being hectored by me really worried you though. Nor was it my intention to worry you. My intention was to wake you up from habitual one sided robotic criticism of one country only without perspective. My intention was to remind you that sometimes the glass is half full.

        Reply to Comment