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Between determination and despair: Meet the refugees fighting deportation

The Israeli government has begun the first stages in its planned deportation of African asylum seekers. Refugee activists and advocates are preparing to fight it. 

By Joshua Leifer

The start of the new year marked the first stages of the Israeli government’s plan to deport the roughly 40,000 asylum seekers, most from Eritrea and Sudan, currently living in Israel. The government announced in early January that asylum seekers have three months to leave the country; those who remain in Israel after the three months will face a choice: deportation or prison.

The Population and Immigration Authority also announced that it was recruiting additional inspectors to carry out the deportation, offering a bonus of 30,000 NIS, or roughly $9,000, to civilians willing to participate in the deportation operation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet is reportedly exploring the possibility of forcefully expelling the African asylum seekers en masse. “We have removed about 20,000,” the prime minister told his cabinet during the first week of January. “Now the task is to remove the others.”

Human rights and refugee advocacy organizations in Israel and abroad have condemned the Israeli government’s plan and pledged to fight the deportations. A coalition of human rights groups issued a joint letter condemning the Israeli government’s plan: “Israel is sending refugees to an unsafe country, and many of them to their deaths.” Under the government’s plan, the asylum seekers will be deported to Rwanda or Uganda. Meanwhile, starting in April, employers of asylum seekers will be fined and the $3,500 departure grant to asylum seekers will be gradually reduced.

Refugee activists described the feelings among the different asylum seeker communities as a mix of determination and despair. “People are frustrated, depressed, and exhausted,” Mutasim Ali told +972. “All of the protests we’ve done haven’t done anything. The opposite has happened. Government policy has gotten harsher and crueler.” But, he added, “We will continue to struggle with all the tools we have. In the end, justice will win out.”

Ali, a refugee rights activist originally from Darfur, was the first Sudanese national to be granted residency by the Israel government. To date, the Israeli government has recognized only 11 individuals, including Ali, as refugees.

Ali stressed that stopping the deportations would depend on Israeli citizens taking action alongside the refugees. “This is absolutely the struggle of Israeli citizens,” he said. “The only way to stop this is through the Israeli...

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It is our silence that allows Israel to deport asylum seekers

Fifty years on, Martin Luther King Jr.’s words resonate more than ever: those who are silent are all part of the problem. It is they who have allowed Israel to neglect south Tel Aviv and to condemn asylum seekers to torture and death.

By Sapir Sluzker-Amram

On January 15, Americans observed Martin Luther King Day, marking 50 years since the civil rights leader was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee. The struggle for equal rights in the United States was not won in court but in the streets — by people who had had enough of the status quo and organized to effect change.

In 1965, the city of Selma was at the center of the struggle for civil rights and against segregation. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech there, amid the chaos and the real fear of violence and death. One specific sentence still stands out to me:

Those brave people who took the streets knew that they would face severe, even deadly, police violence. They protested knowing they would likely face time in prison. They did not stand idly by. And they were not at risk of facing merely an argument with a police officer, a few hours or even a night in jail, or a nasty post on Facebook from Yoav Eliassi — a right-wing rapper know as “The Shadow” with a violent following — and his friends. It’s true that those are all unpleasant. But that is what struggle and resistance looks like when there is no choice.

The Israeli government will soon deport tens of thousands of people to their deaths and we will stand idly by. We won’t share a post on Facebook because we fear a family member or friend will respond with “What about south Tel Aviv?” or “It’s our country.” So we choose to avoid confrontation. We won’t go to a demonstration because we had a long day at work and, besides, it won’t make a difference.  We won’t read the testimonies of asylum seekers or look at the pictures of the bodies of people who experienced torture — people with whom we have brushed shoulders — because it is too hard for us. We would rather watch cute cat videos.

There is nothing underlying the slogans “Not in My Name.” I suggest we take get rid of it entirely. The deportations will be carried out in the name of all those who sit quietly, too afraid to say anything.


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Living among the dead in Gaza

I asked a man who lives among the graves in Gaza how he could bear to live among the dead. He challenged me. ‘How is living among the dead is worse than living among the living?’

By Mohammed Arafat

When I was a child, I used to pass by the Ma’madany [“Baptist”] graveyard in Gaza City with my dad whenever we went to the market. I always cried and held my father’s hand tightly because I had heard that people lived among the tombs. A frightening thought.

When I grew up, I was endlessly curious; I wanted to learn more about everything around me. But this graveyard remained shrouded in mystery — until a few days ago. When one of my neighbors died, I was hesitant to go to his funeral because I did not know him personally. Finally, I went. I walked in the procession along with hundreds of his relatives, and went to the graveyard, my old nightmare, to bury him. This was my first chance to find out if the story was true.

And it was. I trembled when I saw dozens of people camped out among dead, looking at us while we buried our friend. I wondered if we were the strangers — since we had invaded their “big house” — or whether they were, since they had left our world to live among the graves.

I left the crowd of people and gradually crept closer to those “strangers,” pretending to look for a grave of a relative. I got closer until I saw entire families living in small, makeshift homes made of tin plates. Children and their parents watched the funeral while playing games on and beside the gravestones spread among their homes.

I decided to strike up a conversation with one of the men by asking if he knew where to find my relative’s grave.

“Do you know where the Arafats’ graves are?” I asked a man whom I learned was Mohammed Khail, 34, after shaking his hand. He guided me to some of my relatives’ graves, with his little daughter following us.

“I was wondering why you guys are living here,” I said tentatively. “Did you lose your homes during the last war on Gaza?”

“I was born between the tombs,” he said.

His words shocked me. My heart started to beat fast.

“My parents were expelled from their village [in the land now called Israel] during the 1948...

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Killing the Iran deal with a thousand cuts

Much like President Trump is undermining his predecessor’s other flagship achievement, the Affordable Care Act, the president is attacking the Iran nuclear agreement piecemeal. The result will be tragic.

By Paul Pillar

Don’t be either fooled or relieved by President Trump’s waiving, for now, of nuclear sanctions on Iran, and thus his forgoing of an explicit withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement. Trump still is determined to destroy the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), though not necessarily in the way he threatens, or in a way some have feared. He is set on destroying the JCPOA partly because of the same guiding principle, if it can be called that, steering so much of his presidency, which is to tear down any significant accomplishment of his predecessor. His effort to destroy the accord also is motivated by his submission to elements that do not want anyone to reach agreements of any sort with Iran—such elements mainly being the right-wing government of Israel and its backers in the United States.

Trump’s effort is impeded by the fact that the JCPOA is working. It continues, as confirmed by international inspectors, to fulfill its purpose of blocking all possible paths to a possible Iranian nuclear weapon. Iran continues to comply with its obligations under the agreement. As such, the JCPOA continues to serve the interests of the United States and of international security and the cause of nuclear nonproliferation. These evidently are not interests that motivate Trump, but he cannot afford to be honest about his actual motivations. The fact that the agreement is working prevents him from making any case for withdrawing from the agreement directly and explicitly.

Trump’s statement on this subject blows all the confusing smoke that can be blown about Iran and about the JCPOA, with much of it having nothing to do with the JCPOA. As usual, the smoke is filled with misconceptions, such as that a cash settlement that resolved an issue of undelivered aircraft that the shah ordered 40 years ago supposedly was part of the nuclear deal, when in fact it was not. Or that we should get angry over how Iran “has funded, armed, and trained more than 100,000 militants to spread destruction across the Middle East,” when some of those militants have been fighting on the same side as the United States and its allies against Islamic State.

The portions of the statement...

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Banning the Quakers won't stop our struggle for justice in Israel-Palestine

The American Friends Service Committee once saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust, now we are being banned from entering Israel due to our support for a nonviolent struggle for equality. 

By Brant Rosen

Israel revealed this week a list of 20 groups from around the world it was banning from the country, due to their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. For me, the list represented more than just another news item. As staff person for one organization included on the list – the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker group dedicated to peace and social justice – this news hit home personally as well as professionally.

As a rabbi who works for AFSC, I am proud of the important historical connections between the Jewish community and our organization. As the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum itself has noted, the AFSC was at the forefront of efforts to help and rescue Jewish refugees after 1938, “assisting individuals and families in need… helping people flee Nazi Europe, communicate with loved ones, and adjust to life in the United States.”

The museum has also acknowledged that “the AFSC helped thousands of people in the United States transfer small amounts of money to loved ones in French concentration camps (and helped) hundreds of children, including Jewish refugees and the children of Spanish Republicans, come to the United States under the care of the US Committee for the Care of European Children in 1941–42.”

AFSC became involved with a different group of refugees, the Palestinians, several years later. At the end of 1948, while military hostilities in Palestine were still raging, the UN asked the AFSC to help spearhead the relief effort in Gaza, which was rapidly filling up with Palestinian refugees. Historian Nancy Gallagher has noted refugee relief was not the ultimate goal of their work in Gaza – rather, they “had accepted the invitation to participate in the relief effort with the expectation of assisting in the repatriation and reconciliation process.”

In March 1949, AFSC Executive Secretary Clarence Pickett offered a six-point plan to solve the refugee problem, urging “a substantial repatriation of Arabs into the State of Israel.” However, when it became clear that there was no international will for a political solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, AFSC formally stated that it wished to withdraw from Gaza, stating that “prolonged direct relief…militates against a swift political settlement of the problem.”

I have long been dismayed at the...

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How the Israeli Right succeeds at making itself the victim

From prostituting women to befriending anti-Semites, the Israeli Right has reached a level in which revealing its transgressions only evokes wonderment among its supporters.

By Almog Behar

We are in the historical stage of the ideological Right, in which every single detail, which would have previously embarrassed the right wing, now only strengthens it.

The most recent example of this phenomenon is that of Ateret Cohanim, the settler organization that used prostitutes, front organizations, and threats of murder to buy Palestinian properties in East Jerusalem. The story, published by Haaretz’s Nir Hasson, did not lead to condemnations by the Right. The majority of the ideological Right is not looking to justify these deeds through ideology or religion, since they view the organization’s deeds as a mitzvah on the way to taking control of more land. Ateret Cohanim’s cleverness evokes wonderment rather than criticism.

A smokescreen for the regime

Similarly, the relationship between the Israeli Right and anti-Semites, which has included inviting the latter to visit settlements and partner together on projects, evokes the same feeling among the Israeli Right that revelations about Trump evoke among his supporters: hatred for the media and the Left, along with a deep belief that support for European and American anti-Semites is worth it, so long as it is coupled with support for Israel, Zionism, and Islamophobia. As Yair Netanyahu, son of the prime minister, recently wrote on his personal Facebook page, the real danger is the Left, including groups such as Black Lives Matter and the BDS movement, rather than the extreme right that believes in white supremacy or neo-Nazism.

Moreover, revelations of corruption among figures such as Netanyahu and Liberman, much like the Russia investigation, evoke even more hatred toward the media and the Left, along with a feeling of persecution and victimization. This despite them being in control of the country. Beyond that, the Right believes their leaders’ corruption is a good thing, since such corruption can be used to promote its ideological goals. After all, a good leader must know how to lie and apologize; honesty and decency are for weaklings, and harms the nation.

Meanwhile, the recent revelations about the Netanyahu family do not convince anyone who wasn’t already convinced about their corruption. The repeated reports on Sara Netanyahu’s alleged treatment of her workers at the Prime Minister’s Residence led to a sense that the prime minister’s wife was the victim of persecution...

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COMIC: How the West Bank was won

By Noam Rabinovich

By Noam Rabinovich

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+972 Writer Mya Guarnieri Jaradat's book short-listed for the Wingate Prize

Guarnieri Jaradat’s book, The Unchosen, is deeply reported look into the lives of asylum seekers and migrant workers in Israel.

+972 Magazine congratulates writer Mya Guarnieri Jaradat on her book, The Unchosen: The Lives of Israel’s New Others, being short-listed for the 2018 Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize. The Unchosen was short-listed alongside The Dark Circle by Linda Grant, The Mighty Frank by Michael Frank, Small Pieces: A Book of Lamentations by Joanne Limburg, Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem by George Prochnik, and The Holocaust by Laurence Rees.

According to the Wingate Foundation, the award is given to books that explore the “depth and diversity” of Jewish writing globally. The 2018 prize winner will be announced on February 15.

The Unchosen is deeply reported look into the lives of asylum seekers and migrant workers in Israel. It was published by Pluto Press in March 2017. In her review of The Unchosen for +972, Natasha Roth writes:

Read the rest of Natasha Roth’s review of The Unchosen here.

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WATCH: Settlers throw stones at Palestinian homes in revenge attacks

Dozens of Israeli settlers throw stones at Palestinian cars and houses following the murder of Rabbi Raziel Shevach near the illegal settlement outpost of Havat Gilad. 

By Joshua Leifer

Israeli settlers carried out a string of revenge attacks targeting Palestinian civilians following the killing of Rabbi Raziel Shevach in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday. Shevach, 35 and a father of six, was shot to death at a traffic junction near the illegal settlement outpost of Havat Gilad, where he lived.

At the Yitzhar and Shilo junctions in the northern West Bank, settlers threw rocks at Palestinian cars on the evening Shevach was killed, Yesh Din spokesman Gilad Grossman told +972 Magazine. Settlers also threw rocks at houses in the Palestinian towns of Jalud and Asira al-Qiblya, both near Nablus.

During Shevach’s funeral in Havat Gilad on Wednesday, mourners reportedly interrupted Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s speech with chants of “revenge.” Bennett replied that “the only revenge is construction,” by which he meant settlement construction in the West Bank. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he would look into officially recognizing the illegal outpost of Havat Gilad.

Later that afternoon, dozens of Israeli settlers marched to the nearby Palestinian villages of Jit and Far’ata, where they threw rocks at houses in the villages. The settlers damaged houses in Far’ata and trees in Jit, Grossman said.

Video obtained by Yesh Din and Rabbis for Human Rights show what appear to be masses of settlers throwing stones at Palestinian homes in Jit and Far’ata, terrorizing residents there and damaging homes.

 Israeli settlers throw rocks at Palestinians in the village of Jit:

Security camera footage showing Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian homes:

As the occupying power in the West Bank, the Israeli army is obligated under international law to protect the Palestinian civilian population. However, countless reports by Israeli human rights organizations have documented how Israeli authorities fail to stop settler attacks, failing to prosecute those that take place, and failing to prosecute soldiers for violence perpetrated against Palestinians.

Revenge attacks following terrorism in the West Bank is not an exceptional phenomenon, Grossman says. “We saw this after the attack in Halamish, and after the murder of the Henkin couple, which led to a protracted wave of attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank.”

Omar-al Abed stabbed and killed Yosef Saloman, 70, Chaya Saloman,...

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'There is no justice in Israel — it’s always postponed'

The Nawara family expected to hear the sentence of the Israeli soldier who killed their son, Nadeem. Instead, they were forced to sit quietly while the soldier’s lawyer argued that it was not his client but Nadeem who was guilty of a crime. 

By Joshua Leifer

The hearing began poorly. Siam Nawara was on the stand, testifying in what was supposed to be the sentencing of the Israeli soldier who killed his son. The midday sun sliced through the wooden slats on the Jerusalem courtroom windows and illuminated the drab, white room. Clanging carts and cars could be heard from Salah a-Din Street outside. Nawara spoke in Arabic. Next to him stood a court-appointed translator and interpreter. From the agitated grumbling in the courtroom, it was clear she was doing a terrible job.

A man named Hatem, who identified himself as a friend of the Nawara family, shook his head, exasperated. “She’s translating him all wrong,” he said to me. The judge, already seemingly frustrated, demanded that the audience, many of whom were now quite audibly voicing their objections to the translation, quiet down. “Your honor,” the translator, a young woman with short hair, told the judge, “I’m afraid I don’t know how to translate what he’s saying.” The first translator left the room and a second one, an older woman, took her place at the front of the courtroom.

The translator’s failure captured the anxieties of Palestinians present at the hearing: the justified fear of being misinterpreted and misrepresented; the feeling of being misunderstood and unwanted; the frustration of having either to express oneself in the language of the occupier, or to entrust an employee of the occupying government with conveying one’s words and intentions.

Nawara began to speak again. This time, he was repeatedly interrupted by the defense lawyer, Zion Amir, who objected to Nawara’s calling his client, Ben Deri, a “killer of Palestinian of children,” which for Nawara, he surely was. The translation problems and Amir’s objections burned through the time allotted for Nawara to speak. The judge asked him “to keep it short.”

“I just wanted to say something very important,” Nawara began, “that throughout the previous hearings they didn’t allow me to speak.” He continued, “The soldier didn’t follow orders, my son was killed, we hope for the harshest sentence.”

“Nadeem would hug and kiss us every time he would leave the house. And now his room is...

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To reduce crime, the police need the trust of Arab citizens

The rising violence in Israel’s Arab society hurts citizens and limits their ability to develop economically. But the police are unlikely to adequately address crime rates in Arab towns if they cannot work in cooperation with the local population. 

By Thabet Abu Ras and Amnon Be’eri Sulitzeanu

Of all the murder victims in Israel in 2016, 70 were Arab citizens. Thousands more were victims of violence and property damage. Statistically, 60 percent of murder victims in Israel are Arab — three times their representation in Israel’s general population.

Violence in Arab towns has reached disproportionate rates. This includes a wide-range of delinquency and criminal activities, ranging from illegal loan mechanisms, domestic violence, disputes between neighbors and families, violence against elected officials, street fights, vandalism, erratic driving, and more.

Three central factors contribute to this phenomenon. First among them is the high rate of poverty. Arab society disproportionately suffers from low socio-economic status as a result of high rates of unemployment, poor social and educational services, a failing infrastructure system, and an absence of recreation facilities such as playgrounds and community centers.

Second, societal changes have resulted in the weakening of traditional family structures. In a society undergoing modernization, Arab youth draw inspiration from social media, including YouTube and Facebook.

The third factor is a lack of policing services in Arab towns. Even when the police arrive at the scene of a crime, they are not part of an overarching effort to mitigate crime.

The under-policing of Arab society in Israel stems from the dual roles the police plays. On the one hand, it is responsible for the safety and security of Israeli citizens. On the other hand, it treats Arab society as a security concern. This duality results in under-policing services in Arab communities, until the police enter Arab towns in response to violence activities. The result is a continued distrust between Arab society and the police, as well as increased rates of violence within Arab communities across the country.

In December 2015, the Israeli government decided to allocate an unprecedented NIS 10 billion over five years for the economic development of Arab towns, providing an important opportunity for real socioeconomic change. However, economic development is foremost contingent on addressing the violence and insecurity plaguing Arab communities.

A survey conducted on behalf of The Abraham Fund Initiatives in 2017 found that over 50 percent of Arab citizens feel unsafe in their communities. In some towns, 80 percent of...

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Asylum seekers in Israel are scared. I am scared for them

For years, Israel’s right-wing government has fomented hatred against African asylum seekers. Now it plans to deport them, while the world turns a blind eye.

By Leah Platkin

As a social worker working with African asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv, I have seen my fair share of racism and hostility from Israeli politicians and local residents who blame them for the myriad problems in their neighborhoods. South Tel Aviv has always been a rough area, however, long neglected by the municipality. Walking through its neighborhoods, you see piles of trash, junkies, homeless people living in the parks, and a stench of urine that follows you everywhere you go. The main difference between a decade ago and today is that today those streets and parks are full of African asylum seekers.

I moved to Israel three years ago to do trauma work with African asylum seekers and torture victims who were kidnapped and trafficked in the Sinai as they fled their home countries. Eritrean and Sudanese refugees fled brutal and dangerous dictatorships, forced conscription, civil wars, and persecution for human rights activism. Those who were kidnapped, trafficked, and brutalized in torture camps run by Bedouin tribes in the Sinai were only released when their already impoverished families paid a $40,000 ransom. The lucky ones, who made it across the Israeli-Egyptian border, were severely traumatized; today, many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In Israel, African asylum seekers lack both legal status and access to basic services and rights. They do not have healthcare, employment, freedom of movement, higher education, and other basic services that Israeli citizens and legal residents enjoy. Most work under the table in low-paying and often dangerous jobs, primarily in cleaning or construction. Since these “illegal” asylum seekers are not granted refugee status, they are not eligible to receive travel documents. Every day, asylum seeker families beg for help to get out of Israel and find resettlement in Europe or North America.

The already harsh economic conditions of these refugees worsened significantly in May 2017, when the Knesset passed a law allowing the government to withhold 20 percent of asylum seekers’ monthly paychecks — that will only get back when they leave Israel for good.

Most recently, Israel claimed to have reached a major arrangement with Rwanda and Uganda to forcibly relocate 40,000 asylum seekers from Israel against their will. Rwanda has not yet...

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In Be'er Sheva, coexistence is 'political,' and can get you evicted

The Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Quality has been a fixture in the city of Be’er Sheva for decades. Now, following pressure from far-right activists, the city is evicting it.

By Yehudit Keshet

The city of Be’er Sheva is trying to evict the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, the only place where Jews and Arabs can meet to work together and promote equality and understanding, following a concerted effort by far-right extremists.

The Forum has been operating out of a Jewish-Arab community center, located in a renovated bomb shelter, since 1996 — all under one condition: that it not be used for “political activities.” Over the years, the Forum, an NGO that promotes tolerance and joint living, has scrupulously adhered to this stipulation, imposed on tenants of all property owned by the city.

During each of Israel’s wars with Gaza, the shelter turned-community center, known as Multaka-Mifgash, has been kept open to the public at all hours of the day. It is probably the best kept shelter in town, and more importantly, it is the only place in Be’er Sheva where Jews and Arabs can meet socially, hosting a wide range of community and cultural events — including courses in Arabic, film festivals, literary evenings, and lectures.

But it turns out that there are those who feel that coexistence and solidarity between Jews and Arabs is subversive, even treacherous. In 2016, the Forum planned a screening of a film entitled “Trembling in Gaza,” a documentary about a trauma training workshop for professional psychologists in Gaza. It is a film that neither takes an overt political stance, nor a position on Israel’s policies; it is merely a depiction of a therapeutic process.

Shortly before the screening, the Forum received a demand from the municipality, backed by the threat of sanctions, that the screening be cancelled following alleged complaints by “the neighbors” and the alleged violation of the conditions of the Forum’s contract. In short, the municipality considered the screening “political.” The neighbors, or neighbor, as it turned out, actually lives in the occupied West Bank, and spends much of his time trying to shut down activities he regards as “leftist.”

Reluctantly, the Forum cancelled the screening and sought legal advice regarding the definition of “political activity.” According to the attorney general, this is defined by law as activities that include party-affiliated content. Nonetheless the Forum continued to be...

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