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How jailed asylum seekers are taking over Israeli Facebook feeds

As part of a new online campaign Israelis are giving voice to African asylum seekers who have been silenced, locked up and forgotten.

By Avi Blecherman

African asylum seekers jailed in the Holot detention center protest behind the prison's fence, as other asylum seekers take part in a protest outside the facility in Israel's Negev desert, February 17, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

African asylum seekers jailed in the Holot detention center protest behind the prison’s fence, as other asylum seekers take part in a protest outside the facility in Israel’s Negev desert, February 17, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

If you’re a Hebrew speaker you’re probably asking yourself how your Facebook feed suddenly filled up with quotes from asylum seekers in the “Holot” detention facility. Well, it’s because a new online campaign called “Voices from Holot” launched Sunday, allowing you to to share any number of quotes collected from interviews with asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan, all of whom are imprisoned in the “Holot” and “Saharonim” prisons.

A number of human rights organizations are behind the campaign, among them the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International and Assaf. The campaign is scheduled to go on for a week, and it has been taking off so far. Hundreds of people have already shared statuses from asylum seekers. Among those sharing have been Israeli celebrities and writers.

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

“The Israeli public has frequently been exposed to discussions about asylum seekers, but almost never do they hear their feelings, thoughts and points of view,” Anat Ovadia of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants explained to +972’s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call.

“The goal is to expose the personal stories, the thoughts and daily experiences of the detainees, with the assumption that it’s more difficult to hate and fear or continue to be apathetic toward them when you read their testimonies in the first person,” she continued.

Those behind the project hope that the thousands of people currently being incarcerated without trial, and who have been effectively silenced, “will be heard and not forgotten.”

Speaking by telephone from Holot, Anwar Suliman said: “This project is important to us. It is one part of the actions we asylum seekers at detained at Holot have been initiating for a long time, in which we try and show the [Israeli] public how we are living here.”

Police arrest asylum seekers who left Holot near the Nitzana border crossing with Egypt, June 29, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Police arrest asylum seekers who left Holot near the Nitzana border crossing with Egypt, June 29, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

“This is a real prison,” he continued. “They don’t let people live properly, like humans. There are international laws that are supposed to provide us with protection but they are not being implemented.”

The situation in Holot is difficult, Suliman added. “I’m speaking to you right now from the room in which my friend and I sleep and live. It’s very cold here and there is no heating. The feeling is as if they are punishing us, for no reason. We are being punished just for coming here.”

Read also: Inside Holot — a photo diary

The campaign is directed at the citizens of Israel, not the government, Suliman explained. “It’s important that we understand each other. We are in a difficult situation now but one day we want to return to our countries and to help our societies. Look at us as people who can lift ourselves up and become strong, and one day help others.”

The following are a few of the statuses people can share, translated from Hebrew into English (read them all in Hebrew):

After my older brother died in prison in Eritrea, my younger brother and I fled. He managed to get to Europe and I got to Israel. He studied and is working and I’m in prison and I don’t know what will become of me. (Gabrasadek, asylum seeker from Eritrea, imprisoned in Holot) #HolotVoices

Ten years ago they attacked my village in Darfur, killed my father and brother in front of me. I fled and haven’t seen my mother or sister since. They tell us they want us to go back, but to where? To a country that wants to kill us? To a country that that murders us? That burns our villages? Where are we supposed to return? (Muhammad Ali, asylum seeker from Sudan, imprisoned in Holot) #HolotVoices

My dream is that there will be peace in Sudan and that we will be able to return and rebuild our beautiful country, but meanwhile I am here and asking to be treated with dignity. (Muhammad, asylum seeker from Sudan, imprisoned in Holot) #HolotVoices

They said we are cancer, that we are criminals, that we carry diseases. I invite you all to come speak with me, to hear my story. You’ll see that I am just like you, a person, who wants to live. (Asyam, asylum seeker from Eritrea, imprisoned in Holot) #Holot Voices

A version of this article first appeared in +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it here.

Read also:
Asylum seekers to stay in prison while Israelis hit the polls
Israel’s ‘backyards’: First south Tel Aviv, then Holot
Resource: Coercing African asylum seekers to go home

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    1. Mikesailor

      When stories first appeared about the Israeli treatment of African asylum-seekers, I recalled how the Zionists have, over the years, used the ST. LOUIS incident as a cudgel against the US. And, it has been repeated enough that many gullible Americans believe it. And rarely does the American mass media even cover the Isralei policy or explain the facts to their audience. Before WWII, the US immigration law mandated that the Jews on the ST. LOUIS were not eligble for admittance to the US. Of course, at that time, while Jews were discriminated against, there were no mass killings or any other idicia of threat to life and limb. In the present case however, there are credible threats of imminent violence and death against the asylum-seekers who are punished if they reach Israel by indeterminate imprisonment unless they agree to “voluntary” repatriation to the land of their likely death. Their crime as far as the Israeli government and most Israelis declare: not being Jewish. The most interesting aspect is how the Jews still declare the ST. LOUIS incident was somehow different and that the US is morally responsible for the fate of the passengers and always ask for special treatment unavailable to others in likewise circumstances. Does Zionist hypocrisy know no bounds? Apparently not.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Brian

      Israel is a racist state.


      Black and Jewish? Try explaining that to Israel’s airport security
      Michael Twitty, a Jewish African-American culinary historian, who was a guest of the Jewish Film festival in Jerusalem, endured humiliating treatment at Ben-Gurion Airport. Irrespective of religion, race or gender? Not in these parts.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Hana Uzan

      Israeli airport authorities have the right to question you: Jew, Black, or any other variation. I am Jewish born in an Abrab state. They were suspicious and I got endless questioning. I don t mind all this, I want to fly safely. Period

      Reply to Comment
    4. Golda Meier, a racist, complained about the tribe of Dan (Ethiopian Hebrews) back in the early 1970s, wanting to come to Israel and starting to get some recognition by the rabbis. “Don’t they know how they’ll be treated?” she is said to have asked. How would they know? According to some white folks apparently, being African means you have this 6th sense that you will be despised. For what? And Ethiopians I know relate how they were spit on routinely, questioned routinely about their “Jewishness”, told that they smell, are not hired for jobs (unless cleaning people’s homes or the streets of the city you live in is what you’ve always aspired to). There are thousands of reports of Israeli racism toward African (even though Israel was felt to be part of the African continent, go figure?) so please spare me the denials. A few years back, an Ethiopian woman was fired from her job at a restaurant because the rabbi who provided the hechser said he wouldn’t give it unless they got rid of her.

      Golda Meir Was First Israeli Leader to Expel African-(American) Refugees by Richard Silverstein on June 10, 2013
      inMideast Peace

      Reply to Comment