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'This is not a life': A journey to Israel's 'open' detention center

When a group of Jewish Israelis set out for the Holot ‘open prison’ in the Negev, they were hoping to sing Christmas carols to the asylum seekers. But by the time they got there, the things they saw and heard made it clear that there was nothing to sing about.

By Ayla Peggy Adler

Asylum seekers and their visitors outside the Holot ‘open prison.’ (photo: Assaf Chen)

When asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan walked out of the Holot prison last week, they walked out of obscurity. Until then, even people like myself who had been involved in their community six years ago when they first arrived to Israel—and who, three years later, had protested against the Holot prison—had allowed them to disappear. The truth was, even though I live in the Negev, I wasn’t even sure exactly where Holot had been built.

At the same time, Christmas time was making me homesick for family and friends-who-knew-me-before-I-was-forty. I had this embarrassing impulse: I wanted to Christmas carol for the Holot prisoners. I knew that only some, Eritreans, were Christian, and that even they celebrated the Coptic Christmas on January 7th, and that anyway, neither they nor most Israelis would know the songs that I, an American Jew, had grown up on (Silent Night, Little Drummer Boy, O Holy Night…). But I felt, somehow, that it would bless them, and us, if we knocked on their door and sang these noels of love and devotion.

It was six years ago that my friend, Tsehaye showed me how if you want to reach out to people: you simply show up. Tsehaye had overheard me, a stranger then, on the telephone talking to Israeli NGOs about wanting to help African refugees, and he approached me, saying, “I am an African refugee.” Like many, Tsehaye had walked from Eritrea through Sudan and Egypt into Israel, all along risking his life, imprisonment, and paying enormous bribe money to human smugglers. He offered to take me to south Tel Aviv to meet his community. We went. After that, I visited people at the shelter once a week. It was there that I finally met the NGO workers I had been trying to connect with by telephone. But really, they were just people doing what I was doing and a lot more of it: learning what people needed, trying to help.

So it was with Tsehaye’s guidance in mind that I created an event on Facebook: “Caroling for Holot.” There was only one person I was sure would come: SH of +972 Magazine commenting fame. We had met each other commenting on the site and had been in touch for years, but until Thursday, had never met in person. After creating the event, I posted confident posts, though in truth, I suspected SH and I would be singing duets.

But Tsehaye taught me this, too: if you show up, somehow, it will be. And it was. Four others joined us. We had a mat to lay on the desert ground, a car full of food and gifts (hats, scarves, socks), and a packet full of Christmas lyrics. What more could we need?

One thing we were very curious about was this oxymoron: “open prison.” Israel calls it an “open detention center,” but it’s impossible to distinguish between Kzi’ot, the old prison the refugees call “the Palestinian Prison,” Saharonim, the other prison in which African refugees have been detained, or Holot, the new, “open” place, all three a part of one complex. In fact, prisoners refer to them interchangeably; I received a text message from a prisoner thanking us for our visit, referring to himself as “Emmanuel from Saharonim.” We were not surprised when we showed up to heavy security between ourselves and the prisoners; the gate was padlocked, the security intense, as they came out slowly, one by one.

We’d also received word that since the week before, not many prisoners remained in Holot, after the hundreds who had walked out had been punished by being put back in Saharonim.  So we were surprised to learn from the remaining 35 prisoners, all of whom seemed to join us that day that they prefer Saharonim to Holot.  Why? First of all, it’s nicer – Saharonim has televisions in the rooms and a library. Secondly, there is at least the hope of getting out of Saharonim.  From Holot (“Sands” in English)—you aren’t going anywhere. Ever. I was reminded of Solomon, an Eritrean refugee I had met in the Tel Aviv shelter so many years ago. He had told me that he’d been in a Sudanese prison for twenty years, but never had he been as depressed as he was now that he’d come to Israel. “At least then,” he told me, “I could dream of being free. Now, we are stuck. We can’t work. This is not a life.”

Asylum seekers and visitors picnic outside the Holot ‘open prison.’ (photo: Ayla Peggy Adler)

Two lawyers from Hotline for Migrant Workers who showed up to Holot at the same time as us explained it this way: “Israel calls this an ‘open center’; how can one be released from a place that is open?” Hopelessness is the strategy: if people have no hope, they might sign their own release forms to go back to their countries of origin – countries in which the human rights abuses are so bad that it is against international law to deport them. The fact that they’ve all been in Holot for one, two, or three years now with no chance of release and have chosen to stay should be proof enough for anyone who believes the Israeli government (which had the nerve to tell even The New York Times that most Africans here are economic refugees). If Israel had a refugee status determination process (for non-Jews) like every other democracy in the world, asylum seekers status could be determined objectively by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But Israel has no such policy. Really?” we asked the prisoners. “It isn’t a bit better to be in Holot, where at least you can take a walk?” But they are in the middle of the desert, not far from Nitzana Border Crossing to Egypt, adhering to three mandatory roll calls a day. There’s only one thing that makes Holot more advantageous than Saharonim, and that’s that they can leave if they have visitors. Until they put themselves back in the spotlight last week, no one had been visiting.

We actually had a great time picnicking and exchanging stories. They all speak Hebrew. I arrived in this country around the same time as them and although I’ve been embarrassed not to have learned more, I’ve never felt ashamed until I visited Holot. “It’s easier for us,” Amman told me. “Hebrew and Tigrinya are very similar.” In fact, Tigrinya comes from Ge’ez, the language in which Ethiopian torahs are scribed, in which older generations of Ethiopian Jews still pray.

Still, we had enough language between us for me to understand that their wives and children are living on the outside. “Holot is separating families, and for what?” they asked. They want to be with their children, who speak fluent Hebrew by now. They want to be learning and working. What should we bring them when we return? Toothbrushes and dictionaries, they responded.

We didn’t sing. It just didn’t feel right. When we saw them coming out, we scrambled to set up our mat, and later, once we’d all met each other, we weren’t about to break out in song. Holot is not Glee. Maybe when we go back for their Christmas on January 7th, we’ll greet them with these songs of love and devotion. Somehow I doubt it. Just to show up and connect—to make sure they know they aren’t forgotten, to keep pressure on the Israeli government to remember the values on which Israel is founded and implement a refugee policy like other developed countries—this is what we can do.

When we were ready to leave, there were still two unmatched socks that we’d brought as gifts remaining, meaning that someone must have taken a mismatched pair by mistake. But still, they were warm, new.  Really, we asked—no one wanted them?  No, they said; they didn’t match. I tried to remember if my own socks matched that day. But when all of your decencies have been taken, you hold on to what you can.

Ayla Peggy Adler lives in the Negev where she is writing a novel, Measuring Rain, about drought, sustenance, and love. She teaches scientific writing at Ben Gurion University and blogs bi-annually.

PHOTOS: Asylum seekers march to Jerusalem to protest government policies
In act of civil disobedience, 150 Sudanese refugees walk out of Israeli ‘open prison’

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    1. The Trespasser

      >“I could dream of being free. Now, we are stuck. We can’t work. This is not a life.”

      This guy basically admits that he came here to work.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kayem

        Human beings work and human beings play. But we produce; in one way or another, we contribute. Most of us would consider a life in which all we could do is take up space… empty. Not a life in any meaningful way.
        So much for your pouncing Ahah! moment.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          Regretfully, Israel is not quite the place for these fellas to fulfill their right to work, especially keeping in mind that they took jobs which were mostly performed by Palestinian Arabs – kitchen, construction, cleaning etc., which made as many as 25000 of said Arabs unemployed.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ayla

            At first this didn’t seem worth my time, but I would like to let the record show that this is hogwash. Since you’re the one making the outlandish claim, Trespasser, I’ll leave the burden of proof to you.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Roy

      Reads like the authorities are doing a good job! If they are refugees fleeing certain death, then a state-run camp for refugees providing them with all they need except the right to work sounds like a good solution until they can go back home. Oh, they want to work, you say? And live in the city so they can send money back home? But I thought you said they are not work-seeking migrants. I wonder why Egypt was not good enough for them to seek refuge in.

      Reply to Comment
      • Someone granted political asylum still has to survive economically. Economic survival is invariant to refugee status.

        The refugee convention Israeli signed states quite clearly that those granted asylum must be allowed the same general freedom of mobility as citizens. But these refugees are in limbo, having never been granted an asylum hearing. The High Court, 9-0, had held that detention without hearing violates Basic Law. The “open prison” is an immature attempt by a largely absent Knesset (I think the vote was 30-15) to get around that ruling, which has failed spectacularly.

        All you have to do to satisfy the High Court is hold asylum hearings; after that, I suspect you could house those denied political asylum indefinitely until deportation is possible.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          They are surviving just fine economically because all their needs are taken care of.

          These are not refugees. They could have been refugees in Egypt or Sudan but they made their way to Israel so that they can make more money. They are just using a loophole which states that Israel can’t send them back to their countries, but they have no claim to refugee status. So, yes, they are in limbo because they are illegal migrants in Israel and they will continue to be that until they are sent elsewhere.

          Reply to Comment
          • ayla

            Kolumn9–my experience reading your comments here is that you state opinion as fact, often incorrectly. It’s possible that your opinion is shaped by figureheads that you trust; it’s a shame that we have so many people in leadership positions, lying. Most Eritrean asylum-seekers, (and most Eritreans, here or there or anywhere), have been arbitrarily imprisoned and to some degree or another, tortured. You say things like, “If you talk to most refugees…” Have you talked to them? Where is this coming from?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ayla

            Also, the reason they didn’t stay in Sudan or Egypt and instead kept going until they got to Israel was that it turned out that Israel was the first safe place for them. In Sudan and in Egypt, their lives were at risk, in many cases in horrifying ways. This is not my deduction; this is verifiable. One could use this to toot Israel’s horn, and many do. Personally, I hold Israel to a much higher standard as compared to where we are today, and when I look for models of human rights, I don’t look to Egypt and Sudan.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Yes, I’ve talked to Eritrean migrants. I am in South Tel Aviv on an unfortunately regular basis. Most of them came here because their countries are crap and they heard they can make money and send it back home to their families.

            There are refugee camps on the Eritrean-Ethiopian and Eritrean-Sudanese border run by the UNHCR. The argument that they had no safe shelter before they arrived in Israel is plainly and obviously bogus.

            Reply to Comment
          • K9,

            1) Yes, they are fed and housed at the “open prison” and they still want out, even though they will be unable to legally work in Israel, so more vulnerable to employer demands. That should tell you something.

            2) Asylum status grants no right of immigration to relatives. In the US, even permanent residents (those with “green cards”) can find a delay of a year or more in importing their spouse, if married after residency was granted. Immigration of relatives would be a matter of law as detailed by the Knesset. You have, I trust, looked at the ruling Knesset coalition lately.

            3) It is my understanding that the border is now rather secure from illegal entry. Yes, some granted asylum will reproduce, with one another or with Israelis. There will be some intrinsic increase. As a US citizen from a Jim Crow family background, I find racial purity arguments unappealing.

            4) Abrogate the refugee convention or hold asylum hearings. If the latter had been done quickly I suspect many claimants would have been sent out the back door with little fuss; now, I’m not sure what the courts will do with asylum denials, for the State has shown considerable bad faith.

            5) As usual, the national right makes their position worse by pretending only the Knesset matters. As I’ve said, these hard traveled claimants are now pawns in a constitutional game. The game has somewhat arbitrarily intensified through them, but that is largely the national right’s doing. You wanted supremacy without a fight, but a fight you shall have nonetheless. The front will be piecemeal; sometimes you will win, sometimes lose, but I think long term you will lose. If you want to help you cause, try to get the Knesset to kill the NGO tax bill.

            Ayla, 972 is about the only ladder I have to pull my mind up from an abandoned place, so I am grateful. The only defense I know against K9s is honesty.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ayla

            #3 made me laugh; darkly. #4 is the most important point of all, in my opinion: not having Refugee Status Determination policy has actually resulted in making it impossible to deport those who, legally speaking, should be deported, all because of the State’s fear of losing control.

            Moving comment, Greg, about why you comment here. I had to stop commenting here, for the most part, in order to re-inhabit my abandoned mind. But thank God for you and Sh, or the inmates would be running the asylum. I welcome right wing commenters on this site or any; there is no well-made argument without opposition; no thoughtful comment without tension. But why would any thoughtful, right wing reader choose 972? I know I don’t spend my time reading right wing magazines; why would I? So what we get here are people whose job it is to be decoys, and that’s frustrating because there is not even any attempt at truth, however subjective.

            Reply to Comment
          • My impression is that the post Oslo suicide bombings ground most national right reaction. Anything much might enable a causal path to more bombings, no matter how unlikely or unarticulated, must be slapped down. This has generalized to a kind of social/cultural presumed purity against refugees. Infiltration as crossing the border begins the immune response. The State then refuses any action which might curtail the immune response of deportation, such as asylum hearing. Now Activestills reports that visas are not being renewed, placing more in the infiltration category for latter removal.

            Although this is off topic, I believe that the left’s failure to deal with the bombings and consequent fear a major mistake, similar to the right refusing to care about the pain State policy induces. K9 of this site is very insightful on Israeli politics proper (parties, coalitions, etc.); but on issues of West Bank treatment, refugees, Bedouin, Boycott law and Nakba, all of which have thought paths leading to the fear and rage of bombings, he closes down completely. Group protection, real or imagined, trumps individual abuse outside the group. It seems this thesis runs through much of the polity. Left comment replies tend to list Israeli crimes, which is what the right expects, for in their eyes such are not crimes but protective or anticipatory response. The Yesh Din and refugee reports are different, for these deal with present harm alone. Note that the Bedouin are being framed exactly as the Palestinians in terms of historical guilt and inferiority.

            I have come to the view that actual present harm–this body before me–is the best focus, and it is ideally what the law has to offer. And that is why I focus on what I see as a present but unspoken constitutional conflict in your land. I don’t expect the High Court to go all bourgeois liberal, but I see the Knesset forcing a temporary liberal stance on otherwise conservative Justices, with the outcome providing precedent for the future. If so, progress will be incremental with strange turns and will not satisfy the rage of some on the left. It is easy for me to hold this view because I do not endure the pain causing this rage. But, seeing how Israeli elections have gone, I see no other practical path.

            However, without people like you, SH, and Philos little would ever change. The law just sits there until someone slaps it about. Then sometimes you have to wait decades for something to happen.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            The left’s “failure” was in creating a situation in which suicide bombings became possible. It did so because it had a hard time imagining a world where someone might strap dynamite on their body, walk into a restaurant and blow themselves up in order to murder the maximum number of Jewish civilians. Likewise the ‘left’ has a hard time imagining a world where someone can massacre a village because it belongs to a different religious group. Yet, that is the world that we inhabit.

            You treat the suicide bombings as some kind of theoretical construct for which the left failed to come up with a reasonable ideological response. This is all fine and dandy for someone who lives abroad in what appears to be a world of ideas. On the ground the other side (“the peace partner”) was continuously making attempts to massacre Jewish men, women and children. The ‘peace partner’ with whom Israel was supposed to build a wonderful new world full of peaceful cohabitation had a population of whom 75% supported a man walking onto a bus and blowing himself up as long as the victims were Jews. The other ‘peace partners’ with whom Israel was supposed to build a wonderful new world of skiing in the cedars and coffee in Damascus in the meantime got on with the business of collapsing as societies and massacring each other. The ‘left’ is left only with the somewhat doubtful venture of trying to blame Israel for the inability to make peace with such ‘peace partners’ or the fear mongering inherent in ‘last chance for peace’ and the ‘one state solution’.

            The ‘left’ failed because it couldn’t succeed. Its whole ideology collapsed. The New Middle East was proven by reality to be a fantasy of the highest order. So, the ‘last chance for peace’ is meaningless if there is no chance at the moment and the ‘one state solution’ as a threat is meaningless because it only reinforces the desire for the status quo. And then the ‘left’ is left with absolutely nothing but emotional arguments about those poor Palestinians, as if it thinks it is possible to isolate the ‘poor’ Palestinians in the eyes of the Israeli public from the ones of whom 75% supported murdering me during my morning coffee.

            Does the fact that the countries of the Middle East are collapsing into orgies of blood and sectarian massacre have an impact on my approach to other issues? Of course. If there is nothing in between me and being massacred by friendly neighborhood ‘peace partners’ except for the strength of the Israeli polity, then actions or policies designed to weaken that polity are threats. Those that wish to turn Israel into a ‘tolerant’ Syria or Iraq with a defenseless Jewish minority are quite explicitly threatening my survival given that the ideology of the ‘New Middle East’ and ‘peace partners’ is so obviously nonsensical. That doesn’t mean that any principles of representative liberal democracy need to go out the door. It does mean however that the Israeli polity needs to pursue conservative policies that at worst don’t weaken its long-term chances to survive and thrive. What impact would introducing half a million illegal migrants with no connection to Israel and with poor educations from collapsed third world countries have on the strength of Israel? Odds are pretty good that the answer is that it wouldn’t have a positive impact. Does Israel have an obligation to facilitate such a scenario? Not in the least. Does excluding illegal migrants and not allowing new ones in contradict any principles of liberal democracy? Nope. So, on what basis should they be allowed in?

            Reply to Comment
          • See what happens when I mention suicide bombings? And I am about the only “leftist” around here who does. You can’t give the K9’s this territory; they must be faced.

            I’m not going to again detail my far away theoretical views on suicide bombing here. I have before and you tend to just ignore them,as you ignore the incremental tragedies and deaths which West Bank prior residents face. These latter, however, deserve what they get, for they all voted for suicide bombings or actively enabled such or had fantasy moments where they were the bomber or valiant assistant. And if they try anything at all, anything, even protesting to get a fence moved after the High Court said it should be moved, well, we respond so you never think of bombing again.

            Most sadly, the bombers are still winning I have never said there is an easy answer, but I have held that the Yesh Din documented abuses could be remedied without security jeopardy. And your response has been that Yesh Din and report author Yossi are “paid foreign agents,” making what they say immaterial because, I guess, it does not come from the body of Israel which, of course, thinks as you. So, I guess, if Yossi begins to write these pieces for free you will read them in respect of the body of Israel.

            In any case, this thread is about the “open prison” and asylum claimants. I leave this topic here out of respect for that.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            You don’t spend time reading right-wing websites so all you have to go on is the brainwashing that one gets on various left-wing sites. That’s fine as it is your personal choice. At the same time it also means that when you see an alternative point of view it comes at you as something that goes against everything you ‘know’ and you classify it as ‘decoys’ and ‘untrue’. This is more of a reflection of your own closed mind than that of the people you dismiss.

            The reason why right-wing readers would read 972mag is to seek understanding of the way the other side thinks. Obviously that spurs disagreement and that is what you see in the comments. I personally fail to understand how somebody can inhabit your world in which you have closed yourself off from all stimuli except those that agree with you and then expect to have a well-rounded opinion on anything. And all in the name of ‘tolerance’ to boot.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            1) They have their needs met. That they want to go work and be integrated in Israel is obvious, but they are illegal migrants that have no claim to such. They crossed the border illegally and their only claim to right to stay is that they are persecuted back home and are seeking shelter. The camp provides them with shelter. I fail to see how or why the state is obligated to absorb people who entered the country illegally and who the overwhelming majority of the population does not want here.

            2) Asylum grants legal status. At that point the Aylas of Israel will demand their ‘right’ to a family and will start a new campaign for bringing over their spouses and families. This process is very well established in some European countries with the effect that the approval of asylum for a single person becomes in short order equivalent to bringing over their entire extended family.

            3) The border is ‘secure’ because there are no incentives for financial migrants to cross into Israel. Likewise it is more difficult to do so because of the fence that was built. See (2) about what the next issue will be were these people to be granted asylum. There is no racial purity argument.

            4) The refugee convention does not apply. There is no need to abrogate it. These people were safe the moment they reached the refugee camps in Sudan and Ethiopia. Then they made their way to Israel out of a desire for a better life and to send money back home. Neither of these is cause for refugee status or asylum.

            5) The national right makes its claims on the basis of the primacy of national sovereignty in establishing immigration policy.

            You have no defense, and most certainly not based on honesty. All your claims are easily dispatched. Your mind appears stuck in an abandoned place given the content of your arguments.

            Reply to Comment
          • “Your mind appears stuck in an abandoned place …” : I thought you would go personal mean, K9.

            Your replies can be handled together. An asylum hearing would determine whether arriving into a Sudan camp constitutes removal of persecution. Not you. A hearing. If you are right, you have nothing to worry about. The State is failing the convention because it refuses to hold general hearings. What are you afraid of? “The primacy of national sovereignty” indeed admits abrogation of the convention. So do so. Otherwise, hold your hearings and be done with it. Basically, all the High Court did in its original ruling is say that entering the country, illegally or not, constitutes presence for claim of asylum. It DID NOT say “and they must so be granted.” The “loophole” of no deportation back to country of persecuting origin doesn’t apply yet because their claim has yet to be heard in Israel. You don’t get to hear that claim, nor does the Knesset. Courts do.

            Finally, yes, there would be some who argue that the extended family hoard, already at the border fence, should be allowed entry as well. But, as I believe I did point out, you have a rather, um, right nationalist Knesset at the moment. Do you really think agitation by la la land leftists will move that august deliberating body?

            An open prison is not a prison but a halfway house from which you can be arrested if you leave, and we are going to remind you of this distinction three times a day. La la.

            Reply to Comment
      • sh

        Note that the African refugees began arriving in Israel years ago and many of those now in so-called open prison worked and lived in Israel as good citizens until they were recently kidnapped and interned.

        What follows below is what obtained in Britain, hardly comparable because then, the refugees came from countries Britain was about to be, or already was, at war with.

        “At the outbreak of war there were around 80,000 potential enemy aliens in Britain who, it was feared, could be spies, or willing to assist Britain’s enemies in the event of an invasion. All Germans and Austrians over the age of 16 were called before special tribunals and were divided into one of three groups:

        ‘A’ – high security risks, numbering just under 600, who were immediately interned;
        ‘B’ – ‘doubtful cases’, numbering around 6,500, who were supervised and subject to restrictions;
        ‘C’ – ‘no security risk’, numbering around 64,000, who were left at liberty. More than 55,000 of category ‘C’ were recognised as refugees from Nazi oppression. The vast majority of these were Jewish.
        The situation began to change in the spring of 1940. The failure of the Norwegian campaign led to an outbreak of spy fever and agitation against enemy aliens. More and more Germans and Austrians were rounded up. Italians were also included, even though Britain was not at war with Italy until June. When Italy and Britain did go to war, there were at least 19,000 Italians in Britain, and Churchill ordered they all be rounded up. This was despite the fact that most of them had lived in Britain for decades.

        Thousands of Germans, Austrians and Italians were sent to camps set up at racecourses and incomplete housing estates, such as Huyton outside Liverpool. The majority were interned on the Isle of Man, where internment camps had also been set up in World War One. Facilities were basic, but it was boredom that was the greatest enemy. Internees organised educational and artistic projects, including lectures, concerts and camp newspapers. At first married women were not allowed into the camps to see their husbands, but by August 1940 visits were permitted, and a family camp was established in late 1941.

        That many of the ‘enemy aliens’ were Jewish refugees and therefore hardly likely to be sympathetic to the Nazis, was a complication no one bothered to try and unravel – they were still treated as German and Austrian nationals. In one Isle of Man camp over 80 per cent of the internees were Jewish refugees.

        More than 7,000 internees were deported, the majority to Canada, some to Australia. The liner Arandora Star left for Canada on 1 July 1940 carrying German and Italian internees. It was torpedoed and sunk with the loss of 714 lives, most of them internees. Others being taken to Australia on the Dunera, which sailed a week later, were subjected to humiliating treatment and terrible conditions on the two-month voyage. Many had their possessions stolen or thrown overboard by the British military guards.

        An outcry in Parliament led to the first releases of internees in August 1940. By February 1941 more than 10,000 had been freed, and by the following summer, only 5,000 were left in internment camps. Many of those released from internment subsequently contributed to the war effort on the Home Front or served in the armed forces.”

        Note how comparatively generous the British were to the parents of many Jews who live in Israel’s parents including mine, despite the aggravated circumstances and even where they were initially categorized as enemy aliens.

        Reply to Comment
        • sh

          Gaah! That last sentence should read:

          Note how comparatively generous the British were to the parents of many Jews who live in Israel including mine, despite the aggravated circumstances and even where they were initially categorized as enemy aliens.

          I’ll add with sorrow that Israel’s self-imposed, much-vaunted, mission of light unto the nations has been betrayed time and again by its governments, in spite of examples shown by countries with no such pretensions, to which many of its Jewish citizens owe their existence.

          Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          There was a small number of people that found refuge in Israel in the early 2000s. Then this trickle turned into a flood. The overwhelming majority of such migrants will admit that they arrived in Israel due to economic motivations. Many others were additionally fleeing mandatory military service in their countries. They are not members of minority groups from their countries that were at risk of persecution. There is no good reason why illegal migrants should be allowed to stay in this country. In any case, they are being granted shelter, food and healthcare in the open detention centers. There is no obligation on the country to do any more than that.

          Reply to Comment
          • sh

            “The overwhelming majority of such migrants will admit that they arrived in Israel due to economic motivations.”

            Substantiate that please, K9. Those fleeing mandatory military service fled after 7 or more years of service, because it was open-ended, without prospect of release or remuneration. And the trickle that “turned into a flood” has since been staunched by the fence so that can no longer explain the increased diligence with which Israel is pursuing this particular quarry.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            The overwhelming majority of people that came to Israel from Sudan and Eritrea are young men. For the most part they are here to try to build a better life for themselves. You can I suppose argue that their countries have a policy of persecuting young men and so all young men from these countries should be granted asylum, but I feel that even you wouldn’t bring yourself down to such a level of sophistry. If you could have made an argument that these are minorities fleeing persecution you would have by now. But you haven’t and neither has anybody else. At best the argument is that they disagree with the policies of their own governments which are applied evenly across the population like military service. It would be like someone moving from Israel to Canada claiming asylum due to trying to avoid being conscripted for 3 years of military service and 24 additional years of reserve duty. The claim that they deserve asylum because they refuse military service is absurd.

            The ‘diligence’ of Israel trying to enforce its immigration law is welcome and more than reasonable. That illegal migrants have stopped showing up is more of a sign that the policy works, so using that as an argument against the policy is specious.

            Reply to Comment
    3. It is not that surprising that a political polity battered in violence throughout most of its existence has generalized its protective mentality beyond the Palestine conflict. Yet even so there really is no reason for these events save for resistance to High Court autonomy and authority. The High Court has often acquiesced to State demands on issues of conflict security. Here it sees no security threat and so has refused to defer.

      It is my hope that Justices begin to see where their indulgence has lead, and that they will refuse this gutting of legal reasoning pushed for political ends. Judicial independence most likely takes a foothold on marginal issues, and, relative to the occupation and its offspring (such as the Boycott Law), the treatment of these refugees is such an issue.

      These refugees are the pawns of a constitutional conflict long in the making. While the game will not end, the Court can shift it considerably. Release the refugees into the population pending asylum hearings–hardly a utopian solution for them. It is time for the Justices to make their stand. I think they will win if they do.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Of course there is a reason for these events. There are 60,000 people that crossed illegally into Israel and who have no right to be in this country. They will not be allowed to stay indefinitely which is the desired outcome of the author. Were they allowed to stay the next step would be to demand that they be allowed to import their wives, children, brothers and sisters. At that point they would number several hundred thousand at the very least, probably more since it would create incentives for additional millions to find a way to jump the border. All this despite the overwhelming majority of the Israeli population that rejects the idea that Israel should turn into a dumping ground for all those materially dissatisfied with their situation in the vast continent of Africa.

        If the author and her ideological allies had it their way there would be millions more because the desired outcome of the author is to fundamentally and irreversibly eliminate the Jewish state by overrunning it with sufficient numbers of people that would inevitably function as ideological allies in their demand for its elimination. The fact that the vast majority of Israelis have no desire to see these illegal migrants stay here and wish to see them deported as soon as possible is lost on the author.

        Reply to Comment
        • 60,000? But you say “half a million” above. I guess you were factoring in intrinsic increase in the first statement, as you never exaggerate.

          Give them their asylum hearing and be done with it. You always seem to ignore that point. But why ignore anything K9, when you are right?

          The Court has framed this as an issue of legal process, of which “the majority of Israelis” has no direct say. A constitutional democracy is not a majoritarian State as such. But you know that. There is no swamping by refugees; the borders have been secured. The issue is how to react to those already present. Stop trying to scare everyone into bashing someone.

          I guess we could put you in a room with the High Court Justices and see who wins. Risky experiment.

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    4. Ayla

      Thanks, Greg Pollock–now and always.

      Reply to Comment
    5. sh

      This was the English text on an official blue and white leaflet that was handed out in south Tel Aviv yesterday. A French text appears on the page that faces it.

      “Population And Immigration Authority Voluntary Return Assistance Unit

      Attention: Foreign nationals from Sudan, Eritrea, Ivory Coast and Guinea Conakry

      The Population And Immigration Authority offers you the option to leave the country voluntarily in a fair and dignified manner.

      Those interested can obtain voluntary return assistance including:
      Arranging travel documents,
      Purchase of airline tickets and a financial grant in the amount of 3,500$ (under age 18 grant amount is 1,000$).

      We suggest you use this opportunity by 31/3/2014, and by your own initiative contact Voluntary Return Assistance Unit, at 53 Salame St., Floor 4 Tel Aviv or contact these phone numbers: ….”

      At the bottom of the page it repeats that the offer is valid until end March and is signed:

      Gideon Cohen
      Voluntary Return Assistance Unit Manager
      Population and Immigration Authority”

      This website address appears at the bottom of the page: http://www.piba.gov.il

      Reply to Comment
    6. Kolumn9

      “This is not a life”

      As in what? They crossed the border illegally and expect to be granted the full right of citizens?

      If they are refugees they are receiving food, shelter and healthcare and that should be sufficient for people ‘fleeing persecution’. If they are not refugees they have no right to stay here whatsoever, which is the case with the vast majority of the illegal migrants.

      Israel is not going to turn into a dumping ground for every poor person from Africa that can’t make it to Europe.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ayla

        Just for the record, they are not seeking citizenship. If you want to know more about international refugee law and what it actually entails, Greg Pollock did a great job contributing to that discussion.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >Just for the record, they are not seeking citizenship…

          No, they are only seeking to remain here and bring over their families.

          By a pure coincidence, citizenship is the only way to actually achieve that.

          Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Greg Pollock has no idea what he is talking about and neither do you. The argument that Israel is obligated to consider refugee claims to persons coming from Eritrea and Sudan is nonsensical. They crossed several countries on the way here in which they would have found shelter. That they got here despite the dangers of travel is an entirely apparent proof that they decided to improve their economic well-being by coming here, rather than simply seeking shelter as they could have done in the countries along the way.

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    7. Philos

      A fairly interesting debate occurred in the comments section. I must add, however, that fleeing grinding poverty, malnutrition and brutish life is just as good a reason to head Northwards as persecution on political, religious, sexual or ethnic grounds. Given that the neoliberal agenda foisted upon Africa in the 1980s strangled economic equality on the continent, given that the Industrialized North is responsible for the vast majority of atmospheric pollution since the mid-19th Century, and given the recent history of brutally racist colonialist violence against Africans, I don’t think “economic migrant” can be described of any African migrant (apart from the tiny professional and wealth classes). They’re refugees because in 2014 exploiting African and Africans is more profitable than developing Africa or letting them live free of Western interference.

      I’ll finish that given Israel’s long history as one of the main gunrunners to both African despots and African rebel groups, Israelis crucial role in mineral extraction and the exploitation of African resources, it’s two faced to then turn one’s back on the people those deeds both directly or indirectly immiserated. At least in that respect (along with extra-judicial murder by Hellfire missile) Israel is very much a Western liberal democracy.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ayla

        Philos–ah, indeed. Living up to your name. For now, though, it seems that since high roads and philosophies and morals and ethics are so deeply entrenched in so many opposing viewpoints in and around this land, what serves us best is the law as it stands today, including our ability to shape that ever-changing law. So for now, I think our best argument is with international refugee laws. You know, the ones that every other democracy on the planet adhere to. But for the record, your comment is truer than law. in my opinion.

        Reply to Comment
        • Philos

          Ayla, I am afraid that when it comes to refugees and international law then the record of liberal democracies is woeful. Iraqis were, and continue to be, deported back to Iraq from Europe but most frequently by the UK and USA who deem the country they destroyed “safe.” Syrians are treated no better by the domocracies who pontificated to them about revolution and then outsourced the task to the murderous Salafist despots in Riyadh. Israel is keeping good company in terms of its maltreatment of asylum seekers and refugees. I suggest you look into the high suicide rates at Britain’s refugee prisons or how the French routinely lock them up. All, of course, within the law and acceptable international practice. To make a real difference activists fighting the same cause must better coordinate across borders; those they are fighting against don’t shy from international coordination in perpetuating their oppression.

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          • The US is more honest, refusing conventions to make its own rules (the US tends not to sign these things, or does so when US law mostly already conforms). The Germans have their refugee camps, but let the refugees occasionally march out to protest; Israel I do not think would, “open prison” not withstanding. I wouldn’t be surprised if many High Court Justices now think the 3 person panel decision, saying entry, illegal or not, is an asylum claim which must be heard, was a mistake. But Courts tend not to back off when confronted directly, and Knesset action is indeed a slap in the Court’s face. So I am somewhat hopeful that this matter will resolve a little bit well, with precedent for other fights.

            Both the US and Israel have sold weapons throughout Africa, either directly or via middlemen. Certainly these sales over decades have enabled or fueled even more instability in that continent. But this is no reason to open Israeli borders indiscriminately. Not all past wrongs have remedies, full or partial. The main reason I think present asylum claimants in Israel might get partial (only that) relief is that the national right Knesset and IDF have apparently secured the borders. That means people will die or be raped on the other side, having to turn back. Without that, I doubt resident claimants would have any chance at all. The world is brutal and cannot be saved in its present entirety. Some pockets can be improved. It’s neither fair nor globally rational. Where you think the pockets of improvement are decides where battles are.

            Maybe I’ve just gotten too old to think anything else.

            Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Indeed. If we had it your way the country would be a dumping ground for all the unfortunate hundreds of millions of Africans unhappy with their standard of living. But keep hiding behind being a champion for international refugee law, even though it quite plainly does not apply here.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ayla

            Kolumn9–1) if refugee law doesn’t apply here, then having a refugee policy is no threat because due process would have all these asylum seekers sent home, so if you actually believe that (cough cough), then you should be an advocate for refugee policy. 2) refugee policy means, in part, that a country is *not* a dumping ground for everyone in the world who needs asylum. 3) all told, you are revealing how little you know about Eritrea, Sudan, refugee policy, and international law. But I don’t really believe that you believe half the things you write here.

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    8. Helen nagusky

      Peggy dear…..wonderful enlightening article. I loved learning about you and the meaningful activities u engage in. Keep it up and keep us aware of inequities in Israel that we know exist but seem difficult to obtain from the US. Love you!

      Reply to Comment
      • Ayla

        Thanks Helen :). Nice to hear from someone who’s known me since the day I was born here in this treacherous land of comments from people hiding behind pseudonyms.

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    9. The Trespasser

      >At first this didn’t seem worth my time, but I would like to let the record show that this is hogwash. Since you’re the one making the outlandish claim, Trespasser, I’ll leave the burden of proof to you.

      The fact that 50000-60000 men strong immigrant army occupies at least 25000 jobs which otherwise would’ve been taken by Palestinian Arabs is self evident to anyone who had spent enough lifetime in Israel to notice the change.

      Take a tour around West Bank or Yehuda and Shomron Arab villages and ask people there how many jobs were lost and what do they actually think of this issue. If there is an IDF unit nearby, you might even consider telling them that you are helping refugees. Might be an enlightening experience.

      Reply to Comment
      • Philos

        The Palestinians lost those jobs because of Oslo years ago and those that are working do so illegally. You noticed the change but you have misappropriated the blame.

        Reply to Comment
    10. The Trespasser

      >But why would any thoughtful, right wing reader choose 972?

      Because thoughtful people prefer to have a full picture.

      >I know I don’t spend my time reading right wing magazines; why would I?


      A sentence or two before this one you had written “there is no well-made argument without opposition; no thoughtful comment without tension.”

      Did you ever read the New Testament?

      Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to his disciples,
      Saying: The scribes and the Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses.
      All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not; for they say, and do not.
      Matthew 23:1-3

      >So what we get here are people whose job it is to be decoys

      Not really. What we actually got here is an acknowledgement that you don’t spend time reading right-wing magazines because you see no reason to do so, although you believe that there is no well-made argument without opposition etc.

      Peggy, dear, the fact that you don’t do as you say does only mean that you are a bit of a hypocrite, like most other people, that’s all.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ayla

        I guess I left this party too early–just seeing these comments. Tresspasser–I read plenty of conservative commentary. When it comes to Israel, it’s pretty hard to escape, even in dinner table conversation when I visit the States.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ayla

        p.s. Trespasser–the reason to read commentary counter to your own opinion is to learn. It is, however, clear to anyone, of any political orientation, who reads 972’s comment threads that you are here to react as a decoy to nearly every single article. Such a waste of energy.

        Reply to Comment
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