[News] African refugees defy desert cold, Israeli internment in march for freedom

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Dec 30 12:35:31 EST 2013

  African refugees defy desert cold, Israeli internment in march for freedom

Budour Youssef Hassan 
27 December 2013

On 15 December, about 150 African asylum-seekers 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/africans-israel>, mostly Sudanese, 
began a march from the Holot internment camp in the Naqab desert 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/negev-naqab> with the intention of 
reaching the Israeli prime minister's residence in Jerusalem 

Braving the freezing cold and refusing meals for three days, the African 
asylum-seekers staged their march in protest of an "anti-infiltration" 
law which was passed 
on 10 December in Israel's parliament, the Knesset 

The law was swiftly enacted to circumvent an Israeli high court 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/israeli-high-court> ruling that 
struck down the previous version of the anti-refugee Prevention of 
Infiltration Law 

Refugee rights advocates, including the Hotline for Refugees and Migrant 
Workers in Israel, consider the newly-amended law to be even worse than 
the annulled provision 

The revised law reduces from three years to one year the amount of time 
that Israeli authorities can imprison asylum-seekers without trial. But 
it also stipulates that refugees can be held indefinitely and without 
judicial review in an internment camp.

The Holot internment camp is located in the middle of a firing zone 
in the Naqab (Negev) desert, 40 kilometers away from the city of Bir 
al-Saba <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/bir-al-saba> (Beersheva). 
Although the Israeli government claims it is an open facility, the 
refugees are required to show up at three roll calls per day and are 
under curfew at night.

Over 1,000 Sudanese refugees imprisoned in the Saharonim jail were 
transferred to the Holot camp.

The camp is isolated from any residential area and the refugees held 
there are not allowed to apply for work permits. This means they are 
effectively locked up under terrible conditions, in a striking reminder 
of the internment camps in which the US held its Japanese citizens 
during World War II.

    Setting a precedent

It is not surprising, then, that African asylum-seekers decided to take 
matters into their own hands and march to Jerusalem with their demands. 
They want an end to indefinite incarceration and for the Israeli 
authorities to examine their asylum applications in accordance with the 
UN's 1951 Refugee Convention 
<http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49da0e466.html>. Israel signed and ratified 
this agreement but fails to respect it.

The march set an important precedent for two main reasons.

Unlike many of the pro-refugee protests that take place in Tel Aviv 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/tel-aviv>, this march was led and 
planned by refugees themselves rather than Zionist leftists. Sudanese 
refugees organized this mass action and were joined by other Sudanese 
and Eritrean refugees who live in Tel Aviv, Palestinian residents of of 
al-Araqib <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/al-araqib> (a repeatedly 
demolished village not recognized by Israel) and Israeli solidarity 

The Israeli solidarity activists included Knesset members from the 
political party Meretz <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/meretz>. They 
constantly tried to dominate the march, giving speeches appealing to the 
Israeli public, invoking Jewish identity and the "Jewish refugee 
narrative." (Needless to say, the refugee narrative brought up in these 
speeches did not mention 750,000 Palestinians displaced by Zionist 
colonizers during the Nakba <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/nakba> 
--- Israel's ethnic cleansing 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/ethnic-cleansing> of the Palestinian 
people in 1948).

A second reason why this march set a precedent is that it represented an 
inspiring act of civil disobedience by the refugees. Despite knowing 
that they would ultimately be arrested and taken back to Saharonim 
prison once they reached Jerusalem, they did not try to run away --- 
even though they could easily have done so.

    "We want dignity"

After two days of traveling, the refugees arrived in front of the 
Israeli prime minister's residence around 10:30 am. They chanted "We are 
human beings," "we want dignity," "we are proud of our black skin" and 
"freedom yes, prison no."

The Electronic Intifada spoke to Mubarak Ali Muhammad, who fled violence 
in the Darfur <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/darfur> region of 
Sudan <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/sudan> only to be immediately 
imprisoned by Israel when he arrived in 2012.

"As soon as I arrived the Israeli police arrested me," Muhammad said. "I 
was held in Saharonim and Ketziot jails for 18 months but when the 
Supreme Court [as Israel's high court is also known] ordered our release 
[in September], we were transferred to the open detention center in Holot."

Speaking about the detention conditions in Saharonim, Muhammad said: "In 
the prison we are not treated as human beings and the conditions are 
very difficult. On 5 May 2012, for instance, we staged a nonviolent 
protest against the rough conditions so the prison guards responded by 
beating and shackling us."

Asked if he dreams of going back to Darfur one day, Muhammad replied: 
"Of course we cannot now, but if [Sudanese leader] Omar al-Bashir is 
overthrown and there is stability, I'll go back to Darfur immediately. I 
want to get married and have kids and I miss my family there and no-one 
dislikes his homeland."

    "Freezing cold"

Muhammad also spoke about the tough journey that the asylum-seekers had 
to make from the Naqab to Jerusalem. "We walked for almost eight hours 
by foot from Holot to Bir al-Saba amid the freezing cold of the desert," 
he said. "Some marching refugees passed out because they were on hunger 
strike. We spent Monday night in a kibbutz and continued the march on 
Tuesday morning."

The refugees originally planned to walk all the way from Holot to 
Jerusalem on foot but could not do that due to the snow storm that 
struck Jerusalem a few days earlier. Some refugees attended the march, 
wearing only socks because they had no shoes.

Najmiddine, a refugee who lives in Tel Aviv, spoke to The Electronic 
Intifada giving only his first name. He fled what the International 
Criminal Court 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/international-criminal-court> has 
described as genocide in Darfur.

"Although I am not imprisoned, south Tel Aviv feels like a big prison 
for us," he said. "I believe that all refugees, whether in Tel Aviv or 
the open detention center in the Naqab, share the same cause and 
demands. We demand the Israeli government look into our asylum 
application and decide our status."

Najmiddine emphasized that he wants to go back to Sudan once stability 
is restored but right now it's impossible: "I really miss my mother, my 
friends and my homeland. I miss going back to Sudan really bad."

    "Some people are racist"

Another Sudanese asylum-seeker, who asked not to be identified, said he 
fled ethnic cleansing in the Nuba Mountains 
<http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2077376,00.html> in 
the south Kordofan region of Sudan. He has been living in Tel Aviv for 
eight years.

Asked if he faced racial abuse, he said, "Yes, some people are racist 
but others are very kind with us. I was not personally attacked but I 
heard from my friends that they were harassed and attacked by racist mobs."

After more than an hour of chanting in front of the prime minister's 
residence, the refugees and allies walked to the Knesset building where 
they were violently arrested by Israeli police who described them as 
"infiltrators." The refugees were loaded onto buses and taken back to 
Saharonim prison.

On Thursday 19 December, over 150 Sudanese and Eritrean asylum-seekers 
walked out again from Holot internment camp in solidarity with their 
imprisoned comrades. After marching for an hour in the desert, Israeli 
immigration police launched a brutal campaign of arrests against all 
refugees who dared march out of the open prison. The police's behavior 
was so extreme that it even flouted Israel's own draconian law.

This time, the immigration police had no intention of allowing the 
refugees to march to a residential area and the only media 
representatives that covered the attack on refugees were photographers 
from the ActiveStills collective. As immigration police officers 
violently beat and verbally abused them, marching refugees were 
screaming and crying bitterly: "Freedom freedom."

The internment camp is yet another chapter in Israel's ongoing inhumane 
treatment of African asylum-seekers. After vicious incitement propagated 
by Knesset members 
and state-appointed rabbis, imprisonment without charge or trial, denial 
of basic rights, racist pogroms and so-called "voluntary" deportation 
under pressure and threats of indefinite detention and financial 
incentives, refugees are now facing indefinite detention in an open 
prison in the middle of the desert.

Refugees who have fled genocide in Darfur, ethnic cleansing in south 
Kordofan, the brutal, Israel-backed dictatorship in Eritrea 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/eritrea> and the torture camps in 
the Sinai <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/sinai>, face a new form of 
enslavement in the supposed "refugee haven" of Israel, which is anything 
but a haven for non-Jewish black people.

/Budour Youssef Hassan is a Palestinian anarchist and law graduate based 
in occupied Jerusalem. She can be followed on Twitter @Budour48 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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