[Ppnews] Detaining Africans latest step in making Israel an ethnocracy
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Mar 2 17:28:49 EST 2012
Detaining Africans latest step in making Israel an ethnocracy
2 March 2012
Levinsky Park sits just across from
Avivs central bus station, a rundown, bustling
neighborhood in the citys south known for its
large migrant worker community and municipal neglect.
For years Levinsky Park itself has been a hub for
homeless asylum seekers. On any given day there
can be up to 250 persons living in the park,
according to Nick Schlagman, program manager at
the African Refugee Development Center.
The African asylum-seekers, hoping for a solution
to their limbo status, have fled impossible
situations at home mostly Eritrea and Sudan.
They were greeted upon arrival in Israel with a
hostile government that offers them no support or
protection and wants them out.
The climate in Israel for refugees has grown
increasingly harsh. The border with
is heavily patrolled by soldiers who pounce on
new arrivals, shuttling them to a detention
center, where they are registered, held for a
number of weeks, then left to fend for
themselves. Most receive a month-long visa, which
must be renewed on a rolling basis, Schlagman explained.
The trend was cemented in January, when the 1954
of Infiltration law was amended. The amendment
allows the state to detain refugees without trial
for three years, or indefinitely if they are from
an enemy country such as Sudan.
This puts Israel at first place among western
states for the longest jail time for asylum
seekers, according to Amnesty International
(Israel: new detention law violates rights of
asylum seekers, 10 January 2012).
To help realize this provision, a refugee
detention center is being planned that will hold
10,000 persons. Those that offer support to
refugees, the law says, may face up to 15 years in prison.
The Infiltration Law was originally intended to
block the efforts of Palestinians uprooted during
the ethnic cleansing leading to Israels
foundation in 1948, who might try to return and
lay claim to their homes. It allowed the state to
imprison infiltrators anyone, namely
Palestinians, who crossed Israels boundaries without official permission.
The law was imagined as part of the Zionist
project of keeping Israel Jewish by excluding
Palestinians. Today it has the same purpose, this
time targeting people fleeing an oppressive
dictatorship in Eritrea, and Sudan, where large
scale human rights abuses have occurred in the
province of Darfur and in fighting between the north and south.
The Israeli government has described its
anti-refugee policies as deterrence. If the
states 50,000 refugees relay to their families
and friends the awful treatment meted out to them
in Israel others like them will go elsewhere, the logic goes.
Israel cannot deport the refugees due to its
signing of the 1951 Refugee Convention, according
to which states must provide refuge to those
fleeing danger in their home country. Israel
manages to circumvent this obligation by refusing
to acknowledge people as refugees, instead labeling them migrant workers.
The conditional release visa that refugees
receive does not allow them to work. We went to
court to fight this, explained Yohanes Bayu,
director of ARDC, which decided the state could
not fine businesses that employed asylum seekers.
Denying right to work
In reality it is still extremely difficult for
refugees to find work. While the government
cannot overturn the courts decision, Prime
Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai are
saying on television that employers of refugees will be punished, Bayu said.
In January, it was reported that contractors
employed by the Tel Aviv municipality fired 800
asylum seekers working as street cleaners, under
orders from municipal authorities
Aviv orders subcontractors to stop employing
asylum seekers, Haaretz, 23 January 2012).
Conditions in Levinsky Park this year, with a
particularly cold winter, were tough. One man
sleeping there told The Electronic Intifada that
municipal authorities had been making rounds of
the park each morning, clearing away blankets
donated by locals to help the homeless men through the cold nights.
One 40-year-old Eritrean, Yohanes Barko, did not
survive the experience. Barko had lived in a tent
in the park during the summers tent protests
but was made homeless again when his tent was
torn down by municipal authorities last October.
In mid-January he was found in the park, having
died from the cold
Aviv refugee froze to death. Go back to Africa,
its warmer, +972 Magazine, 22 January 2012).
It was this mans death that galvanized the
community to take immediate action, Schlagman
noted. Tel Aviv locals, shocked by the states
total apathy, began bringing bags of clothes and
blankets to the park. Some came every night with warm meals.
In late January, Sons of Darfur, a group of
Darfuri refugees, set up a small shelter for the
refugees in an old bar, meters away from the
parks boundaries. The space can fit about 150
individuals. The organizers cannot afford to
maintain the shelter, which costs 12,000 shekels
($3,200) a month to rent, but worry what might
befall their lodgers should they close down.
The group, along with the Israeli emergency
service Magen David Adom, managed recently to
find temporary housing for all of Levinsky Parks
refugees. This is the first time since 2006 that
the park is empty at night, Schlagman said.
Once again, demography is being wielded by the
establishment with great bluster and urgency. If
Israel offers sanctuary to downtrodden Africans,
soon its Jewish majority will be jeopardized, the argument goes.
Israels demographic fear has already fueled much
racially-biased legislation, most recently the
high courts upholding of a law
citizenship to West Bank and Gaza spouses of
Israeli citizens and nationals of Arab enemy states.
While the security line is often employed to
buttress policies denounced as racist and
discriminatory, Israeli leaders are not
attempting to disguise the amendment to the
Infiltration Law as anything but another means of
ensuring ethnic homogeneity or, in other words, Jewish supremacy.
In December, Netanyahu spoke of a forthcoming
trip to Africa and planned discussions with
African leaders about how to stem the continuing
stream of their citizens into Israel. These are
very important steps to ensure the future of the
State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic
state, he said. If we do not act to stop this
illegal flood, we will simply be inundated
to go to Africa to return infiltrators, Israel
National News, 11 December 2011).
The Infiltration Law, in its criminalization of
asylum seekers, is just another example of racism
and apartheid motivating Israeli legislation.
Sophie Crowe is a journalist based in the West
Bank. She can be reached at croweso [at] tcd [dot] ie.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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