[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

<http://electronicintifada.net/people/sophie-crowe>Sophie Crowe
http://electronicintifada.net/content/detaining-africans-latest-step-making-israel-ethnocracy/11016
2 March 2012

Levinsky Park sits just across from 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/tel-aviv>Tel 
Aviv’s central bus station, a rundown, bustling 
neighborhood in the city’s 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.


Indefinite detention

The climate in Israel for refugees has grown 
increasingly harsh. The border with 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/egypt>Egypt 
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 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/prevention-infiltration-law>Prevention 
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 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/nakba>Nakba, 
the ethnic cleansing leading to Israel’s 
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 Israel’s 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 
state’s 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 
the 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/israeli-high-court>high 
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 court’s decision, Prime 
Minister 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/benjamin-netanyahu>Benjamin 
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 
(“<http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/tel-aviv-orders-subcontractors-to-stop-employing-asylum-seekers-1.408691>Tel 
Aviv orders subcontractors to stop employing 
asylum seekers,” Haaretz, 23 January 2012).


Blankets confiscated

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 summer’s “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 
(“<http://972mag.com/a-tel-aviv-asylum-seeker-froze-to-death-go-back-to-africa-its-warmer/33654/>Tel 
Aviv refugee froze to death. ‘Go back to Africa, 
it’s warmer,’” +972 Magazine, 22 January 2012).

“It was this man’s death that galvanized the 
community to take immediate action,” Schlagman 
noted. Tel Aviv locals, shocked by the state’s 
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 
park’s 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 Park’s 
refugees. This is the first time since 2006 that 
the park is empty at night, Schlagman said.


Preserving apartheid

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.

Israel’s demographic fear has already fueled much 
racially-biased legislation, most recently the 
high court’s upholding of a law 
<http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ben-white/israels-high-court-upholds-racist-citizenship-law-avoid-national-suicide>denying 
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” 
(“<http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/150604#.T0duMfEgcXY>Netanyahu 
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.




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