Just as the Hunger Strike led by Palestinian political prisoners ended last week, African refugees in Israel’s desert detention centers began their own. On Friday afternoon, nearly a thousand asylum seekers and refugees left Israel’s so-called “open prison” in the Negev Desert. Following months, and in some cases years, of imprisonment under Israel’s newly amended anti-infiltration law the refugees decided to protest the prison conditions and the very fact that while seeking asylum they were imprisoned indefinitely. After leaving the jail, the refugees headed to the border with Egypt, which they were violently stopped from reaching by the Israeli army. They then decided to camp out in a nearby grove, urging the UN to intervene and allow them passage out of Israel. But on Sunday night, massive forces of Israeli special police units removed them and transferred them back jail, where they went on hunger strike. Special thanks to journalists David Sheen, Simone Wilson, and Oren Ziv of ActiveStills.org
LIA TARACHANSKY, PRODUCER: Just as the hunger strike led by Palestinian political prisoners ended last week, African refugees in Israel’s desert detention centers began their own.
The strike came as a response to the violent removal of refugees from the border with Egypt on Sunday. Their statement to the press said, we call on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to find an urgent solution for the situation and to protect our rights as people who have come to Israel to seek asylum and shelter.
On Friday afternoon, nearly 1,000 asylum seekers left Israel’s so-called open prison in the Negev desert. Following months–and in some cases years–of imprisonment under Israel’s newly amended anti-infiltration law, the refugees decided to protest the present conditions and the very fact that while seeking asylum, they were imprisoned indefinitely. So, on Friday, hundreds simply left the open prison, where, according to the new law, they must sign in three times a day and walked to the border with Egypt.
PHILEMON REZENE, ERITREAN REFUGEE: Every time when they were in Hulot, in the prison, they had a very miserable life. They had always shortage of food, shortage of sanitation, shortage of medication. And they’re always under strict control. And they won’t be free at least [incompr.] in the open air. That was their choice.
It’s better to die than to live in asylum.
JACK ZAIDAN, SUDANESE REFUGEE: I am asking the government of Israel [on behalf of] everyone in Hulot jail, and in the desert, and in Saharonim prison, who were transferred there a week ago, from Hulot [open] jail to Saharonim [closed] jail. Secondly, we’re asking the responsibility over refugees, regardless where they came from, to be transferred to the UN. Third, Israel has treated us as though we’re not human. We are human beings. We have our countries and everything, but we fled because of war in our countries. We came here because you were in a [similar] situation. [The Jewish people] have also undergone genocide, and we came here because you are our brothers. We believe that there will be peace in our countries, and we will return then. But we’re asking Israel to transfer responsibility over us to the UN.
TARACHANSKY: Indefinite imprisonment is only the latest tactic the Israeli government has used against them. All the refugees from African countries, except Sudan and Eritrea, were deported by 2012. The remaining asylum-seekers were forbidden to work, denied health care, saw their businesses confiscated and closed, and were often harassed by the racial-profiling Oz police unit, which frequently arbitrarily arrested them. Last December, the government began mass imprisonment campaigns, sending thousands to jail. As The Real News previously reported, while jailed, prison officials coerced hundreds to agree to be relocated to Uganda or, against international law, back to their home countries. After leaving the jail, the refugees headed to the border with Egypt, which they were violently prevented from reaching by the Israeli army.
They then decided to camp out in a nearby growth, urging the UN to intervene and allow them passage out of Israel. But on Sunday night, massive forces of Israeli special police units removed them and transferred them back to jail, where they went on hunger strike.
Considering the government has clearly stated its policies aimed at ridding Israel of African refugees, it’s baffling why the Israeli army would prevent them from actually leaving of their own accord and return them to jail. A spokeswoman from the Israeli Interior Ministry, whose head, Gideon Sa’ar, has often attacked the refugees in the press, gave the following vague statement to Simon Wilson of The Jewish Journal. We will use all we can by law, and it means that anyone who broke the law can be sent to Saharonim jail.
I haven’t seen my family in seven years! Because you put me in jail!
TARACHANSKY: Why do you think?
I don’t know. Maybe–I don’t know exactly, but even the army or the government doesn’t want the black people to be here, and they should open the way and let them go [wherever they would suggest (?)]. Maybe they think that they would be shameful because of the situation, but I cannot analyze or guess something.
TARACHANSKY: For The Real News, I’m Lia Tarachansky, by Hulot Prison, Negev Desert.