On Saturday, December 21st, an unprecedented demonstration took place in Tel Aviv when thousands of African Asylum seekers marched through the city. The previous Sunday, a group of 150 refugees left the open-air prison Israel has newly constructed in the Negev Desert and began marching towards Jerusalem. After marching for two days through Be’er Sheva and spending the night in a small Kibbutz inspired by their actions, they made it to Jerusalem, only to be met with Israeli police. The new jail, called Holot, is the largest prison for refugees in the developed world, as The Real News’ Lia Tarachansky reported in the past. Following international condemnation, the Israeli government decided to open the jail, saying it is not really a prison, however refugees must sign in three times a day and must remain there at night.
LIA TARACHANSKY, PRODUCER: On Saturday, December 21, an unprecedented demonstration took place in Tel Aviv, when thousands of African asylum-seekers marched through the city.
SPEAKER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Mr. Prime Minister, once, your families were refugees and you were a refugee. Were you treated the way you treat us? I’m a human being, but my skin is black. That’s why you treat me like this? Because I’m black? What is the difference between me and all of you? I’m a human being and you are human beings. We are only asking to be here. We are asking for asylum. We are not asking this to be our home.
MAHARENEH, ASYLUM SEEKER FROM ERITRIA (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I am here today because of the treatment I received in Israel. I’m not treated as a human being. I came today because of what happened in Jerusalem. We weren’t treated well. They told us, you’re blacks.
INTERVIEWER: The police?
MAHARENEH: Yes, the police.
They say Israel is democratic, but I don’t see democracy. There is no freedom here. In a country that has freedom, you can’t be beaten with force. I want freedom to protest like in the rest of the world.
TARACHANSKY: The previous Sunday, a group of 130 refugees left the open-air prison Israel has newly constructed in the Negev desert and began marching towards Jerusalem. After marching for two days through Beersheba and spending the night in a small kibbutz inspired by their actions, they made it to Jerusalem only to be met with the Israeli police. They were all arrested.
In the days since, more groups have left the facility, also marching towards the center of the country. They were also rounded up and arrested. The new jail, called Holot, is the largest prison for refugees in the developed world, as The Real News reported in the past. Following international condemnation, the Israeli government decided to open the jail, saying it’s not really a prison. However, refugees must sign in three times a day and must remain there at night.
Human Rights Watch issued the following statement:
“Under international law and United Nations guidelines, Israel should detain asylum seekers only as a last resort, on an individual basis, not as a group, and as a strictly necessary and proportionate measure to achieve a legitimate aim such as security.”
“‘The Israeli authorities seem hell-bent on finding new ways to detain these people,’ said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. ‘Officials should drop this charade of pretending that these extensive restrictions are not detention, and genuinely release the asylum seekers, in line with the High Court ruling.’”
EMANUEL, ASYLUM SEEKER FROM ERITRIA (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): But there is no difference, whether you imprison a person, whether in an open prison or not–prison is a prison. What I know is that you imprison a person if he’s a criminal, if he kills or steals. But with no reason? For asking asylum? I came here today to protest the new law that orders to imprison the refugees.
TARACHANSKY: Since Israel completed the construction of its wall with Egypt this year, asylum seekers stopped entering the country from the Sinai Desert. Currently Israel is home to roughly 50,000 African refugees, mostly from Eritrea and North Sudan. In 2012, the parliament approved the controversial infiltrators law that allows for the detention of all asylum-seekers for three years. However, after an extensive Supreme Court challenge, a new law came into effect on December 10 forcing the refugees into so-called residency centers such as the new Holot facility.
The thousands of refugees who ran through Tel Aviv past its upscale coffee shops and restaurants blockaded several major intersections.
CROWD: No more prisons!
SHESHA’HE, ASYLUM SEEKER FROM ERITREA (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Every day there’s something new. One day they say they’ll deport us to another country. Then they say they’ll deport us to our countries. Then they say they’re putting us in camps. That’s why there’s no democracy in Israel for Sudanese and Eritreans.
Someday these people’s countries will change and they’ll return to their countries. But until that day, I’m asking the state of Israel, the prime minister and the Israeli people, to receive us with an open heart. A human being is a human being.
TARACHANSKY: For The Real News, I’m Lia Tarachansky in Tel Aviv.