Israel Are Getting Rid of Their African Migrants by Including Them in Arms Deals

Want some guns to kill Africans? Here, take these Africans.

|
05 August 2013, 2:50pm


The Saharonim detention facility in the Negev desert, where African refugees are being detained. (Photo courtesy of Karin Keil from the Hotline for Migrant Workers.)

Asylum seekers from the northeast of Africa aren't finding much solace in Israel. After leaving their respective countries in search of a life in which they aren't enslaved or denied fundamental human rights by their own governments, Eritreans, Sudanese and Ethiopians are being rounded up by Israeli police and dumped into crowded detention camps in the desert. 

But in case this news has you wondering why Israeli authorities aren't being dragged before an international human rights court (especially in light of other recent revelations), don't worry, they're now planning to sweeten the deal by sending these people, against their will, to any of the several African countries willing to take them. All the countries in question need to do is also take some Israeli weapons and military training that they can use, presumably, to help them kill more Africans.

The law accommodating Israel's latest foray into doing horribly shitty things and getting away with it is one passed by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. It gives police the power to detain migrants suspected of not just serious offences, but even for the most trivial of crimes, like stealing a bicycle or a mobile phone

Obviously this change to legislature is open to abuse. David Sheen, a documentarian, journalist and activist told me, “Someone could just get into a fight with an African they dislike, accuse him of having committed some grievous crime and he’ll be grabbed and taken to a detention centre where, in theory, he can be held indefinitely.

“Hundreds of people have been snatched off the streets under these new regulations. It’s probably happened many more times, but you can’t possibly keep track. Recently, someone was snatched who happened to have a lot of friends, specifically Israeli friends. His case achieved some notoriety and people protested outside the home of the Attorney General, leading to his release.”

However, not all African refugees are lucky enough to keep the company of Israelis, and the majority of those picked up are dumped into one of four detention camps, the most infamous of which is Saharonim in the Negev desert, just off Israel's border with Egypt.


Sigal Rozen, on the right. (Photo courtesy of Sigal Rozen)

Sigal Rozen is the public policy coordinator at Hotline for Migrant Workers, an Israeli organisation that campaigns for the release of those detained in the camps, applies for refugee status on their behalf and records their experiences. She told me about the conditions inside Saharonim: “There are currently 1,400 [refugees] being held there. It is incredibly crowded. [The cells] are only 2.1 metres squared, while the international standard is 8.8.”

According to the below image from Aid Organisation for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, there are actually 16,000 "beds" in total spread across the camps, implying that the Israeli government has the aim of reeling in a whole load more refugees for crimes so trivial they'd be laughable if the whole situation wasn't so depressing.


(Image courtesy of ASSAF)

Nearly 350 Eritreans being held at Saharonim were on hunger strike for over a week, but their protest didn't end quite how they had hoped; I was forwarded the testimony of one detainee by email, who reported that, “The hunger strike in our ward, Ward 3, and in Ward 4 lasted eight days. Yesterday, several prison guards entered our ward and took out all the detainees who insisted [on] continuing with the hunger strike and transferred them to different wards in Saharonim. The IPS [Israel Prison Service] told those who kept refusing to eat that they will be transferred to solitary confinement.”

Sigal was hopeful that this inhumane treatment might stop – “There’s no way that such undemocratic laws can exist for so long” – but accepted that there would be a tough battle ahead: "They [the government] have strong support from the Israeli public, [because they are] presenting all asylum seekers as 'infiltrators'."

Another spin tactic the Israeli government have employed is to suggest that the detainees who've put themselves forward for deportation to their home countries did so "voluntarily". However – and this might come as a shock – reports suggest that the definition of "voluntarily" might be a little skewiff. Refugees may be signing up to be shipped back to the countries they were originally trying to escape from due to a combination of coercion, outright pressure and, according to Rozen, telling them that “their only way out of prison is to go back to their homeland”.

Bizarrely, the refugees-for-arms scheme itself is no secret. In fact, it's already been sold to the Israeli public and largely lapped up as an overwhelmingly positive idea. What those putting the project together are keeping under wraps is exactly which African nations have signed on to partner up, presumably because they would receive political backlash themselves if discovered. 


The Saharonim detention facility. (Photo courtesy of Karin Keil from the Hotline for Migrant Workers)

Talking to David Sheen, he too suggested it was that complicity that's stopping participating countries from going public: “The reason the Israeli government is doing this secretly and isn't announcing the names of the countries that it’s negotiating with," he explained, "is because it’s a shame for those countries – they are helping to facilitate the ethnic cleansing of Israel.

“If these asylum seekers really were evil criminals or terrorists, no country would want them – that’s obvious. But, of course, they’re not – they’re people who are simply not wanted because of their ethnicity or religion, or lack of.”

While participating nations are keeping cagey, there is some indication as to which countries may be involved. The man behind the negotiations, Hagai Hadas – a 30-year veteran of the Mossad intelligence agency – has recently been hopping between Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Ethiopia and other countries Israel maintains diplomatic ties with

There is no doubt that racial prejudice in Israel has reached ludicrous heights. Its politicians are calling African migrants “a cancer in its midst” (with the subsequent apology being directed at Holocaust survivors and Israeli cancer victims rather than the African migrants the metaphor was directed at). Its citizens are attacking refugees in the streets and, of course, the country's government finds no qualms in using vulnerable people as bartering chips in international arms deals.

With all that in mind, it's perfectly clear than Israel is doing everything in its power to evict those it views as undesirable, even if that means violating basic human rights and condemning thousands to a miserable existence in doing so. 

Follow Joseph on Twitter: @josephfcox

More stuff from Israel:

Forty-Thousand Bedouin Are Being Kicked Off Their Land by Israel

A New Film Explores the Gay Relationship Between an Israeli and a Palestinian

The Footballer Who Went to Prison for Being Talented

WATCH – Israel's Killer Robots