Israel’s New Racism: The Persecution of African Migrants in the Holy Land

Racism is nothing new to Israel — anti-Arab racism is the foundation on which the Zionist project of ethnically cleansing Palestine is based. However, the racist oppression of African migrants has become much more prevalent in Israel over the past several years as violence and poverty in Africa have forced many people to seek refuge in Israel. Check out this new short documentary (~11 min) on the persecution of African migrants in Israel.

In related news …

‘[…] Back in November 1989, while serving as a junior minister in the Likud-led governing coalition of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, a younger Netanyahu told an audience at Bar Ilan University, “Israel should have taken advantage of the suppression of demonstrations [at China’s Tiananmen Square], when the world’s attention was focused on what was happening in that country, to carry out mass expulsions among the Arabs of the Territories. However, to my regret, they did not support that policy that I proposed, and which I still propose should be implemented.”

Now the country’s top official, Netanyahu has updated the smokescreen strategy. While the prime minister ranted against Iran in New York City and in a meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office, his government was preparing to implement the Prawer Plan, a blueprint for the expulsion of 40,000 indigenous Bedouin citizens of Israel from their ancestral Negev Desert communities that promised to “concentrate” them in state-run, reservation-style townships. Authored by Netanyahu’s planning policy chief, Ehud Prawer, and passed by a majority of the members of the mainstream Israeli political parties in the Knesset, the Prawer Plan is only one element of the government’s emerging program to dominate all space and the lives of all people between the river (the Jordan) and the sea (the Mediterranean). […]

Under the Prawer Plan, the people of Umm al-Hiran will be among the 40,000 Bedouins forcibly relocated to American-Indian-reservation-style towns constructed by the Israeli government. As the fastest growing group among the Palestinian citizens of Israel, the Bedouins have been designated as an existential threat to Israel’s Jewish majority. “It is not in Israel’s interest to have more Palestinians in the Negev,” said Shai Hermesh, a former member of the Knesset and director of the government’s effort to engineer a “Zionist majority” in the southern desert.

According to the website of the Or Movement, a government-linked organization overseeing Jewish settlement in the Negev, residents of the unrecognized villages will be moved to towns constructed “to concentrate the Bedouin population.” In turn, small Jews-only communities will be constructed on the remnants of the evicted Bedouin communities. They will be guaranteed handsome benefits from the Israeli government and lavish funding from private pro-Israel donors like the billionaire cosmetics fortune heir Ron Lauder. “The United States had its Manifest Destiny in the West,” Lauder has declared. “For Israel, that land is the Negev.” […]

Only a few kilometers from Umm al-Hiran, in the southern Negev Desert and inside the Green Line, the state of Israel has initiated another ambitious project to “concentrate” an unwanted population. It is the Saharonim detention facility, a vast matrix of watchtowers, concrete blast walls, razor wire, and surveillance cameras that now comprise what the British Independent has described as “the world’s biggest detention center.”

Originally constructed as a prison for Palestinians during the First Intifada, Saharonim was expanded to hold 8,000 Africans who had fled genocide and persecution. Currently, it is home to at least 1,800 African refugees, including women and children, who live in what the Israeli architectural group Bikrom has called “a huge concentration camp with harsh conditions.”

Like the Bedouins of the Negev’s unrecognized villages, the 60,000 African migrants and asylum seekers who live in Israel have been identified as a demographic threat that must be purged from the body of the Jewish state. In a meeting with his cabinet ministers in May 2012, Netanyahu warnedthat their numbers could multiply tenfold “and cause the negation of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” It was imperative “to physically remove the infiltrators,” the prime minister declared. “We must crack down and mete out tougher punishments.”

In short order, the Knesset amended the Infiltration Prevention Act it had passed in 1954 to prevent Palestinian refugees from ever reuniting with the families and property they were forced to leave behind in Israel. Under the new bill, non-Jewish Africans can be arrested and held without trial for as long as three years. (Israel’s Supreme Court has invalidated the amendment, but the government has made no moves to enforce the ruling, and may not do so.) The bill earmarked funding for the construction of Saharonim and a massive wall along the Israeli-Egyptian border. Arnon Sofer, a longtime Netanyahu advisor, also urged the construction of “sea walls” to guard against future “climate change refugees.”

“We don’t belong to this region,” Sofer explained.

In that single sentence, he distilled the logic of Israel’s system of ethnocracy. The maintenance of the Jewish state demands the engineering of a demographic majority of nonindigenous Jews and their dispersal across historic Palestine through methods of colonial settlement. State planners like Sofer refer to the process as “Judaization.” Because indigenous Palestinians and foreign migrants are not Jews, the state of Israel has legally defined most of them as “infiltrators,” mandating their removal and permanent relocation to various zones of exclusion — from refugee camps across the Arab world to walled-off West Bank Bantustans to the besieged Gaza Strip to state-constructed Bedouin reservations to the desert camp of Saharonim.

As long as the state of Israel holds fast to its demographic imperatives, the non-Jewish outclass must be “concentrated” to make room for exclusively Jewish settlement and economic development. This is not a particularly humane system, to be sure, but it is one that all within the spectrum of Zionist opinion, from the Kahanist right to the J Street left, necessarily support. Indeed, if there is any substantial disagreement between the two seemingly divergent camps, it is over the style of rhetoric they deploy in defense of Israel’s ethnocracy. As the revisionist Zionist ideologue Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote in his famous 1923 “Iron Wall” essay outlining the logic of what would become Israel’s deterrence strategy, “there are no meaningful differences between our ‘militarists’ and our ‘vegetarians.’”

During the Oslo era, the time of hope that prevailed in mid-1990’s Israel, it was the “dovish” Labor Party of Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak that began surrounding the Gaza Strip with barricades and electrified fencing while drawing up plans for a wall separating the West Bank from “Israel proper.” (That blueprint was implemented under the prime ministership of Ariel Sharon.)

“Us over here, them over there” was the slogan of Barak’s campaign for reelection in 1999, and of the Peace Now camp supporting a two-state solution at the time. Through the fulfillment of the Labor Party’s separationist policies, the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank have gradually disappeared from Israel’s prosperous coastal center, consolidating cities like Tel Aviv as meccas of European cosmopolitanism — “a villa in the jungle,” as Barak said.

With the post-Oslo political transition that shattered Israel’s “peace camp,” ascendant right-wing parties set out to finish the job that Labor had started. By 2009, when Israel elected the most hawkish government in its history, the country was still full of “infiltrators,” the most visible of whom were those African migrants, deprived of work permits and increasingly forced to sleep in parks in south Tel Aviv. According to a report by the newspaper Haaretz on a brand new Israel Democracy Institute poll on Israeli attitudes, “Arabs no longer top the list of neighbors Israeli Jews would consider undesirable, replaced now by foreign workers. Almost 57% of Jewish respondents said that having foreign workers as neighbors would bother them.”

Unrestricted by the center-left’s pretensions to tolerance, rightist members of the government launched a festival of unprecedented racist incitement. Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the Shas Party (replaced after the 2013 election), for example, falsely described African asylum seekers as infected with “a range of diseases” and lamented that they “think the country doesn’t belong to us, the white man.”

“Until I can deport them,” he promised, “I’ll lock them up to make their lives miserable.”

At a May 2012 anti-African rally in Tel Aviv, on a stage before more than 1,000 riled up demonstrators, Knesset member and former Israeli army spokesperson Miri Regev proclaimed, “The Sudanese are a cancer in our body!” Incited into a violent frenzy, hundreds of protesters then rampaged through south Tel Aviv, smashing the windows of African businesses and attacking any migrant they could find. “The people want the Africans to be burned!” they chanted.

As during other dark moments in history, eliminationist cries booming from an urban mob against a class of outcasts signaled a coming campaign of ethnic purification. And following the night of shattered glass, the cells of Saharonim continued to fill up. […]’

Read full article at: http://mondoweiss.net/2013/10/democracy-national-nightmare.html

Israel confirms plan to deport African migrants to Uganda

‘Israel plans to soon begin deporting migrants from Eritrea and Sudan, who number more than 50,000, back to Africa via Uganda, officials said.

Israel regards most of the Africans as illegal visitors in search of jobs, and largely rejects the position of human rights groups that many fled their countries in search of political asylum.

A statement late on Thursday from interior minister Gideon Sa’ar said Israel would soon begin a staged process of deporting the migrants, most of whom have crossed the border with Egypt since 2006.

Sa’ar said an agreement had been reached with Uganda to absorb the “infiltrators”, who would soon be urged “to leave of their own free will”.

Sa’ar said the prime minister’s special envoy Hagai Hadas had obtained Uganda’s consent, Haaretz reported.

The chairwoman of parliament’s committee on foreign workers, Michal Rozin, speaking by phone, said there were “rumours” that Uganda may have agreed to the arrangement in exchange for a deal for money and weapons.

There was no immediate comment from officials in Kampala.

“In the first stage, we will focus on raising awareness within the population of infiltrators while helping them with the logistics of their departure, including costs, airfare and dealing with the possessions they accumulated while they were in Israel,” Sa’ar said.

Later the state would set a deadline by which “certain sectors within the infiltrator population” would be asked to “willingly” leave the country.

Once the deadline passed, the state would stop issuing extensions on visas and would begin enforcing laws that prohibit the employment of illegal migrants, the minister said.

Rozin urged the government to expose more details of the plan, including whether there were assurances that the migrants would not be forcibly repatriated to Sudan or Eritrea, saying that in these countries “we know many would be at risk of their lives”.

Human rights groups say Israel has jailed hundreds of African migrants and taken other steps to get them to agree to leave the country.

A few thousand are believed to have left Israel in the past year since a law enacted in 2012 authorising migrants who lack any official residence permits to be jailed for up to three years, said Sigal Rozen, policy co-ordinator for Hotline for Migrant Workers (HMW), an Israeli human rights group.

In July, a group of 14 Eritreans were repatriated after receiving $1,500 each from Israeli authorities, in what HMW denounced at the time as a “grave human rights violation”, citing Eritrea’s poor human rights record.

At least one group of Africans was flown out of Israel to South Sudan in the past year and other migrants have been offered cash to leave. Some 2,000 Africans are being held in the southern detention centres.

A fortified fence along Israel’s border with Egypt’s Sinai has largely stemmed the flow of migrants, who walked across what was a porous frontier at a rate of up to 2,000 a month in 2011.’

(Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/30/israel-plan-deport-african-migrants-uganda … removed now because of copyright bullshit)

Or this from Electronic Intifada:

Israel is a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, which sets out refugees’ rights and states’ responsibilities towards them. Nevertheless, Israel has not yet formulated a clear policy to determine refugee status. It doesn’t officially process refugee claims and has recognized fewer than 200 asylum-seekers as refugees since its creation in 1948.

Today, the UN Refugee Agency estimates that just more than 54,000 refugees and asylum-seekers live in Israel, with the majority coming from Sudan and Eritrea. Because their refugee status is never formally verified, most refugees in Israel hold a “conditional release” visa, which must be renewed every three months and does not allow them to work.

The Israeli high court ruled in 2011 that employers in Israel would not be fined, or charged, for employing asylum-seekers holding a conditional release visa. While the decision effectively allows asylum-seekers to work legally in the country, many employers remain hesitant to hire them.

Last year, the Israeli government threatened to fine business owners and mayors of municipalities that employ African refugees (“Interior minister: We will fine mayors who employ African migrants,” Haaretz, 24 May 2012). Israeli politicians have labeled African asylum-seekers as “infiltrators.”

Earlier this month, Israel passed a law severely limiting how much money asylum-seekers could withdraw from bank accounts while in Israel and how much money or property can be transferred abroad (“New law to limit money migrants can send abroad,” The Jerusalem Post, 4 June). The law now makes it almost impossible for refugees to support relatives in their home countries.

“We are focusing on the infiltrators’ departure from Israel. Several thousand infiltrators have already left Israel and we are continuing to work on repatriating the illegal work infiltrators already here,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the law was passed.

As a result of employment restrictions, African asylum-seekers are often forced to work in the informal sector, where they don’t have social protection or insurance, receive low wages for long hours and are vulnerable to exploitation.

“[A refugee] doesn’t have family here. He doesn’t have community support. He doesn’t have any money from the government. He has nothing. So he’s ready to work 15 hours a day,” explained Orit Marom, advocacy coordinator at the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum-seekers in Israel.

Marom said that Israel’s restrictions are motivated by the government’s hope that strict conditions, which include a policy of imprisoning asylum-seekers for at least three years for entering the country illegally, will deter others from coming to Israel. It has constructed a fence along its southern border with Egypt and the world’s largest refugee detention center for the same purposes.

“This policy is not only harming the very basic human rights of refugees themselves, but also harming Israeli society and especially the very weak populations in the Israeli society,” Marom said.

(Source: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, “Africans Denied Right to Work in Israel“, Electronic Intifada 25 June 2013)