In Israel’s trade catalog, arms and asylum seekers are equal commodities

With arbitrary arrest and detention, forcible transfer, withholding of basic human rights, the imposition of birth control measures and now an arms-for-asylum-seekers deal which amounts to little more than human trafficking, Israel has become a theater of horrors for Africans.

Sudanese immigrants pose in front of an enlarged photo of the Saharonim Prison, in which 2,000 African immigrants are being detained, during the International Refugee Day event in Tel Aviv on June 20, 2013. (Photo by: Keren Manor/
Sudanese immigrants pose in front of an enlarged photo of the Saharonim Prison, in which 2,000 African immigrants are being detained, during the International Refugee Day event in Tel Aviv on June 20, 2013. (Photo by: Keren Manor/

A report in yesterday’s Yedioth Aharonoth (originally in Hebrew, and translated into English for their website) revealed that the Israeli government is on the verge of closing a deal with several African countries which would see them furnished with arms and military expertise, in exchange for accepting thousands of asylum seekers currently residing in Israel. Once again, the government has shrugged off any pretence of honoring its commitments under the UN Refugee Conventions. Once again, it is making a mockery of the concept that it needs to abide by international law.

That this is a war on asylum seekers and human rights is self-evident. But it is also a war on dignity and an assault on human memory and conscience. Whether or not the deal goes through, the fact remains that the Israeli government has seriously considered forcibly dispatching thousands of Africans, to a country not of their choosing, as part of a trade agreement. This brings up a historical recollection of such offensiveness that it is difficult to address it directly. Furthermore, the overlooked “commodity” in this proposed deal is space – for that is what the Israeli government will receive for its part in the potential bargain. This reported agreement is nothing more than a chapter in Israel’s playbook for ‘making room’ and homogenizing; it is persecution as ‘preservation.’ Doubtless one of Netanyahu’s spokespersons will find an appropriate moniker to try and lend some legitimacy to the proceedings (when the Serbs did the same thing in the 1990s, they dubbed it “ethnic cleansing”).

As ever, when it comes to the government’s handling of such matters, the news did not arrive in isolation. Also rolling off the presses yesterday was a statement from the police (Hebrew) announcing the arrests of hundreds of asylum seekers suspected of minor offences. Their detention, which according to a source at the Population and Immigration Border Authority will continue until at least January 2015, has been enabled by a new procedure approved by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein last week. Another affront to the rule of law in Israel, the procedure allows for the detainment of asylum seekers linked to petty crimes, irrespective of whether there is evidence to convict them. Yesterday’s news also brought confirmation of another procedure, again approved by the attorney-general, allowing for Eritreans and Sudanese who sign “voluntary return” documents to be deported back to their country of origin. This is, of course, the appearance of choice rather than a genuine choice, since the alternative is indefinite detention in Israel – which is not a choice at all. Perhaps the attorney-general has been reading about Thomas Hobson in between signing punitive regulations against asylum seekers. This is mafia-like behavior from the Israeli government – seeking to eliminate what it has identified as a problem situation by making the individuals concerned an offer they can’t refuse.

It must be clarified that the signing of voluntary return documents by asylum seekers does not provide a shred of validity to the assertions that those arriving here from Sudan and Eritrea are not at risk should they be returned. Rather, it is an indictment of Israel’s increasingly barbarous rap-sheet in its dealings with asylum seekers (and Africans in general, for let us not forget the ongoing Depo-Provera scandal surrounding Ethiopian immigrants). Arbitrary arrest and detention, forcible transfer, withholding of basic human rights (inter alia, work, healthcare and education), imposition of birth control measures, and now, with the news of the arms-and-asylum-seekers deal, what amounts to little more than human trafficking – Israel has become a theater of horrors for Africans, and the recent hunger strike by Eritrean prisoners in the Saharonhim facility (which, along with the other desert internment camp – Ktziot – has held more than 1,000 Eritrean prisoners for over a year) demonstrates the gravity of the government’s actions. These prisoners are visited every few days by immigration officers who inform them that their only way out of prison is to go back to their homeland. The mental duress and hemorrhaging of faith caused by the prospect of endless detention and limitless persecution in Israel has pushed imprisoned Eritreans to consider the lethal implications of returning to their home country a preferable option. But no matter what explanation they give for their desire to go back, no legal procedure will make the return of Eritrean national-service evaders a ‘voluntary return.’ As one detainee involved in the strike wrote after the event, “I am a witness that everybody lost any hope and patience. Therefore we chose this difficult decision: to achieve a solution or die.”

Deporting, exporting, arms, asylum seekers, trafficking, persecution, prevarication and underhand tactics – this is thug life, Israeli government-style. Welcome to the only democracy in the Middle East.

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