Testimonies: Israelis tear-gassed pleading asylum seekers, dragged them to Egypt

Contrary to Israeli statements suggesting that 18 starved Eritrean agreed to go back to Egypt, the survivors tell lawyers their comrades were forcibly dragged away from the fence, despite begging to be killed rather than returned to Egypt. The refugees reported they were previously tear gassed, pushed away with metal rods and denied food. The Egyptian soldiers near the border told the group that the men were unwanted but they would take the women of the group and rape them, in addition to the two they were raping already.   

The following are excerpts from testimonies given by two women and a teen, the only known survivors of the group of 20 Eritrean asylum seekers who were stuck and starved between fences on the Israeli-Egyptian border last week. After finding out the fence and the refugees were on Israeli territory, the Supreme Court allowed the state a few day’s leave to resolve the situation. (Noa posted an excellent breakdown of the court’s politics soon after the (in)decision.) The army then announced the women and teen would be taken into Israel (and jailed for a minimum of three years under the “Prevention of Infiltration” Law, which essentially criminalises asylum-seeking in Israel.)

Israeli officials suggested to the press that the 18 men weren’t interested in asylum, only in work, and suggested that they “agreed” to turn themselves over to the Egyptian army. The affidavits of the three detainees, taken separately at the Saharonim detention compound and released to +972 by “We Are Refugees” attorneys, tell a very different story. The fate of the 18 men forcibly returned to the Egyptians remains unknown, and the Prime Minister’s Office has been denying request for comments on their situation and whereabouts.


…And then they moved us to the Israeli-Egyptian border, we stayed there for eight days, the hunger and thirst were horrible, the Israelis shot gas at us twice, they shoved a long iron rod through the fence and tried pushing us away. [On the 8th day] the Israeli crossed over and pulled B., N., and me through the fence and threw the other men onto a tarp and dragged them underneath the Egyptian fence. The men had been begging for eight days and on the eighth day they didn’t have any strength to resist, they were fainting and screaming “kill me right here.”


After what we went through everything that B. told you, me and another man were the first to get to the fence. Shooting started from both sides and we started digging. The Israeli soldiers took a long piece of iron and tried pushing us away through the holes in the fence. After we tried breaking through the fence they gassed us. We held onto the fence and wouldn’t let go. When I saw them mending and closing the fence again I fainted. The Israeli soldiers gave me an infusion through the fence. Every day the Israelis said “go to your country” and the Egyptians said we’ll take the women, we don’t want the men, and indicated with their rifles that they’d rape us and spoke about the two women they’ve been raping until now. We begged the Israelis and they said we’ll take the women and let the men go back. The men said we’d rather die here than go back. The Israelis crossed the fence to our side, we scattered in fear and the Israeli soldiers lifted the fence on the Egyptian side, grabbed the men and forcefully shoved them under the fence, to the Egyptian side. The men resisted and screamed, kill us right here, but to no avail. Then they took me, B. and V. to the Israeli side.


And then we saw the fence and right away the Israeli army showed up and told us in Arabic to go back to Egypt, fired into the air and tried driving us off with an iron rod and the Egyptian soldiers said don’t come back. After two days the men tried breaking through the fence and they shot tear gas at us, our eyes burned, we started crying and begging, please save us. A general with rank insignia showed up, a car came and fixed the fence, N. fainted, they started welding the fence and it became hot and the people who were holding onto the fence had their hands burned every day they told us go to Egypt…  The Israelis heard the Egyptians threaten us women and so on Thursday, the Israelis came and said you [men] go and we’ll take the women because we fear the Egyptians will rape them, the “ranks” [officer – D.R.] said women go in and you men go, and the men said, we’ll die, take us in as well. So they started talking at them through a bullhorn, called me because I speak Arabic and D., who speaks English, and said, the men go back, the women go in. The Israelis cut the fence and crossed to our side, and told the Egyptians, come and get them, but the Egyptians wouldn’t come, so we stayed on their side. A lot of the men were unconscious, we crawled in and I saw the others go back and the Egyptian soldiers waiting. We were taken, N. was unconscious, they lifted her and took us to be checked in a military place and then we got to Saharonim.

Read 972′s special coverage on Seeking Asylum in Israel

Commentary: Turning one’s back on the world and all its suffering: On Israel’s treatment of the Eritreans