Last month upon returning from Israel where my synagogue group met Eritrean and Sudanese refugees living in squalor in south Tel Aviv, I wrote a blog about their plight and argued why the Israeli government’s efforts in amending the Prevention of Infiltration Law, contrary to the High Court’s ruling to release all detainees within 90 days, so as to incarcerate and/or deport these people was contrary to Israel’s own Basic Laws and not befitting Israel in its role as the last resort of refuge for the Jewish people.
Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, has called upon all friends of Israel to sign a petition to Prime Minister Netanyahu asking the Israeli government to reverse its draconian intention to deal harshly with these refugees.
Below is Anat’s letter and how you can include your signature on this petition to Prime Minister Netanyahu. The goal is 25,000 signatures. Please sign it and distribute this blog to your friends to follow suit.
For those in Los Angeles, Anat Hoffman will be speaking tonight (Tuesday, December 3, 7:30 PM) at Temple Israel of Hollywood. All are welcome.
Dear Friends of Israel ,
One year ago, I wrote to you about the 53,000 asylum seekers in Israel, the vast majority of which come from Eritrea and Sudan. Many of these individuals are the survivors of unspeakable horrors at home as well as during their Exodus through the Sinai to Israel. They have arrived to Israel over the last decade, believing the country to be a haven free from the evils of their home countries and neighboring countries.
Today, I come to you with a question: how can Israel—a country founded by refugees—continue to imprison and deport African asylum seekers who desperately need her protection? Just over 2 months ago, Israel’s High Court of Justice unanimously ruled that amendments to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which were being used to hold asylum seekers in detention for 3 years or more, were unconstitutional and contradicted Israel’s Basic Laws. The High Court demanded that the State release all imprisoned asylum seekers within 90 days, by December 15th, 2013.
Since the High Court’s decision, only a quarter of the asylum seekers in detention have been released. In defiance of the High Court, the Israeli government instead has begun the legislative process to pass new amendments to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which will keep the same asylum seekers who the High Court ordered to be released to Sadot, an “open” detention center, where they will be held indefinitely.
Sadot is not an “open” center. Prisoners there will have to submit to a headcount three times each day, which, because of Sadot’s isolation along the border with Egypt, will ensure that prisoners will not be able to leave the facility. The Israel Prison Service, which has no prior experience operating an “open” detention center, is slated to run the facility. Anyone who breaches the conditions of the “open” center risks immediately being transferred to the closed prison for anywhere from three months to a year.
Sadot currently has room for 3,300 prisoners, nearly 2,000 more people than those that are currently detained at Saharonim and Ktziot. To fill the other available spaces at Sadot, the Israeli authorities have indicated that they plan to actively arrest asylum seekers who currently are living freely in Israeli cities and to force them to relocate to Sadot facility.
Once an asylum seeker is forced into the “open” detention center at Sadot, the only way that he or she can leave the facility is to consent to “voluntary” deportation to his or her country of origin or a third country. Given that asylum seekers in Sadot will be coerced into making an impossible choice between indefinite imprisonment in Israel and torture and indefinite imprisonment in their home countries, their “consent” to deportation cannot be considered “voluntary.”
Capturing the desperation of asylum seekers in detention, a Darfuri asylum seeker told human rights groups, “I would rather die in my own country than be in prison forever in Israel. I would do anything to get out of prison.”
These detention policies are contrary to the democratic and moral values of the State of Israel and have one clear aim: to force those who seek help and protection out of Israel.
Speaking on November 24th, 2013, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not have made the Israeli government’s intentions any clearer: “We are determined to remove the tens of thousands of infiltrators who are here.”
We are calling on the Israeli government to end these unjust policies. Israel has long championed refugee rights—we must help Israel reclaim this position, and fight for those fleeing persecution.
Executive Director, IRAC
We are asking our supporters to sign this letter to Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, insisting that Israel release asylum seekers from detention and provide them with a legal, moral, and fair path to apply for asylum in safety. Our goal is 25,000 in the next two weeks so please forward it to your friends and family and post it on your Facebook page and Twitter feed.
Tuesday, Dec 3, 19:30 – Temple Israel of Hollywood – Hollywood, CA