NOTE: Middle East Eye just published my latest contribution, which recounts the legacy of lies regarding Israel’s early nuclear weapons program, which has contributed to the distrust that pervades the Iran nuclear negotiations. Please circulate it as widely as you can via social media and other resources.
Before Israel built a multi-billion dollar fence separating it from the Sinai frontier, 60,000 African refugees fled civil wars, famine and poverty to find a new life there. I wish I could say that Israel had learned any lesson from the Jewish history of suffering and exile, and that it treated these refugees with decency. But despite Bibi Netanyahu’s oft heard claims about Israel being the apotheosis of Jewish values, he seems to have learned none. His government has cast a cold, hard eye on the Africans from Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and elsewhere.
Israeli Jews in Tel Aviv have mounted pogroms against them replete with beatings and firebombing of African stores. The government built concentration camp-like facilities for them amidst the Negev moonscape. Israel deported some of the refugees to Sudan, where they were promptly arrested for traveling to Israel, a country to which travel is banned. The government sought desperately to find another African country that would accept them. It struck paydirt in the Rwandan dictator, Paul Kagame, the Butcher of Congo. In return for military hardware, Rwanda agreed to accept deported Africans. What happened to them after they left Israel and touched down in Rwanda was no longer the “Jewish state’s” problem.
Israel then set about persuading the Africans to leave Israel “voluntarily.” Given a choice between a desert detention facility with no hope of a normal life in Israel and a new start elsewhere, a few agreed to go. They were fed a $3,500 bribe and the false promise of work visas in Rwanda. Interior Minister Gil Erdan added more lies in a report from last month about his deportation plan:
Previous attempts at “voluntary departure” had come under fire after many of those who left of their own accord faced life threatening danger in their home country.
But this time is different, Erdan claims, saying that in the first few months, Israel will follow the foreign nationals intake process in the host countries to make sure they are properly treated.
Turns out for those who listened to Erdan’s blandishments, it wasn’t a smart choice.
ISIS in Libya released one of its terror-porno videos picturing 23 Africans, described as “Ethiopian Christians,” beheaded on the beach. The information was imprecise at best. At least three (and possibly more) of the victims were identified by family in Israel as their relatives, who’d been deported by Israel to Rwanda:
“I recognized my relative, T., from the photos published by ISIS that appeared on Facebook before the video was released,” says Mesi Fashiya, an Israeli-born Eritrean whose parents came to Israel in the 70s. “I thought it was him, but then ISIS announced that it was a group of Ethiopians, so I began to look into it. The people at the Holot detention center also saw the photos — they hoped it was only photos, and that they didn’t really kill them. After they released the video there was no doubt…
T…came to Israel through Egypt in 2007. He lived with her for a period of time, and the two became close. According to her, T.’s mental state deteriorated after being sent to Holot, and despite her promises to try and do everything to release him, he eventually decided to sign a voluntary departure form and was deported to a third country — Rwanda or Uganda. T.’s brother, who lives in Norway, told Fashiya that T. attempted to reach Europe. He crossed Sudan and reached Libya, where he got on a boat to Europe that was turned back. The last thing they heard was that he was in a Libyan prison.
…“They [ISIS] are doing twisted things there, beheading them and then placing the heads on the bodies. It is terrible. It is difficult to believe that these things happen, even to people you don’t know. But when it happens to someone you do know, a relative who was promised a better life when he leaves, and this is what happens in the end
The surviving family told Haaretz that after landing in Rwanda, that country immediately sent them packing:
According to Mesi, T. “went back to Uganda or Rwanda – I think Rwanda – where they are not accepted. From there he went on to Sudan, and from Sudan to Libya.” She said that he was not able to remain in Libya, and tried to reach Europe by boat. “I understood that the boat was returned to Libya,” she said, “where they were arrested. Rumors have it that the extreme Islamic group snatched them from the jail itself.”
The rest is grisly history.
Today’s news is filled with the horrible story of the capsized Libyan ship which carried as many as 900 poor souls to their death in the Mediterranean as they tried vainly to reach Europe. But the infamy of the story I tell tonight should not be subsumed by this greater toll in grief and death.
Israel violates international refugee laws with impunity. It refuses to even consider most applications for refugee status and approves almost none. That way it can falsely claim that none of those who came there were legitimate refugees. It offers no rights or due process to those it detains. It ships them back to the misery they left without caring what happens to them.
I tried to reach the Interior Ministry for comment on this story, but it was closed for Israel Independence Day/Yom HaZikaron.
I spoke to Sharon Harel of the UN High Commission for Refugees in Tel Aviv and she expressed the organization’s deep concern for the treatment of asylum seekers in Israel. This included what provisions were made for returning them to third countries. She said that agreements with such countries (in this case Rwanda and Uganda–though the latter formally denies one even exists) should be “transparent.” They should provide protection and guarantee proper treatment of them once they arrive. If such agreements are successful, then we should see communities of Eritreans, Sudanese and Ethiopians deported from Israel, living in these countries. If we don’t, she said, it would mean that whatever program is in place is not working.
In fact, the Israeli Hotline for Migrants has published a report on precisely this subject. It finds that those deported to Rwanda and other countries are pressured to leave. There is no provision for them to be accepted on a long-term basis. In fact, just the opposite.
Thus far, the agreements, such as they are, are anything but transparent. In fact, they’re so secret that Uganda has denied one even exists. If the Haaretz report is correct, then Rwanda is merely serving as a fig leaf for Israel. It isn’t receiving the deportees in any fair manner. It’s merely serving as a way station for them to pass to yet a fourth or even fifth country as they seek refuge.
Further, a new policy, even more draconian than the current one, would allow Israel to deport Africans involuntarily. Those who refused would be put in Saharonim Prison and treated close to criminals, yet another grave violation of international law.
Now Israel knows that it has deported human beings who were slaughtered like cattle. It cannot wash its hands of this tragedy. It is an accomplice to murder.
If you’ve followed this blog for a number of years, you may remember this post I wrote about the ill-fated journey of the S.S. St. Louis with its cargo of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis just before the outbreak of World War II. The ship made its way to the New World seeking a safe haven for its 800 souls. But it was turned away at Latin American ports, turned away from the U.S. and ultimately turned away from Cuba. The St. Louis eventually gave up and returned to Europe, where many of its passengers ended up murdered in Nazi death camps.
This is now Israel’s legacy: it has done no less than what FDR did to the St. Louis. It has turned away the desperate fleeing mayhem in their homelands and sent them back into the lion’s mouth. This is a betrayal of Jewish tradition; a betrayal of Jewish values. A total schandeh.