Photos: 1,000 African asylum seekers rally in middle of Israeli desert


Over “>way out in the middle of the Negev on Monday.

Community leaders from Israel's population of 55,000 African asylum seekers led chants from atop the cab of a pickup truck: “U.N., open your eyes!” “We are not cancer — we are human beings!” “Why Holot for blacks?” “We are black and proud!” “U.N., afo atem [where are you]?” “No more prison!” “Cancel the law!”

The crowd's call-backs were louder and fuller than ever on the empty desert air. Most protesters' voices had gone raw within a couple hours. And the scene only intensified around 4 p.m., when a city bus arrived to the prison carrying a new load of prisoners and their suitcases. The group included Jack Zaidan, a young community organizer from Darfur dressed smartly in a fedora and scarf. Women at the rally flung themselves, sobbing, onto Zaidan's small frame as he walked toward the crowd with his hands to the sky, surrendered.

“>Every Shabbat I come to visit [the prisoners], but today is my day to come here. … I come ready like everyone inside.”

That morning, the 1,000 asylum seekers in the crowd — most from Eritrea, and some from Sudan — had paid 60 shekels each for a bus ride from Tel Aviv down to “>who has been sleeping at Levinsky Park in South Tel Aviv the past few weeks. (Partly as a statement, partly because Israel will not renew his work visa and he's clean out of options.)

Ghide said he thinks Israel is inflicting a special kind of psychological punishment on the asylum seekers, slowly driving them crazy — so crazy that they might accept “>Muhamad Musa, 35, a Darfuri asylum seeker who left behind his self-started jewelry shop in Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station two weeks ago to report to Holot. (The prison's entrance, complete with creepy logo, is pictured below.)

Because Musa deserted the Sudanese army after it turned on its own people in 2004, he said he will be jailed and likely killed if he returns. 

“>remarkably peaceful protests.

“>the moment online within the hour.

“>for the night. “They're strong people,” said 26-year-old Eritrean asylum seeker Robert Tesfamariam. “They came from the desert, they crossed the Sinai — they can do one more day in the desert.”

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