Women who fled fighting in South Sudan queue with their children for immunizations at the Bidi Bidi refugee resettlement camp in northern Uganda, in December 2016. Photo by James Akena/Reuters

Struggling to cope with life at Bidi Bidi – the world’s largest refugee settlement

The South Sudan refugees settling into Uganda’s Bidi Bidi settlement camp are struggling to cope with what has become a threadbare life.

Among more than 270,000 refugees fleeing a civil war, 86 percent are women and children, now crammed into 89 square miles that used to be a remote village in the northwestern Uganda district of Yumbe, an empty and arid patch of land. Now they are faced with increasingly dire situations and lack of life-saving assistance.

[Cover story: Inside South Sudan]

Eunice Lajara is a refugee from Magwi County, in the Equatoria region in South Sudan, who lost her three siblings in the nation’s conflict, pitting the troops loyal to incumbent President Salva Kiir against those of his former deputy, Riek Machar. Caring for four family members, she said, is an everyday struggle for survival.

“We are faced with hard conditions here,” she said. “Life is not easy at the settlement. It’s about hustling and struggling to survive. We abandoned everything and came empty-handed when the fighting broke out.”

Just over a year after it opened on Aug. 1, 2016, Bidi Bidi is under enormous pressure and refugees face a desperate lack of life-sustaining food, clean water, basic accommodations, health care, education, shelter, proper sanitation and other basic needs. Young people in particular struggle with limited access to primary and secondary education as well as job opportunities as others look for food and health care.

The refugee situation has been exacerbated by ongoing World Food Programme (WFP) food ration cuts. The United Nations’ food agency in June was forced to reduce its rations by 50 percent and warns of further cuts due to financial constraints.

The WFP needs some $117 million for its supplies to get through December but is $65 million short.

Lajara described the daily challenges facing refugees at the camp.

“It’s hard to depend on unreliable food aid. I have to do odd jobs like washing people’s clothes and digging in gardens to get some money to fend for the family,” she said. “I have to make sure we have something to eat at end of the day.”

Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“But even if we don’t have anything to eat, we are at least safe here,” she said. “We are spared of the daily fighting, killings, sexual abuses and abductions. I can’t still forget how my three other siblings and [another] relative were killed as we ran.”

Another refugee, James Gatwal, also lost family members in the conflict between the two leaders.

“We are suffering here because of two selfish leaders and their personal interest. They only think about themselves and forget about the suffering of other South Sudanese,” he said. “I lost both parents. They were killed when the fighting broke out. I don’t know whether my sisters and relatives are dead or alive. We all ran away in different directions.”

Within the sprawling Bidi Bidi expanse of mud-walled huts and tents are helpless but hopeful humans of all ages, tucked in makeshift tarpaulin shelters. Despite the hardships, they try to endure. At evening peace clubs and women’s groups, refugees use poems, plays and folk songs to portray a mix of distress, telling a story of their past and present.

“We hope for a brighter future. We shall overcome this suffering and pain one day. We pray for peace and stability in our country,” said Samuel Gabriel Lam, a refugee from the Equatoria region.

The Bidi Bidi refugee camp, which has over 270,000 people, was meant to accommodate 100,000. Photo by Mike Brand/Jewish World Watch


The government and humanitarian agencies say the massive influx at Bidi Bidi, which was meant to accommodate 100,000 people, has strained the existing limited public services, such as health, education and water.

“Uganda deserves tremendous praise for continuing to welcome refugees fleeing violence in South Sudan with open arms,” said Charlie Yaxley, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Host communities in northern Uganda in particular have shown outstanding generosity and solidarity with refugees, donating much of the land on which the refugee settlements are hosted.

But the scale of immigration — since last July, an average of 1,800 people per day have fled to Uganda from South Sudan — is overwhelming the ability of local communities to keep up.

“Health clinics suffer a shortage of drugs, doctors and health care workers; schools face a shortage of teachers, classrooms and school materials while many refugees are receiving half food rations as a result of severe underfunding,” Yaxley said. 

“It is critical,” he added, “that the international community comes forward and matches the generosity shown by Uganda by ensuring the country receives the political and financial support it needs to ensure refugees can live in safety and dignity.”

Both the refugees and host communities around the settlement face significant development challenges as humanitarian agencies throughout the camp struggle to respond to a crisis at hand, whether the need is for food, health care, psychosocial support or myriad other problems.

More than 55,000 out of 90,000 school-age children in the Bidi Bidi settlement are massively crowded into 12 primary schools and one secondary school made of tents and temporary structures that have outlived their usefulness. They were intended to last only three months.

At least 45 schools need to be built to fill the existing need in Bidi Bidi to accommodate the remaining 35,000 children at home, according to officials.

“We don’t have the capacity to accommodate all the children in schools,” said Robert Baryamwesiga, the Bidi Bidi settlement commandant. “The schools are overpopulated and crowded. We have fewer classrooms, desks and teachers. We need support to ensure we construct permanent structures and classrooms, recruit teachers, buy desks and textbooks.”

Potable water is another major challenge. The settlement lies within the water-stressed Yumbe district, forcing refugees to move long distances and wait in lines to get whatever water is available.

Nearly two-thirds of the water supply is trucked in, with the rest provided by hand pumps and meager pipe distribution systems.

“We still truck water from long distances because there aren’t enough bore-holes and motorized water systems to bring a sustainable source of clean water to the refugees in the settlement,” Baryamwesiga said.

Although Uganda has been widely praised internationally for maintaining open borders to people fleeing war, violence and persecution, and for its progressive approach to refugee management and protection, chronic underfunding is threatening the humanitarian agencies’ capabilities in Bidi Bidi.

Baryamwesiga said the region needs “some $1 billion to transform and achieve what we call ‘minimum standards’” for school construction, water systems, health facilities and the people to staff them.

Yaxley agreed, adding that support organizations “use any influence they may have to bring warring parties to the table in dialogue in order to address the root causes of displacement, to end the bloodshed and to create an environment where it’s safe for the refugees to return home.”

Migrants from Ethiopia and Eritrea queue in line during a food distribution near the former "jungle" in Calais, France, August 23, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Deporting illegal immigrants: Israel’s unresolved challenge

The challenge of having to deal with illegal immigration is an international challenge. It is also an Israeli challenge that Israel’s Supreme Court addressed yesterday in a ruling that was as misunderstood by the angry Israelis responding to it, as it was controversial. Generally speaking, Israel under Prime Minister Netanyahu did a superb job in stopping the main route of illegal infiltration from Africa via Egypt. A fence was erected, tougher means were adopted, and the fence essentially halted all illegal entrance through the Sinai Peninsula.

But one challenge lingers: dealing with those who already entered the country. A large community of illegal immigrants resides in southern Tel Aviv, and this community turned several neighborhoods into slums. The government attempts to erode their numbers by various means, but there are hurdles making this goal more difficult than expected.

One problem is that many of these immigrants come from countries to which they cannot return (Eritrea, Sudan), countries that are likely to persecute them. To overcome this challenge the Israel government signed an agreement with other countries (Rwanda, Uganda) that are willing to take in the immigrants, but there is a caveat: these countries will only take them in if they come out of their own free will. The government needs to convince the infiltrators to leave and cannot force them out.

A remedy for this problem was found using a variety of means: financial compensation for those willing to leave was one of them; arrest of those unwilling to leave was another one. The court, in its controversial ruling, limited the second tool to an extent that makes it completely inefficient. The country, the court ruled, can only detain these stubborn residents for two months. After two months, they must to be released.

The government responded to the ruling with expected, and somewhat justified, fury. Telling the immigrants that after two months they will be released takes the bite out of this means of persuasion. It is like telling the government that it has the right to limit the speed of cars but is forbidden from fining the drivers who exceed that limit.

Naturally, the court sees things differently. If the terms signed with other countries are that the immigrants will be leaving willingly, arrest violates these terms. In other words, arresting a person until he is willing to leave violates the meaning of free will. The court did not tell the state that it cannot deport illegal immigrants forcibly. It can. But to do this it will have to find a country willing to take in these deportees.

So, there are two institutions tricking one another here: The government is gaming the condition of free will by putting pressure on the immigrants to leave willingly. The court is gaming the policy of the government by limiting it in a way that makes it null.

What can the government do when the court ties its hands? The immediate response was to argue for new legislation.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and PM Netanyahu all said on Aug. 28 new legislation is the option they will pursue. Israel has a three-pronged approach to halting the flow of infiltrators, Netanyahu said. They include the fence at the border, the deportation agreements and implementation of the policy of deportation.

“In light of today’s developments, we will have to legislate new laws so we can enforce our policy of removing these illegal infiltrators from our country’s borders,” the PM said. Whether the court accepts such a move or declares it unconstitutional is another matter. Whether the countries’ willing to accept deported infiltrators accept this move or accept the court’s interpretation is also another matter.

The larger issue is the delicate balance that needs to be maintained between the interest of the country –- not to have illegal immigrants stay -– and the rights of the infiltrators –- not to suffer from inhuman treatment even though their act of entering the country was illegal.

It is natural that the government is more interested in the policies and less in the rights of illegal immigrants. It is the role of the court to moderate this tendency. Thus, the controversy and frustration of Israelis following the court’s ruling is a sign of a functioning system.

Jewish World Watch’s Walk to End Genocide participants included Mariya Svilak (fourth from left), part of the Stephen Wise Temple team, and Karina Zysman (far right), a senior at Taft Charter High School and captain of Team Taft. Photo by Ryan Torok

Community puts best foot forward at JWW’s Walk to End Genocide

To help raise awareness of efforts to end genocides, approximately 1,000 people participated in the 11th annual Jewish World Watch (JWW) Walk to End Genocide on April 30, starting at Pan Pacific Park.

“It’s one place where everyone comes together,” said Susan Freudenheim, executive director of JWW. “It’s a community event where people of all denominations and across the board — churches and other groups — come together.”

Indeed, clergy, synagogue members, high school students and elected officials, many wearing T-shirts that read, “This is what activism looks like,” covered 5 kilometers on streets neighboring The Grove and the Original Farmers Market.

“I think all of us who have genocide in our DNA need to stand right now with Jewish World Watch to make sure we understand genocide is not something in the history books,” Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Steve Zimmer said in an interview. “Genocide is something happening right now.”

Beyond the Holocaust, during which the Nazis systematically targeted European Jewry for extinction, other groups have suffered genocide, which the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum defines as “violent crimes committed against groups with the intent to destroy the existence of the group.”

A Jewish lawyer from what is now Belarus, Raphael Lemkin, coined the term “genocide” in 1944. Genocides have occurred against Armenians in 1915, Cambodians in 1975, Rwandans in 1994 and Sudanese in the early years of this century.

“I think all of us who have genocide in our DNA need to stand right now with Jewish World Watch to make sure we understand genocide is not something in the history books.” — Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Steve Zimmer

Rabbi Yechiel Hoffman, director of youth learning and engagement at Temple Beth Am, said the walk would not prevent killings in South Sudan, the world’s newest country, or Syria, which has endured civil war since 2011. Raising awareness about those countries, however, is important, Hoffman said.

“You don’t walk because it ends genocide,” he said, joined by his daughter, Mina, 10, at the event. “You walk to raise awareness that genocide is a real thing that exists today.”

Jordana Olszewski, who owns a jewelry company called Jordana Adrienne, participated as a member of Team Ohr HaTorah, named for a synagogue in Mar Vista. She started the day at 8 a.m., running in a 10K race that kicked off the event.

“I’m tired, but it’s all right, it’s great,” she said, as she completed the event. “All these different synagogues and organizations coming together, it’s really nice.” Moments later, she picked up a bongo drum and banged away as part of a drum circle drawing people of all ages.

Headquartered in Encino, JWW is focused on ending genocide by partnering with groups working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and South Sudan.

In 2004, the late Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Harold Schulweis co-founded the organization with Janice Kamenir-Reznik, on the premise that Jews have a responsibility to prevent another Holocaust from happening, whether the victims are Jewish or not.

Schulweis delivered a 2004 High Holy Days sermon titled “Globalism and Judaism,” in which he declared, “To be a Jew is to think big; to be a Jew is to think globally; to be a Jew is to act globally; to be a Jew is to love God, who is global.”

At the walk, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz attempted to uphold the JWW co-founder’s mission.

“ ‘Never again’ does not just mean for Jews,” he said, wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers cap. “We all have to fight genocide in any way we can.”

Freudenheim said the organization has expanded its work to include assistance for refugees displaced by the Syrian civil war.

“We’ve also been working on trying to help the Syrian refugees who are in Greece, in Lesbos, by providing help to support the psychological aspects of their residency, to give them psychological support,” she said.

Additional JWW Walk to End Genocide events took place this year in Washington, D.C., and Santa Rosa and the Conejo Valley in California.  Altogether, the four events raised more than $180,000.

Karina Zysman, 18, a senior at Taft Charter High School planning to attend UCLA this fall, is secretary of the JWW Teen Ambassador Program, which instills community organizing and advocacy skills in students grades 9-12.

As captain of Team Taft and participating in her first Walk to End Genocide, she carried a sign reading, “Welcome Refugees.”

“The first step to making a change is to show up,” she said. “I am so astonished by how many people did show up for this cause. It inspires me to have hope, using baby steps to change the world for the better.”

Sudanese man tries to kill Israeli on Ethiopian Air flight

A Sudanese man has been arrested for attempting to murder a Israeli passenger on an Ethiopian Airlines flight.

Ethiopian authorities arrested the man, who assaulted the Israeli on a flight from Chad to Ethiopia on Oct. 29, Ynet reported Tuesday.

The 54-year-old victim, who Ynet identified only by his first name, Arik, works for an Israeli company that operates in Africa.

“About 20 minutes before the plane started its descent, the passenger sitting behind me identified me as Israeli and Jewish,” Arik told Ynet. “He came up behind my seat and started to choke me with a lot of force, and at first I couldn’t get my voice out and call for help.

“He hit me over the head with a metal tray and shouted ‘Allah akbar’ [God is great] and ‘I will slaughter the Jew.’ Only after a few seconds, just before I was about to lose consciousness, did I manage to call out and a flight attendant who saw what was happening summoned her colleagues.”

Arik said that a Lebanese man was one of the few passengers to defend him. He also said that his attacker tried to convince the other passengers to lynch him.

“After we landed the Lebanese guy told me that I’d been saved twice, because after they’d overpowered my attacker he said to everyone, ‘Let’s finish him off,’” Arik said.

In a statement released in response to the incident, Ethiopian Airlines said, “The attacker, who has been identified as Ahmed Mohamed, showed no signs of violence as he was boarding the flight.

“He attacked not only the Israeli but also other passengers and members of the flight crew. He is still in detention and is due to appear in court on Wednesday.”

The airline said that Arik was taken to a medical clinic in the airport and released shortly afterward, and that he was able to continue on to Tel Aviv as planned.

“We are sorry for the incident and will do everything we can in order to prevent further such attacks on our Israeli customers,” the statement said.

As Europe takes in migrants, Israel tries to keep them out

With hundreds of thousands of refugees pouring across the borders of the European Union, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a landmark change in policy last month: Germany would begin to accept Syrian refugees, no matter how they got there.

Four days later, Israeli Interior Minister Silvan Shalom made a statement on the same topic, but with a different tone: Israel would do everything possible, he said, to remove migrants from its borders.

“I continue to fight, with all my effort, against the phenomenon of illegal infiltration, in light of the hundreds of thousands of infiltrators to Europe in these days and hours,” Shalom wrote Aug. 28 on Facebook, using the government’s term for migrants. “I will not relent until we reach a framework that will allow the removal of the infiltrators from Israel.”

As Europe struggles to handle the influx of migrants on its shores, the issue of illegal migrants again has risen in Israel, which has been grappling with the issue for nearly a decade. While EU policy is now being directed toward finding a way to absorb the migrants, the Israeli government is still focused on getting them out.

“Israel, in order to limit [migration], calls them infiltrators,” noted Karin Amit, head of the master’s program on immigration and social integration at Israel’s Ruppin Academic Center. “It doesn’t classify them as asylum seekers. It doesn’t expel them, but relates to them as people who aren’t supposed to be here.”

According to Israel’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority, more than 60,000 African migrants crossed into Israel illegally from Egypt between 2006 and 2012. The migrants, mostly from Eritrea, say they’re seeking asylum from a brutal dictatorship. Some 45,000 remain in the country.

But the government has viewed them as economic migrants looking for work and, with rare exceptions, has not recognized them as refugees.

In 2012, Israel built a border fence with Egypt, all but blocking illegal migration. It is now extending the fence along its eastern border with Jordan. Since 2012, the Israeli government has requested that the migrants in the country leave, giving cash grants to those who depart for their homes or some other African country. The government also has detained thousands of migrants since 2013 in Holot, a detention facility adjacent to a prison on the Egyptian border. Last month, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that detainees must be released from Holot after a maximum stay of 12 months.

“The state has a duty to foreigners, including refugees and asylum seekers,” said the court decision, issued Aug. 11. “Basic human rights aren’t denied to a person even if he enters a country illegally.”

Europe is on pace to take in approximately 600,000 migrants this year, including those who came illegally, according to EU figures. Many are fleeing Syria’s civil war. The number — less than 0.2 percent of the EU population — is proportional to Israel’s absorption in 2011 of some 17,000 refugees in a population of nearly 8 million.

When Germany announced its policy change last month, it called on other European countries to accept their share of migrants, too.

“The people granted residence rights in the EU must be distributed fairly within the Union,” the Aug. 24 statement from the German government said. “This fair distribution of the burden is not currently assured.”

But anti-immigrant sentiment runs strong in many corners of Europe, evident in the growing support for far right, anti-immigrants parties like the National Front in France, Golden Dawn in Greece and the Independence Party in the United Kingdom. In addition, the EU has come under criticism for failing to formulate a coordinated, comprehensive response to the influx of migrants coming by sea via illegal smugglers. Many migrants have died en route after being placed on overloaded, rickety boats that capsize or are abandoned by smugglers in the waters of the Mediterranean.

Thus far, southern European countries like Italy, Greece and the Balkan nations have borne much of the load of absorbing immigrants. Harrowing scenes of refugee boats capsizing in the Mediterranean Sea have pushed EU officials to address the issue and reexamine the EU’s immigration laws, which say migrants can claim asylum only in the first EU country they enter.

Advocates for asylum seekers in Israel long have called on the Jewish state to adopt the approach Germany is taking. Aid groups want the Israeli government to determine migrants’ status and allow them to live and work in Israel as long as they face danger in their home states.

“In Europe, they understand the difference between migrants and refugees,” said Sigal Rozen, the public policy coordinator for the aid group Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. “In Israel, they just define refugees as labor infiltrators. As soon as that term was established, not just with [government] decision makers but with the court system, it’s hard to convince the public that we should give room to all these labor infiltrators.”

Israel has not absorbed any refugees from Syria — a country with which it has technically been at war for decades. On Saturday, Knesset opposition leader Issac Herzog called on Israel to take in Syrian refugees. But speaking to his cabinet on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the notion that Israel could be a safe haven for refugees from either Syria or Africa.

“Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of the refugees from Syria and Africa,” Netanyahu said. “But Israel is a small country, a very small country, that lacks demographic and geographic depth. Therefore, we must control our borders, against both illegal migrants and terrorism.”

Israel has set up a field hospital on the Syrian border whose staff has treated some 1,000 Syrian wounded.

Israelis, according to polls, agree with their prime minister. In 2012, some 86 percent of Israelis said they viewed African migrants as “a danger to Israel.” European citizens, too, don’t appear to have much appetite for absorbing asylum seekers. A 2014 Pew Research Center poll showed that vast majorities in Italy, Greece, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Poland and Germany want immigration to decrease or stay the same.

Migrants draw little support in Israel because of Israel’s concern with maintaining an overwhelmingly Jewish majority and due to security concerns. Migrants, although they comprise less than 1 percent of Israel’s population, are portrayed as adding to the demographic problem.

Anti-migrant protests have been especially strong in south Tel Aviv, where many migrants live and where longtime residents — often poor themselves — say their way of life has been upset. And Israelis fear that a porous border could bring terrorists as well as asylum seekers.

Amit of the Ruppin Center says that as the European Union continues to struggle with migrant absorption, it may move closer to Israel’s approach. On Thursday, Israeli news sites reported that Hungary and Bulgaria were in talks with an Israeli company about possibly building a border fence like Israel’s, though Amit says she doubts that countries four times Israel’s size can “hermetically seal” their borders.

“Now there’s a feeling of a flood,” Amit said. “There are voices in Europe of ‘If we let them in, more will come.’”

But she said a cultural difference may separate the German response from Israel’s. While Israel, born after the Holocaust, has remained vigilant about maintaining a Jewish majority, Germany may see the Holocaust as a reason to open its borders to victims of tragedy.

“There’s a desire to atone for what had been done,” she said. “Because of what happened before, they feel that they’re repaying a debt and they can take in foreigners. Israeli immigration policy is for people with Jewish origins.”

Turning ‘never again’ into action: the legacy of Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis

70 years ago this week, the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was liberated. From the ashes of the murdered arose the words “Never Again” – spoken as shorthand for our collective responsibility to act in the face of genocide. However, on the world stage, the words “Never Again” soon were replaced by a reality of “Yet Again”, as the horrors of the Holocaust were followed by genocide after genocide, atrocity after atrocity – from Cambodia to Rwanda, from Darfur to Congo. Since 1945, 46 genocides have claimed the lives of tens of millions.

Until 2004, I was among those who failed to act. Like many Jews who grew up in the 1950s, I internalized a deep sense of responsibility to safeguard the memory of the Shoah – so that the world would understand anti-Semitism’s dangers and prevent Jewish persecution in the future. Yet, when I heard about atrocities in faraway places like Cambodia and Rwanda, the notion that I could do something – that I should do something – never materialized in my head. My mindset shifted because of one man, Rabbi Harold Schulweis – with whom I co-founded Jewish World Watch. As he changed my perspective, Rabbi Schulweis dramatically changed my life – and saved thousands of others.

In the wake of Rabbi Schulweis’ passing last month, our emotions at Jewish World Watch have run the gamut: great sadness at the loss of a truly extraordinary human being, gratitude for our opportunity to know and love such a deeply influential Jewish leader – and more than anything, resolve to amplify his message.

Somehow I wish that we could transport the entire American Jewish community to the Congregation of Valley Beth Shalom on Rosh Hashanah in 2004, when Rabbi Schulweis asked, “Where were you when one million innocents were slaughtered in Rwanda?” Like many others sitting in the congregation, I felt a pit in my stomach as I thought of my response to his question. Then he challenged us, “What will you do today to stop the first genocide of the 21st century – the genocide in Darfur?”

In that room, at that moment, no one could look the other way as Rabbi Schulweis spoke about another people being targeted for destruction. From his moral call, we resolved that Jewish World Watch would protect those threatened by genocide and mass atrocities in all corners of the planet. We would educate our community, lobby policymakers, and provide moral support and direct assistance to survivors on the ground.

In 2004, at 80-years-old, Rabbi Schulweis founded an organization – a movement – that has become one of America’s largest and loudest anti-genocide groups. In the decade since that Rosh Hashanah, Jewish World Watch has been at the forefront of advocacy efforts that helped to bring about pressure to end the genocide in Darfur, drive the most lethal militias out of Congo, and create broad awareness among governments and global corporations about the threat of emerging genocides around the world.

We’ve raised many millions of dollars for projects to aid more than 500,000 survivors of genocide and mass atrocities – from educational programs that allow former sex slaves and rape victims in Congo to reclaim their futures; to Solar Cookers, a simple invention that has dramatically improved the safety of Darfuri refugees, allowing women and girls to avoid the frequent assaults that result from leaving their refugee camps to search for firewood.

Even as his health began to falter, Rabbi Schulweis remained deeply involved in our work, day after day. His intellect and oratory animated our marches, rallies, and seminars. His warmth and humility cemented our coalitions with people of all faiths and races. His excitement and encouragement inspired our board members to take frequent trips to Africa – and to report back to him about the people we met and the projects we were pursuing. His bold conscience insisted that we continue to dig deeper to find the godliness and goodliness in our souls.

As a human being, it is natural to become mired in your own struggle – in righting the wrongs that have been done to your people. With global anti-Semitism on the rise – as we see Jews continue to be murdered only because of their faith – the impulse to hunker down and focus only on our own is real and understandable.

Yet, Rabbi Schulweis spoke out against that kind of thinking. He drew the connections between genocides. He pushed our community to see that the Jewish quest for justice will never be complete if we stand idly by when others are in danger – and that the Jewish drive to protect ourselves will not succeed in a fractured and Balkanized world.

We live during a time in grave need of Rabbi Schulweis’ message. From Congo and Sudan, from Iraq to Syria, from Burma to the Central African Republic, we are called to take the words “Never Again” and turn them into action. In his memory, let us continue to breathe life into the best of our Jewish values to create a better world.


Janice Kamenir-Reznik, Esq., is the President and Co-Founder of Jewish World Watch – a multi-faith coalition representing hundreds of thousands in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities.

Report: Israel hit Sudan site housing missiles for Gaza

Israel bombed a warehouse in Sudan housing long-range missiles heading for Hamas in Gaza, an Arabic newspaper reported.

The London-based Al-Arab quoted unnamed sources in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, as saying that Israel struck an ammunition warehouse on Friday located north of the capital. Sudanese officials had claimed the explosion was caused by a fire, according to reports.

Israel’s military has not responded to the allegations.

In 2009, Israel carried out three airstrikes in western Sudan on a convoy reportedly carrying weapons to Gaza. Israel was blamed as well for a 2012 explosion in a weapons plant in Khartoum that reportedly was building weapons for Hamas.

Arab rifts may complicate search for Gaza truce

The push for a Gaza ceasefire risks becoming mired in a regional tussle for influence between conservative Arab states and Islamist-friendly governments, with rival powers competing to take credit for a truce, analysts and some officials say.

The main protagonists are Arab heavyweight Egypt and the tiny Gulf state of Qatar, on opposite sides of a regional standoff over Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, and its ideological patron the Muslim Brotherhood.

Both camps suggest the other is motivated as much by a desire to polish diplomatic prestige and crush political adversaries as by the humanitarian goal of protecting Palestinian lives from the Israeli military.

“Gaza has turned very suddenly into the theater in which this new alignment within the Arab world is being expressed,” said UK-based analyst Ghanem Nusseibeh.

“Gaza is the first test for these new alliances, and this has affected the possibility of reaching a ceasefire there.”

He was referring to Qatar, Turkey, Sudan and non-Arab Iran, the main members of a loose grouping of states which believe Islamists represent the future of Middle East politics.

That camp stands in increasingly overt competition with a conservative, pro-Western group led by Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, most of whom are intent on crushing the Brotherhood and see it as a threat.

That cleavage is now apparent in the diplomacy over Gaza.


Qatar bankrolled the elected Muslim Brotherhood government of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who was overthrown by the military a year ago. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have since poured in money to support strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the takeover and has since been elected president after outlawing and suppressing the Brotherhood.

Under his rule, Egypt has tightened its stranglehold on the southern end of the Gaza Strip, closing tunnels to try to block supplies of weapons and prevent militants crossing.

Egyptian officials suspect Qatar encouraged Hamas to reject a ceasefire plan Cairo put forward last week to try to end an Israeli assault that has now killed more than 500 Palestinians as well as 18 Israeli soldiers and two Israeli civilians.

Palestinian officials said the proposal contained little more than Israeli and U.S. terms for a truce. Hamas has its own demands for stopping rocket fire into Israel, including the release of prisoners and the lifting of an economic blockade.

With Egypt's initiative sidelined, all eyes turned to Doha, where visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday met Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who lives in the Qatari capital, a senior Qatari source told Reuters.

An official in Cairo said the Gaza battle “is part of a regional conflict between Qatar, Egypt and Turkey.

“Hamas … ran to Qatar, which Egypt hates most, to ask it for intervention, and at the end we are sure Hamas will eventually settle with an agreement that is so similar to a proposal that Egypt had offered, but with Doha's signature.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, due in Cairo late on Monday, is likely to have to mediate between Egypt and Qatar in a bid to end the fighting in Gaza.

“The dilemma is now to get Egypt and Qatar to agree. It is obvious that Hamas had delegated Qatar to be its spokesman in the talks,” said an Egyptian diplomat. “Kerry is here to try to mediate between Qatar and Egypt to agree on a deal that Hamas would approve.”

Another foreign ministry source said: “Egypt will be asked by Kerry to add in Hamas' conditions and then Kerry will go to Qatar and ask it to ask Hamas to approve the amended deal.”

For reasons of history and geography, Egypt has always seen itself as the most effective mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in neighboring Gaza.

But critics say Egypt's strongly anti-Islamist government is trying to pressure Hamas into accepting a truce offering few concessions for the group. Its aim, they say, is to weaken the movement and allied Islamist forces in Egypt.

Hamas leaders said they were not consulted on the Egyptian move, and it did not address their demands.

With peace efforts delicately poised, Gaza now appears to be a test of strength in a regional struggle for power.


Emirati political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla said Gaza mediation had seen “a lot of political interference”.

“Qatar was unhappy with the Egyptian ceasefire (plan). They are very uncomfortable that it came from Egypt. The Qataris are trying to undermine Egypt politically, and the victim is the ceasefire that Egypt has proposed.

“The terms of the problem is — who will present the ceasefire? Who will win the first political match between those two new camps within the Arab world?” Abdulla said.

At the root of the rift are opposing attitudes to the Muslim Brotherhood, which helped sweep Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt in 2011 only to be ousted itself last year.

Its ideology challenges the principle of conservative dynastic rule long dominant in the Gulf: Some of its leading members are based in Qatar and broadcast their views via the country's media, angering other Gulf Arab states

Qatar is accused of using its alliance with Hamas to elbow its way into efforts to mediate between the movement and Israel.

Critics suspect Qatar wants to repair an international image clouded by months of allegations of poor labor rights, alleged corruption over the 2022 World Cup and political tensions with its Gulf Arab neighbors.

But Western governments see Qatar, maverick though it be, as a potentially significant regional mediator because of its links to Islamist movements in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere.

Qatar denies any ulterior motive and notes that Washington has openly asked it to talk to Hamas. Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah said on Sunday Qatar’s role was just to facilitate communication.


A source familiar with the matter said Qatar will not press Hamas to change or reduce its demands.

In Saudi Arabia, where suspicion of Hamas is particularly strong, as an ally of the Brotherhood and of Iran, Riyadh's main regional adversaries, newspapers have abandoned a tradition of blaming Israel alone to also attack the Palestinian group.

“The Hamas leadership, from Egyptian blood to Palestinian blood,” was the headline of an opinion article by Fadi Ibrahim al-Dhahabi in the daily al-Jazeera newspaper on Sunday.

He argued that Hamas was stoking the war in Gaza not for the sake of Palestinian liberation, but as part of a wider Muslim Brotherhood campaign against Egypt's government and to win favour with Iran.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, part of a recently formed national unity government intended to overcome rivalry between Hamas and the more secular Fatah nationalist movement, told Reuters he had seen no tug-of-war among Arab states.

“This is not the case. There is no competition between Arab countries, they all want to stop the bloodshed,” he said.

“All Arab countries want to bring an end to this fountain of blood in Gaza, Turkey, Qatar and Egypt are all in agreement. And the leaders of these country's have put their differences aside and all agree that the bloodshed needs to stop”.

Israelis pay to send deported African kids to school in Uganda

Among the 1,000 students who attend two brightly painted boarding schools in Kampala, Uganda, is a group of 72 South Sudanese children who speak perfect Hebrew on the playground.

“It is unbelievable,” said Alex Gumisiriza, head of academic programs at the Trinity Schools Uganda primary and secondary schools. “For us in Uganda, we thought the Jews are the only people who can speak Hebrew, and we were told that Hebrew is the most difficult language in the world. So we were very much surprised to see African children speak Hebrew with ease.”

The phenomenon was born when hundreds of South Sudanese asylum seekers, who had previously settled in Egypt, began to flee to Israel through the Sinai Desert in 2005. (According to activists working with this community, they fled after Egyptian police killed dozens of South Sudanese nationals at a protest against the United Nations’ refugee agency in Cairo.)

As the first small group of African asylum seekers to reach Israel, the families received a warm welcome, and their children quickly integrated into the Israeli school system. Over seven years living in Israel, they adapted to the Israeli way of life.

“The kids are Israeli — in all of their being, they’re Israeli. In the way that they talk, in the way they express their opinions, in so many things,” said Israeli corporate attorney Lea Forshtat, 48, co-founder of Come True South Sudan, a program that sends the South Sudanese children to school in Uganda. She runs the program with Rami Gudovitch, 44, an adjunct philosophy professor at Haifa University and the Interdisciplinary Center, who devotes hours each day both to checking up on the students in Uganda and assisting the African asylum-seeker community still in Israel.

Forshtat said she first became aware of this transplant population when her son, Uri, formed a close friendship with a South Sudanese boy named Wayi in his class at the Magen School in far-north Tel Aviv. “He joined my son’s class in third grade, and they almost instantly became friends,” she said. “Actually, my son didn’t even mention the fact that this child was different than him.”

From there, Forshtat said, Wayi “came over many times to our house. He’s a very intelligent, polite, nice child — very well-liked in his class.”

But when tens of thousands of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan proper began flooding into Israel due to hardships in their own countries, government officials decided they had to crack down on both the newly arrived and long-settled Africans. Wayi and about 500 other South Sudanese kids living in Israel, along with their parents, were forcibly deported in 2012 when Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai ruled that no danger awaited them in South Sudan.

South Sudanese students, joined by Come True South Sudan co-founder Rami Gudovitch, take a school bus back to their boarding school in Kampala, Uganda, after a short break in September.

That summer, a total of 900 asylum seekers left for the airport in a series of tearful goodbyes from Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station. Gudovitch posted photos online of South Sudanese children crying in their bus seats, holding up goodbye notes they had written in Hebrew for their Israeli classmates to read. 

Forshtat, too, described the farewell at the bus station as “terrible.”

“It’s always sad to part with someone you love, but usually people are going because they want to go,” she said. “I’ve never escorted anyone who left against their will. This was a first for me, my child and, of course, for them.”

Within the first few months back in South Sudan, seven of the children died from malaria. Many had left South Sudan at a very early age, and had no recollection of their homeland — nor immunity to local diseases, Gudovitch explained.

And in the long term, he said, there were limited options to continue their education. According to a 2012 report on post-independence life in South Sudan by the Overseas Development Institute, “The new Constitution guarantees the right to an education, but implementation of this is a major challenge, with currently less than 2 percent of the population having even completed a primary school education.”

Seeing how dark the future looked for their South Sudanese friends, Forshtat and Gudovitch felt they must intervene.

“So we decided to send the children back to school,” Gudovitch said.

In 2013, the two Israelis created Come True South Sudan. Through the program, funded almost entirely through donations from average Israeli families, 72 of the deportees are now attending the Trinity Schools in Uganda, where annual costs for each child are about $1,375 for education and boarding.

“Of course they are missing Israel, but we are trying to give them the best education we can,” said Gumisiriza, head of academic programs at Trinity. “With education, they can do anything.”

The attorney and the professor later moved their program under the Israeli umbrella organization Become, which had already been helping young students in Kenya.

Organizers hope to keep sending more students to Trinity, and also to eventually build a school in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan, “that would serve not only the deportees, but other children from the community,” Gudovitch said.

Israeli activist Rami Gudovitch, right, visits 15-year-old South Sudanese student Achol Malut, left, at her new school in Uganda. The two met while Gudovitch was volunteering for an after-school program in South Tel Aviv. Photo courtesy of Rami Gudovitch.

A recent fundraiser for Become’s initiatives in Africa was held at the indie Cinematheque Theater in Tel Aviv. The organization screened the film “A Small Act,” a true story about a Holocaust survivor who, as a schoolteacher in Sweden, donated about $15 a month to an anonymous Kenyan child who could not afford to go to high school. In her old age, the survivor found out that the child not only went on to work for the United Nations, but also started a new scholarship fund for more generations of Kenyan children in the survivor’s name.

The highlight of the event, though, was a short film clip from an upcoming documentary on the Come True South Sudan project — set to air on Israel’s Channel 2 on March 31. In one surreal scene, a group of South Sudanese children sing a round of “Eretz Israel Sheli” (“My Land of Israel”) while riding on their Ugandan school bus. 

Like many in the crowd, Gudovitch, dressed in a black blazer and his signature newsboy cap, had to choke back tears when talking about the kids he helped bring to Uganda. He arrived and exited the theater surrounded by children from the remaining African refugee community in Israel, who shouted his name and tugged at his clothes to get his attention.

Neither of the founders of Come True South Sudan run with the usual Israeli activist groups — and perhaps for their different mindset, are getting more done on their own, without salary, than many nonprofits do with full staffs.

Their resolve was put to the test in December 2013, when, after one year at the Trinity boarding schools, the kids returned home to South Sudan to spend summer break with their families. 

“Then the war broke — and we found ourselves engaged in a very different thing,” Gudovitch said.

In a home video Gudovitch made on one of his many trips to visit the kids at Trinity, a young South Sudanese girl (who he prefers remain nameless, due to ongoing conflict in the region) described escaping from the current civil war zone in her home country, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives so far.

“We ran to a really far place — to a forest,” the girl said in Hebrew. “And we slept on the ground with blankets. … There also wasn’t enough food [or water]. Kids would cry, and also the grown-ups would worry and cry. We cried every day. We thought that we won’t be in a good place again, and we will be in the forest forever.”

South Sudanese asylum seeker Achol Malut, 15, departs on a bus to the Tel Aviv airport in summer 2012 after her family was ordered to return to South Sudan. “When the deportation order was issued, Achol asked me to promise her that I shall not forget my promise: to make sure that she and her siblings and friends go back to school,” Gudovitch said. Photo courtesy of Rami Gudovitch.

Her older brother, sitting next to her, went on to describe the horrors of the newest clashes in South Sudan: “Each time you see someone dead on the street,” he said, “you think you will die, too.”

But then, his little sister said in the video, “Rami helped us to get here [to Uganda] with a plane. And now we are happy that we are in a better place.”

Said Gudovitch: “We made a grand operation to rescue them — first to trace them, then to transport them to Kampala, where I was waiting for them.”

He and Forshtat both said they are often accused of putting the needs of foreigners ahead of people in need in their own community.

“People don’t take it very well,” Forshtat said. “The most common reaction we get is: ‘The poor people of your country should come first.’ But I don’t think it’s contradictory.”

And anyway, according to the program leaders, these South Sudanese kids deported from Israel became as Israeli as most Israelis.

“They are just a bunch of very naughty Israelis, full of chutzpah,” Gudovitch said. “The first week in school was so funny, because right away, they had some problem, and they saw the big sign over the manager’s door, so they knocked on the door and complained. Their complaint was the first time ever a student dared to knock on the door of the headmaster.”

To sponsor a child or donate to the Come True South Sudan project, visit rami@become-world.org.

Editor's note: Certain quotes describing the current civil war in South Sudan have been omitted from this article to protect the children who were quoted.

Leaving Israel, Africans face detention, possibly death

“When the conflict started in the Darfur region and we came to Israel, all the people knew why,” said Yeman Adam, a 30-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker who fled to Israel in 2008. “The media was making comparisons between the Holocaust and Darfur genocide, and the Israeli government accepted us.”

As he spoke, Adam sat in the underground headquarters for the group he founded, the Dakaraw Termenan Organization: a freshly painted white room in South Tel Aviv lined in shut-down computers and fringed in royal-blue curtains. The room was empty except for Adam and two friends. They all come from the Masalit tribe, one of various Darfuri tribes targeted by the Sudanese government.

“We used to have hundreds of people in this office. You couldn’t find a chair to sit here,” Adam continued. But now, thousands of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers are being pushed out of Tel Aviv — some returning to Africa, and others moving to the Holot detention facility in southern Israel, the new prison complex constructed near the border with the Sinai desert.

Adam and the handful of Masalit tribe members still living in Tel Aviv have been trying to get in touch with seven men in their tribe, all of whom departed Israel for Sudan’s Khartoum International Airport within the last few weeks.

They’ve all gone missing.

Those seven missing Masalit are part of a growing crisis. Since the exodus began in December, almost 3,000 Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers, of approximately 55,000 who had settled in Israel and are now facing prison, have chosen instead to depart to either Sudan, Eritrea or a third African country — namely, Uganda or Rwanda.

From left: Feisel Adam, Hassan Rahima and Yeman Adam, Sudanese community organizers, met at their office in South Tel Aviv.

Abdulmalik Abdalla, a dimply 30-year-old who worked at hotels across Israel for the last few years, is on the Masalit tribe’s disappearance list. On Feb. 18, the day before he left for Sudan, he and his friends shared a bottle of whiskey and a giant platter of chicken wings in a closet-sized apartment in the run-down Neve Sha’anan neighborhood of South Tel Aviv. A cloth hanging over the room’s small window fluttered on an unusually warm winter breeze. Abdalla’s eyes watered some as he talked about how excited he was to see his family, from which he had been separated for more than a decade.

Abdalla still hasn’t gotten that chance. Sudanese security officials told a friend who came to meet Abdalla at the airport that Abdalla had been taken into custody.

No one has heard from Abdalla since he departed Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport on Feb. 19.

“We’re hearing about hundreds of people being arrested” upon arrival to Sudan, said Rami Gudovitch, a longtime advocate for African refugees in Israel who also teaches philosophy at Haifa University and the Interdisciplinary Center. Gudovitch has been compiling data based on testimony from his hundreds of contacts in the refugee community; he estimates that a minimum of 500 asylum seekers who returned to Sudan from Israel are behind bars.

Seven of those Sudanese men, he said, are believed to be dead.

Hundreds of African asylum seekers waited outside an extension office for the Israeli Ministry of Interior, hoping to renew their visas, on March 4.

This botched African exodus from Israel is the result of a plan revealed by Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar last August. According to Israeli news site Ynet.com, Sa’ar said in a government meeting that “a wide-scale deportation campaign will begin following the coming holidays,” starting with a period of “willing deportation” and ending with the mass cancellation of visas and forced expulsion.

Come December 2013, as promised, the plan entered its first stage, and the Ministry of Interior began offering $3,500 to any asylum seeker who agreed to relocate.

In accordance with United Nations guidelines, Israel is not forcibly deporting any Eritrean or Sudanese nationals back to their volatile home countries. At a press conference on March 4, Sa’ar stressed that “everyone who leaves, whether to his country of origin or a third country, leaves of his own free will.”

But according to dozens of asylum seekers who spoke to the Jewish Journal, the decision to depart to Sudan and Eritrea, as well as Uganda and Rwanda, is made under intense pressure.

“The fact that they’re taking the money and going back does not make them less of refugees,” said Sigal Rozen, public policy coordinator for Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Israel’s oldest nonprofit assisting the Africans. “It only means that the life here is so horrible that they will take the risk with the hope of finding another country that will protect them.”

Sudanese and Eritrean nationals staying in Israel face two options: indefinite detention at Holot, the remote desert prison, or life under constant fear of losing their visas (and therefore their livelihood). Thousands are turning in applications for asylum, but the Ministry of Interior has only reported three approvals. As reporter Michael Omer-Man pointed out in Israel’s liberal +972 Magazine, government authorities have provided asylum seekers “the most basic protection — against deportation to their home countries — but in all other ways treated them like infiltrators.”

Filmon Ghide, 20, was forced to sleep in South Tel Aviv's central Levinsky Park when the Ministry of Interior wouldn't renew his visa so he could work.

Since the Holot detention facility was unveiled in early December, around 3,500 asylum seekers, seemingly the ones who’ve been in Israel the longest, have been summoned to the prison without trial for the crime of illegally crossing the border.

Food and medicine at the prison are severely lacking, as evidenced by cellphone photos snapped by prisoners inside. “If we complain, [prison staffers] tell us, 'Then why don't you go home?’ ” Muhamad Musa, formerly a jewelry shop owner in Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station, told the Journal. Other prisoners said jail officials constantly pressure them to accept the government’s offer of $3,500 and a flight out.

Life isn’t much easier for those who remain in the city. On a recent Tuesday, what looked to be about 800 Africans, including women and children, crowded around the gates to a newly opened Ministry of Interior building especially for African migrants. The offices, tucked between warehouses and office buildings on a hidden alley in North Tel Aviv, opened just last week — an alternative to the much more visible Ministry of Interior building nearby, situated at a major intersection across from the Azrieli Center mall.

“Why did they change places? Because there are 700 people in line, and everybody will pass by and see the problem,” said Eritrean asylum seeker Filmon Ghide. (The ministry did not respond to a request for comment.)

“They are kicking me like a soccer ball from office to office,” he said.

Approximately 1,000 asylum seekers protested outside the Holot detention facility for “illegal infiltrators” in the Israeli desert on Feb. 17.

On that Tuesday, a cluster of asylum seekers quickly formed around a reporter who had come to check out the new location. “Every day I come here [to the Ministry of Interior]. I am not yet sleeping here, but some are,” said Fitsum Tesfasilase, 36, who has been attempting — unsuccessfully — to renew his visa for more than a month. “We can’t make our rent. We can’t feed ourselves. Before, I worked cleaning the streets — black work. But now I can’t support my wife and my child.” Because Tesfasilase escaped forced, indefinite military service in Eritrea after 13 years as a soldier, he said he would likely face life in prison, or worse, if he returned to Eritrea.

Semere Abraham, 24, another Eritrean waiting in the line-turned-mob, said that a close friend of his named Merhawe had accepted Israel’s offer to fly to Uganda about two weeks ago. However, he said, the plan went terribly wrong: Merhawe was detained at the Uganda airport, flown to Egypt, detained again, and then sent against his wishes to Eritrea. “I was calling to his house [in Eritrea], and his mother was crying,” Abraham said. “He’s in the prison now.”

Last summer, Israeli officials announced that Uganda had agreed to accept some of Israel’s unwanted Africans. Ugandan officials, however, quickly denied the deal — and have denied it ever since. Musa Ecweru, who heads refugee affairs at Uganda’s Ministry for Relief and Disaster Preparedness, told the Journal: “I have not been formally informed of this. I just heard in the news.”

Ecweru added: “I don’t know why they would even want to come here and not relocate to Eritrea.”

And Yolande Makolo, a spokeswoman in Rwanda’s Office of the President, said: “That’s really interesting. This is the first I’m hearing of this. Let me get back to you.” Makolo did not respond to multiple attempts to follow up.

Israel’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority has become equally tight-lipped. “The only thing we can confirm is that there are some of them who are flying to another country and not their homeland,” a spokeswoman said via e-mail.

A waiting room on the seventh floor of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority building in South Tel Aviv is plastered with dozens of signs that say “No Exit Through Window.”

However, according to multiple Eritrean and Sudanese men who have been trying to renew their visas at the Israeli Ministry of Interior, government staffers are telling them that they have the option to be relocated not only to Uganda but also to next-door Rwanda.

This is incredibly distressing, said Dismas Nkunda of the International Refugee Rights Initiative — not to mention, he said, “absolutely illegal by both Israel” and the other countries.

Uganda and Rwanda are still dealing with their own refugee crises, and without a formal relocation overseen by the United Nations, according to Nkunda and other human-rights experts, there is no guarantee that Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers will receive the protection they need.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has yet to intervene. However, a UNHCR spokesman issued a statement to the Journal demanding that any state, including Israel, “refrain from any future measure that could directly or indirectly lead to the return of a person to a country where his or her life or freedom would be threatened.”

In a series of interviews, Eritrean asylum seeker Ghide, 20, said five of his friends received $3,500 each from the Israeli government to board a plane to Rwanda in the past three weeks. Over the phone from Rwanda, his friends now tell him that around 30 asylum seekers from Israel are in the Central African country; in addition, according to Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, a plane carrying more of them to Rwanda departed Tuesday night.

Ghide said he would never accept the deal. His own father has been imprisoned for years under the current dictator, Isaias Afewerki, for worshipping and preaching as a Protestant Christian, and he’s afraid that Eritrean government would kidnap him from Uganda or Rwanda and shut him, too, in an underground jail. Nevertheless, the young Eritrean said, he understands his friends’ decision.

“Jail in your own country can be better than living in another country as a prisoner,” he said, “because maybe you will find a guard or something to send a message to your mother or father. And after six or seven years, maybe they will release you.”

Hundreds of African asylum seekers waited outside an extension office for the Israeli Ministry of Interior, hoping to renew their visas, on March 4.

Ghide said his friends in Rwanda also told him by phone that an anonymous official met them at the airport and gave them money to stay at a hotel for a couple of nights. But now they’re panicking, he said, because “they cannot get work and nobody is helping them. They are so worried about it.”

Another group of seven asylum seekers from Sudan spoke to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz from Uganda after leaving Israel in mid-February.

NGOs are having trouble keeping up with this chaotic scattering of Israel’s asylum seekers across Africa. Rozen at Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said she received information from the UNHCR that one Eritrean man whom Israel tried to relocate to Rwanda was immediately put on a plane to Eritrea by Rwandan authorities.

“There are a lot of weird stories — there’s one story about a group that ended up finding themselves in Chad,” said Gudovitch. The Israeli activist is scrambling to compile a comprehensive list of the departed by early April, when the Supreme Court of Israel is set to review a petition against the law allowing indefinite detention at Holot.

According to those tracking the departures, Eritrea has seen the fewest voluntary returns. Although the nation is not as globally infamous as, say, Darfur, asylum seekers say life under authoritarian rule has become intolerable. In December 2010, the U.S. ambassador to Asmara, Eritrea’s capital city, wrote in a leaked embassy cable: “Young Eritreans are fleeing their country in droves, the economy appears to be in a death spiral, Eritrea's prisons are overflowing, and the country's unhinged dictator remains cruel and defiant.” Every year since 2007, Eritrea has placed dead last on Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index; the organization writes that “the few journalists who dare to criticize the regime are thrown in prison.” Swedish-Eritrean journalist Meron Estefanos has called it “the North Korea of Africa.”

Meanwhile, Israeli government officials have boasted about the thousands of 2014 departures without acknowledging the dangers facing refugees. “Every week now, there are fewer infiltrators in Israel,” Sa’ar announced at his March 4 press conference.

Filmon Ghide, far right, helped translate for fellow Eritrean asylum seeker Fitsum Tesfasilase outside Tel Aviv's new visa office. “I was forced to serve in the military for 13 years as a slave, and I ran away in the night,” Tesfasilase said in his native language of Tegrinyia.

Massive asylum-seeker rallies against Sa’ar’s policies in January and February have dwindled in recent weeks. “The government of Israel has done a tremendous job convincing the Israeli public that all these people are work infiltrators, and that we should keep them away as quickly as possible,” said Rozen with Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. “This is actually our main problem.”

A skit staged by three asylum seekers in Holot’s front parking lot on March 8, with two busloads of Tel Aviv visitors as audience, poked fun at Israel’s deportation tactics. One Sudanese actor, pretending to be an Israeli government worker, whispered temptations into community leader Anwar Suliman’s ear — telling him how peaceful Sudan had become and how great it would be to see his family. After a few minutes of these sweet lies, to wild laughter, Suliman scribbled his signature onto the voluntary return form and threw his hands up in defeat.

In reality, Sudan is still incredibly dangerous, said 38-year-old Hassan Rahima, a widely respected community leader and head of the Organization of Sudanese Refugees in Israel, an umbrella organization for various tribal groups. “I cannot go back. I lost before my whole family: I was in my area in the Nuba Mountains, and my mother, my brother and my sister were all killed in front of my eyes. I was in jail for three months. Then the boss of the jail took me to where he lived and kept me as his slave for three years. I was cleaning the house and washing the clothes. I brought water to the house from the river on my back. All the time, they sent me to get water.”

The government that would meet him at the Khartoum International Airport, Rahima said, “is the same government who committed these crimes in the Nuba Mountains.”

Who’s afraid of the African asylum seekers of South Tel Aviv?

As a general rule in Tel Aviv, if your taxi driver is still gabbing about a national news event — more often than not, with a conservative slant — you can bet the topic is also trending citywide.

And of five taxi drivers this reporter has flagged down over the past week, four have complained about the ongoing nuisance that is the African migrant population of South Tel Aviv.

In a way, this enduring buzz is a sign of success for Israel’s 55,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers and the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that back them. The majority of the African asylum seekers are Christians and Muslims who fled to Israel by way of Egypt and the Sinai Desert over the last eight years, clustering mainly in South Tel Aviv. Their historic six-day strike, which lasted through Jan. 10 and allowed for daytime protests with turnouts over 20,000, may be finished for now, but the Africans’ fight to be recognized as refugees can still be felt throughout the city — most recently through a cultural appreciation event on Jan. 19.

On that Sunday, more than 50 restaurants and bars across Tel Aviv and neighboring Jaffa served traditional Eritrean and Sudanese dishes in place of their usual fare. Some also used the opportunity to throw a goodbye party for the African members of their kitchen staffs who have been summoned to the Holot detention facility in the Negev, Israel’s newest desert prison for illegal migrants.

At Ha’Tarnegol (“The Rooster”), an art cafe in Jaffa, well-known Darfuri chef Hassan Shakur — set to be imprisoned at Holot — whipped up platters of traditional porridge and sauces for a roomful of supporters.

The restaurant’s co-owner, Roee Avraham, said of Shakur: “For us, it’s a great honor to host him here, to learn from him and to help him as much as we can.”

Adil Adam, 28, another Sudanese volunteer lending a hand in the kitchen, said that, like Shakur, he must report to Holot by mid-February. Adam explained that he originally fled Darfur because he belonged to a group of activists at his university who opposed the government. Although some of his colleagues were murdered, Adam managed to escape. “What I expected to find in Israel was at least education,” he said. Instead, after three years working as a day laborer, he’s bracing himself for an indefinite term at Holot.

The night’s feel-good activities culminated at Levontin 7, a well-known hipster bar situated on the border of central and southern Tel Aviv. Three bands with members from various African countries took the stage — and the venue reached capacity within 15 minutes.

But the events seemed to attract a like-minded bunch. Members of local media outlets — the majority of which now openly side with the asylum seekers — squeezed into Ha’Tarnegol alongside NGO workers and other familiar faces from the protests. (“I think I will make a lot of friends tonight!” Adam said.) At one point, the kitchen was filled with more news cameras — from outlets like i24 News and the Jerusalem Post — than African cooks. 

International media coverage has, likewise, taken a cleanly pro-refugee approach. The New Yorker magazine, for instance, ran a lengthy piece after the Africans’ weeklong strike that argued strongly against Israeli policies.

These sympathies, though, are a world apart from the fear and resentment that still lingers in the more religious nooks of South Tel Aviv and in the hearts of conservatives across the city.

“The Israeli media will not mention this demonstration,” said Itai Sen, a resident of Tel Aviv’s tech suburb Ramat Gan, at a recent counter-protest to the African rallies. (And for the most part, he was correct.)

One handmade sign at the midcity protest read, in Hebrew: “Approximately every seven minutes, an Israeli is assaulted by an African!!!”

Although this demonstration was maybe one-fifth the size and intensity of the South Tel Aviv race riots of May 2012, it put a few hundred faces to anti-African sentiment that still smolders — mostly behind closed doors — and has largely driven government action.

“As a woman, I will tell you: I will never set foot in South Tel Aviv,” said Lizi Hameiri, a petite young brunette from North Tel Aviv who stopped by the protest. She said she had heard from a friend that “this week, [African migrants] raped a woman, and after they raped her, they smashed in her teeth.”

Another Israeli man who runs a fresh-juice bar along Menachem Begin Street — marking the upper border of South Tel Aviv — described an incident “about three or four months ago” in which he stabbed two African asylum seekers trying to rape a woman in an alley behind his house (located next to the juice bar). The man said he didn’t want his name published for fear that Tel Aviv cops would punish him for implying they weren’t doing their jobs. The tip of his thumb had apparently been sliced off — an injury he said he sustained in the stabbing.

A spokesman for the Israel Police said he had no “specific data” on African crime rates in the area. However, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants reported that police data from 2010 and 2011, presented at a government meeting, showed crime rates among Israelis to be more than double those of foreigners. 

Nevertheless, mistrust of the asylum seekers runs deep, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration has aligned itself with those advocating expulsion.

Rather than arrest individual African asylum seekers who have committed street crimes and try them in court, the government is sending them to Holot en masse for the crime of infiltrating Israel’s border fence. (At press time, the Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration had not responded to repeated requests for the number of migrants summoned to Holot. However, local NGOs are estimating that between 500 and 1,000 Africans have been summoned.)

In a Facebook statement on Jan. 5, Netanyahu made his end goal clear. “We completely stopped the infiltration into Israel,” he wrote of the country’s new fence with Egypt, “and now we are determined to send away the illegal migrant workers who [already] entered Israel.”

Danny, 46, an Indian-Israeli tile vendor who works a couple blocks from the Central Bus Station — and who did not wish to give his last name for fear of retribution — agreed with this approach. “The government has to worry about its own people first,” he said. 

Another Jewish woman working at a furniture store nearby, who would not give her first or last name, said that although she has never been robbed by an African in the neighborhood, “People are afraid to come to my business. And sometimes in the night, I am afraid, too.” She recommended that instead of sending African migrants to prison, the government should just “put them back in their own country.”

Israel has refrained from sending any Eritrean or Sudanese asylum seekers home against their will, in accordance with United Nations “non-refoulement” guidelines. But because Israeli officials have either denied or have yet to approve all requests for asylum filed by Eritrean and Sudanese nationals, the foreigners are stuck in limbo.

Mutasim Ali, 27, a Darfuri leader of the current refugee rights movement, said that his NGO, the African Refugee Development Center, has been distributing asylum request forms within the community — but that they’re not even sure where to turn them in.

Anyway, he said, “I’m not optimistic” that they’ll make any difference.

Due to the confusion surrounding the process, and its low success rate so far, the majority of Tel Aviv’s asylum seekers have not filled out the forms. Instead, they’re spending hours in long lines outside the Ministry of Interior, trying to renew their visas.

When they do finally reach the window, though, many are instead being handed mandatory invitations to report to Holot within 30 days.

One of the hundreds summoned to prison so far is Muhamad Musa, a 35-year-old asylum seeker from Darfur who came to Israel six years ago and now owns a watch and jewelry shop in the city’s half-abandoned Central Bus Station. On a recent Monday, Musa helped a steady stream of customers pick out pieces that suited them — including a young Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier in a kippah and an elderly Jewish woman, both of whom greeted him by name. 

“Everybody knows me here,” said Musa — including Tel Aviv police, who he said would know where to find him if he didn’t show up to Holot on Feb. 5.

A friend of Musa, who called himself only Khalifa, also stopped by the watch shop on Monday. Khalifa keeps his Holot letter inside a plastic sleeve tucked in his jacket pocket but pulled it out to show a visiting journalist. The form — printed in Hebrew, Arabic and the Eritrean language of Tigrinya — stated that Khalifa also had the option of accepting $3,500 to return to Darfur. 

But Musa and Khalifa both said they would rather do anything than return to Darfur, where they fear the worst.

Ali, head of the African Refugee Development Center, also has been summoned to Holot. “I’m not thinking about it yet, because I still have one long month,” Ali said over the phone, his normally calm voice on edge. “Right now, I’m thinking about those who go before me, in the next few days. We have a lot of work to do.”

As the countdown to Holot begins, Israeli authorities have shown no sign of slowing their plan to rid Tel Aviv of its African residents.

For some in the community, that’s a shame. “I live with them here, and I don’t think they’re dangerous,” Israeli real-estate agent Meir Landis said of the asylum seekers. After the strike, he said, “Now people understand — and the business owners know — how much we need them.”

A Jewish-Ethiopian liquor-store owner working across from the Central Bus Station, who has lived in Israel for almost 30 years — and who wished to remain anonymous, due to racial tension in the area — argued that racism is fueling government policies on Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers.

“There is crime here [in South Tel Aviv], but no different than the rest of Israel,” he said. “I think many people are scared of them just because they’re black. If they were French, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

African asylum seekers battle fear in South Tel Aviv

Over the past two weeks, Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have staged the largest uprising in their eight-year history in Israel.

On Jan. 5, the first day of the protests, police estimate that more than 20,000 African asylum seekers — of the approximately 55,000 who have crossed Israel’s southern border since 2006 — refused to report for work and congregated on the Levinsky Park green, their main hangout and meeting spot in South Tel Aviv. They intended to stage a labor strike that would last until Israel agreed either to review their requests for asylum or turn the task over to the United Nations.

A few of the community’s emerging leaders took to the megaphone and rallied the crowd. Although the protesters come from different African nations and circumstances, they have lived through common hardships — years of compulsory, indefinite military service in Eritrea, ethnic cleansing and genocide in Sudan, rocky travel and torture by Bedouin gangs in the Sinai desert. Now, all of them face poverty and uncertainty in Tel Aviv, or in Israel’s desert prison camp for “illegal infiltrators” down south.

Protesters were warned they would be under intense scrutiny in the coming days. “Nobody do violence,” one speaker said. “If you meet racist people … respect them. It is very important to get our rights in a peaceful way.”

Ignited by unprecedented unity and hope, the group marched 20 minutes to the more upscale north side of Tel Aviv, filling Rabin Square to its brim and forcing cafe-goers to witness their fight. “We have been treated as criminals,” Sumaya Nedey, the movement’s head female activist, told protesters at the square. But with the strike, she said, “We will show the people of Israel that we are a strong part of the economy and the community in Tel Aviv.”

Yet, by the third day of protests, as the crowd’s energy peaked outside the front gates of the Knesset building in Jerusalem — and as Israeli employers began to hurt from the workers’ absence in the country’s hotels and kitchens — government officials shut down the historic protests with the ease of flipping a switch.

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein denied eight leaders of the refugee movement the opportunity to speak with Israeli politicians. He did not allow them even to enter the building, citing “the backdrop of the tension and general public atmosphere, as well the fear that granting the infiltrators access will cause provocations in the parliament.”

Israel’s conservative Channel 7 painted the protests in a similar light, saying they raised “fears of violence, especially as the infiltrators have brought rampant crime to Israel and, in particular, to southern Tel Aviv.”

Mutasim Ali, a 26-year-old asylum seeker from Darfur whose strong, gentle speaking voice and excellent Hebrew have propelled him to the front of the movement, later wrote in an op-ed for left-wing daily Haaretz: “They want to portray us as violent and dangerous, but we explained to them and to the whole world that we’re non-violent people, that we respect law and order.”

Police confirmed that the week’s demonstrations had been extraordinarily low-key. “There were no injuries, no disturbances, no incidents whatsoever” over three days of mass protest, said Micky Rosenfeld, foreign press spokesman for the Israel Police. (At one point during the Jerusalem rally, this reporter witnessed one protester chide another for climbing into a tree.)

Many of the strikers had no choice but to return to work this week, no longer able to pay for their basic needs. And as a consequence of the strike, some have been turned away by their former employers.

Still, small yet undeniable shifts in the public consciousness may prove the efforts were not entirely in vain.

Over days of protest, Israelis in central and northern Tel Aviv who normally avoid the south part of the city like a toxic waste dump have now glimpsed Israel’s mysterious “infiltrators” up close, as something more than a shadow people waiting to mug them and dilute the Jewish state.

And while during the marches, some onlookers yelled, “Go home!” and “Back to Africa!” as asylum seekers flooded city streets and sidewalks, others, non-Africans, jeered back at the hecklers. Still others yelled or whistled in support of the protesters, or honked their car horns longer and louder than usual. 

On Jan. 10, after a roller-coaster week of protests, Channel 2 aired a topical skit set in South Tel Aviv.

In it, Dr. Yogev Shafir, a fictional host for the Israeli comedy show “Eretz Nehederet,” ventures into Tel Aviv’s low-income Levinsky Park neighborhood, dressed in dorky cargo khakis and a safari hat, to meet some real live Africans on the mean streets of South Tel Aviv.

Before helping serve lunch to asylum seekers at the Levinsky Soup Kitchen, Shafir takes care to tether his bike to a lamppost with a mess of chains, barbed wire and a “Beware of Tiger” sign. He then tries to spruce up the refugees’ diet by serving them some organic alfalfa salad.

And for the show’s awkward finale, Shafir visits three Sudanese men in their cramped Levinsky-area apartment, mosquito net in tow. After some small talk, he halts the meet-and-greet to point out that his iPhone is missing; one dramatic storm of accusations later, the audience sees the phone light up in his own cargo pocket.

So the joke is on him — this armchair liberal who politely pitied the asylum seekers from afar, but, in the end, knew nothing about them, stereotypes aside. 

The skit aired a very real prejudice and fear inside many Israelis who find themselves traveling (briskly) through South Tel Aviv at night: They cling more tightly to their purses, burrow their wallets deeper into their pockets and keep their heads down.

But the skit also indicated the mainstreaming of this self-awareness. “Eretz Nehederet“ was once labeled by CNN “the country‘s single most popular and influential television comedy,” and it is viewed by millions each season. If the funnymen of Channel 2 think Tel Aviv’s asylum seekers deserve a second chance, the Israeli public may not be far behind.

In the wake of the uprising, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, too, has changed his tone, seeking in an official statement to be more inclusive. Huldai, part of the center-left Labor Party, said: “The protests of the migrant workers that we have seen are just the beginning of a process. … The Israeli government must determine a governmental policy and a professional work plan while allocating budgets and resources to take care of the latitude of problems including immigration policy, education, welfare, personal security and employment.”

The South Tel Aviv neighborhood in which the asylum seekers live has earned a nationwide reputation as an African crime pot. Anecdotes about theft and assault in the area, while very real and unshakable for their victims, often become larger than life. Two rapes by African migrants in early 2012 — of thousands in the country each year — riled such fury within the Jewish community that fiery race riots broke out on the streets of South Tel Aviv that May. Dozens of Africans were reportedly injured by the rioters.

Just this month, Bat-El Asher, a young Israeli woman, described on her Facebook page being violently mugged by a Sudanese man. “Until yesterday, I was their No. 1 defense attorney,” she wrote of the migrants. “The romantic view I lived with until yesterday … [that] everyone deserves a chance for a stable and better life … even refugees … died yesterday at 20:30.”

Asher’s story was shared more than 500 times on Facebook. “A liberal is simply a conservative who has yet to be mugged,” one commenter wrote.

But asylum seekers have grown equally afraid of being attacked in Tel Aviv’s neglected south. Two days after Asher was mugged, an Israeli man stabbed an Eritrean baby in the head with a pair of scissors as the baby’s mother walked out of the Central Bus Station. The infant reportedly suffered brain damage from the attack; her 50-year-old assailant has since been arrested and hospitalized at Israel’s central mental institution. 

A MarketWatch poll from last summer found that 60 percent of Israelis believed the asylum seekers posed a danger to Israeli society.

Crime statistics from 2010, however — presented at a Knesset meeting and reported by the Hotline for Migrant Workers — showed that, overall, the crime rate among Israel’s general population was more than double the crime rate among foreigners. “The level of security, or the level of crime, in the southern part of Tel Aviv is not higher on a national level than other places in the country,” police spokesman Rosenfeld told the Journal.

Further turning the Israeli public against asylum seekers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other politicians on the right have declared the Africans — almost a quarter of whom are Muslim and speak Arabic — a major threat to the state’s Jewishness. 

To date, no Eritrean or Sudanese nationals have been granted asylum by the Israeli government. Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, in charge of approving asylum requests, recently told Israel Hayom: “As far as Jewish identity and the desire to blur it are concerned, whether or not that is the intention of those who support the foreigners, that will be the result. The state will change its character if it gives up and allows illegal entry into its territory. This is not a passing wave. If we allow those who are already here to stay and work, that will be a clear statement to anyone who is looking for a destination, and it will have immediate repercussions.”

A new, nearly $400 million border fence has cut off the influx of Africans almost entirely, yet the fear that more will come has pushed many locals into the “Go home!” camp — especially those who have never met any of their Eritrean or Sudanese neighbors.

“The government continues to lie to the public and tell them we are not refugees and we are making trouble,” Mulgeta Tumuzgi, an Eritrean who has lived in Israel for six years, said at a press conference at the height of the strike. “The Israeli government wants the people to fear us. If you are afraid of someone, you want them to get away. We want to say to the Israeli people: ‘Don’t be afraid of us. We are not coming here to harm you. We are not your enemy. We only ask that you can give us shelter until we can go back to our home.’ ”

For better or worse, Eritrean and Sudanese families today are an inextricable part of the city’s culture. The scent of their traditional stews and flatbreads mix with shawarma grease in the air; high-energy African songs and dialects stream from dozens of migrant-run businesses clustered around Tel Aviv’s hulking Central Bus Station; African children run to school in braids and backpacks to learn Hebrew alongside the locals. So, in addition to protests, local NGOs have been organizing events, such as African cooking workshops and concerts, to show Tel Aviv that — just like in the rest of the world’s great cities — diversity can be a blessing.

As Haaretz financial editor Sami Peretz recently wrote of his own personal, yet very universal dilemma: “We Israelis always love to see ourselves dealing with a disaster that has taken place in some distant land (for example, in Haiti or the Philippines). … 

“It is much harder,” he wrote, “to see ourselves as cruel racists when we deal with the African migrants who are filling Tel Aviv’s streets or are sent to prison in southern Israel, and who bring out all the poison and fears inside us.”

‘You’ll be free. Welcome!’: Seeking asylum

Daniel Angosom was just 18 when he escaped a lifetime of compulsory army service in Eritrea, fleeing to Sudan through his country’s northern border. It was in Sudan, while working as a cattle herder, that Angosom — like thousands of African asylum seekers before him — was kidnapped and sold to Bedouin gangs in the Sinai desert.

“They covered my eyes with a cloth and burned my head and neck with metal rods,” Angosom, now a lanky 21-year-old with a shadow of a mustache, remembered of his time as a Bedouin captive.

After months of torture and near-starvation, his family back in Eritrea was able to scrape together $35,000 for his ransom: “My mother sold her gold, and we sold all our cattle,” he said. So his captors dumped him at the Israeli border fence, where he expected to be taken in as a refugee. (About three-quarters of Eritreans and Sudanese who apply for asylum in countries that signed the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention, like Israel, are approved.)

Instead, Angosom was jailed for entering the country illegally. He is now being held at the Holot detention facility, the newest jail within Israel’s expanding desert prison compound for “illegal infiltrators.” He spoke to the Journal while sitting at a freshly painted red picnic bench just outside prison grounds; the desert stretched for miles in every direction, cold and silent.

“When I first entered inside Israel, I was very happy because it’s a democratic country,” said Filmon Mengstab, 27, Angosom’s closest friend at Holot. Long, spindly scars mark his arms and legs where bandits branded him with red-hot iron and extinguished their cigarettes into his flesh. Mengstab said his Bedouin captors also forced him to have sex with other prisoners and raped Eritrean women in front of him.

When he got to Israel, Mengstab said, “The army told me, ‘You will be free. Welcome.’ ”

Yet, Mengstab and Angosom have been behind bars in Israel’s desolate south for over a year now, alongside thousands of their peers. First, they were held at Saharonim, a closed jail with a capacity of about 3,000 prisoners, including women and children. But under a new Israeli law passed in December, male prisoners are now transferred to Holot after a year of good behavior at Saharonim — and can be held there indefinitely.

The Israel Prison Service has labeled Holot an “open facility” because prisoners can walk freely in- and outside the barbed prison fence. They can’t go far, though, because they must check in with guards three times per day.

“I don’t do anything — I just eat and sleep,” said Haspel Karim Youssef, 22, of Darfur. He’s been in prison for 15 months. “Every day, every hour, the same.”

Migrants living in Tel Aviv can also be sent to the prison complex, without trial, after any run-in with the cops. Micky Rosenfeld, foreign press spokesman for the Israel Police, said that if, during questioning, police find out that an African migrant has no residency papers or refugee status, he will be arrested and “transferred down south to Holot.”

Darfuri theater troupe actor and barbershop worker Babi Ibrahim, for example, was reportedly arrested in July when he couldn’t provide a receipt for a bicycle parked outside his shop. And according to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, another woman was detained when she reported being raped.

Since December, some 500 to 1,000 asylum seekers living in Israel have been summoned to Holot while trying to reapply for visas, a spokeswoman for the Hotline said. (The Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration did not respond to multiple requests for confirmation of this statistic.)

“Israeli authorities have detained and invited our husbands, fathers and sons to go to Holot,” Sudanese activist Sumaya Nedey said at a recent protest. “They put us in detention in order to break our minds.”

Afraid of running into immigration police, she said, “We fear to go to work and meet with friends. Fear has taken the streets of Tel Aviv.”

The majority of African asylum seekers in Israel come from Eritrea. “Eritrea is known as the North Korea of Africa,” Sweden-based Eritrean activist and journalist Meron Estefanos said. “Every kid knows that you are the property of the state. By the time you’re 17, you know you’re going to go to the military camp … and you will be stuck doing national service for the rest of your life. The only way to get out is by leaving the country.” Temesghen Haile, 34, another prisoner at Holot, confirmed this, saying he served more than 10 years as a guard along the Ethiopian border before escaping Eritrea. Haile was under orders to shoot any Ethiopian on sight.

After helping a group of Eritrean captives round up ransom money to pay their Bedouin kidnappers in 2011, Estefanos became the go-to contact for desperate victims and their families; to this day, she fields innumerable panicked phone calls.

“The torture gets worse and worse and worse,” she said. “[The captors] sit all day and night trying to think what’s the worst thing they could do. They’re sadistic.”

Eritrean asylum seekers in captivity have phoned Estefanos with stories of being chained together in a puddle of cold water, then electrocuted until they pass out. “They will rape you to make you feel ashamed, and force you to rape each other,” she said. “They will call your parents and make them listen while they are burning you. They will hang you and make everyone eat for three or four days with your dead body hanging next to them.”

Estefanos added that if escapees are sent back to Eritrea, they are sure to be imprisoned for life. So even though Israeli authorities have offered $3,500 to any African who returns to his country voluntarily, prisoners at Holot said they would rather remain, holding out hope that Israel will change its mind or the U.N. will intervene.

Now, Estefanos is also taking calls from Eritreans stuck at Israel’s Holot and Saharonim detention centers.

“In Eritrea, it’s a dictatorship, so it’s expected. There’s no way out,” Estefanos said. But, in Israel, “You have convinced yourself that you’re in a democratic country where you have rights. Not knowing [your fate] is what’s worst.”

New Israeli detention center falls flat

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

After three days of walking in the cold and snow, many of them on hunger strike, 150 African asylum seekers were forced onto buses and taken back to the new detention center in the Negev desert. The detainees say they want Israel to grant them refugee status and allow them to stay permanently – Israel says they are illegal migrants and should return to their countries as soon as possible.

Last weekend, Israel opened a new “open” detention center called Holot. The migrants were free to come and go during the day, although they had to be present at night. They are also not allowed to work.

The migrants say this new detention center is no better than the jail at Saharonim and the government should legalize their status.

Shouting “Freedom yes, prison no!” and holding signs in Hebrew that read “Because you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” the 150 cold and hungry Sudanese and Eritreans entered Jerusalem and the remains of the worst snow storm in decades. They were joined by 100 other asylum seekers from Tel Aviv, where many African migrants live, many of them illegally.

When asked why they were marching on parliament, Mubarak, who calls himself a refugee from Sudan who asked not to give his last name, told The Media Line that it is “because we have spent two years in prison, because we need our freedom.”

Mubarak fled Sudan in 2012 because of war, leaving behind his nine brothers and sisters. He crossed the Sinai desert and entered Israel illegally. Since then, he has been imprisoned for much of his time in Israel.

“I miss them very much. If I didn't see them for one hour I would miss them, and I haven’t seen them for almost two years,” Mubarak said.

Israeli officials say the new Holot facility is meant to make life easier for the illegal migrants until they can return to their home countries. Last year Israel deported some 4000 asylum seekers back to south Sudan after the country received independence. The refugees say it is dangerous for them to return and most want to stay permanently in Israel. Israel has granted refugee status to fewer than 200 people since 1948.

“If these people were only seeking to work, they could have gotten to Be'er Sheva and disappeared,” Knesset member Dov Khenin of Hadash told The Media Line. “Instead, they decided to come here united to Jerusalem to deliver a different message, which is that they are asylum seekers and they deserve rights.”

The group of 150 asylum seekers left Holot for Jerusalem on Sunday after a storm brought snow and sub-zero temperatures across much of the country. Some had been on a hunger strike for three days prior to the march. They walked 100 miles wearing only light jackets, jeans and tennis shoes. Some wore sandals, and many suffered from blisters on their feet. At least one was hospitalized for cold-related symptoms.

Israel has been struggling to handle 50,000 asylum seekers who have arrived in the country since 2006, most of whom are from Eritrea and Sudan. Fleeing internal crises, many of the migrants crossed into Israel illegally via the Egyptian border. According to the UN, Israel is not allowed to deport the migrants.

In response to the influx, the Israeli government completed a permanent wall along its southern border with Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in 2013 at a cost of over $270 million. After the wall was built, the number of immigrants entering Israel plummeted from almost 10,000 in the first six months of 2012 to fewer than 50 in the second half.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has taken a hard line with the asylum seekers. “The law is the law, and it also applies to illegal infiltrators seeking work,” he said. “The infiltrators who were brought to the special detention center can live in it or can return to their countries.”

Asylum seekers, activists and politicians deride the Holot facility as nothing more than a prison where “freedom” is limited.

“Below the surface the harsh treatment is meant to broadcast a message to deter others from coming, which is unfortunate for Israel which is a state of refugees itself,” Oren Yiftachel, a professor of geography and urban studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Be'er Sheva told The Media Line. “Being a Jewish nation we should welcome all the refugees not as citizens but as a haven until they can be in a safe place to live.”

In its early days Israel saw a massive influx of Jewish refugees from all over Europe into the small Jewish state both before and after its founding. Michael Kaminer, an Israeli citizen who came out to support the asylum seekers, said that Israel should be more sympathetic to the plight of the African asylum seekers.

“We are a nation of refugees. A few of my family members died in the Holocaust, so my family would tell me what it was like to be a refugee. These people ran from murder. Us as Jews should understand this tragedy because of our past.”

Mubarak, looking tired and weak from the protest and the long walk from the Negev, said that he cannot go back to Sudan given the current situation. He said he would like to stay in Israel for now because it is safe.

“Walking for eight hours a day is not easy, to live in a desert is not easy, to live in a prison for two years is not easy, and to not have freedom is not easy.”

A ‘walk’ to remember

With African drumming and a chorus of shofars, more than 2,000 people in purple T-shirts reading “I walk to tip the scales” gathered in Pan Pacific Park on April 14 to call attention to global injustice.

Under overcast skies, the seventh annual Walk to End Genocide raised more than $200,000 and was sponsored by the nonprofit Jewish World Watch (JWW). 

 “I just think it’s a fantastic cause, and it’s the sort of thing that I don’t feel like I’m educated enough about,” said Joe Holt, who took part in the walk for the first time. 

JWW was founded in Southern California in 2004 to fight genocide and mass atrocities. It is a coalition of more than 70 synagogues of all denominations, as well as individuals, schools, churches and other partner organizations. 

Story continues after the jump.

Video by Jared Sichel

Currently, JWW focuses on the ongoing conflict in Sudan, which has claimed the lives of 400,000 in the Darfur region, and on the mass murders and rapes occurring in eastern Congo, where millions of civilians have perished from war-related violence, disease and hunger over the last 15 years.

Prior to the 5k walk, which took place along the streets near the Beverly Boulevard park, a number of people spoke about genocide from personal experience.

Julia Juliama, who was born in Sudan, came to America via Egypt on Sept. 11, 2001, when she was 7 years old. She and her immediate family were able to escape, but she spoke of how many of her relatives weren’t so lucky.

“My grandparents and all of my extended family still lives in the Nuba Mountains,” Juliama told the crowd. “There [are] bombings every day, and my relatives are hiding in caves.”

Helen Freeman, a 92-year-old woman who survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and now works with JWW to raise public awareness about genocide, said she doesn’t want history to repeat itself.

“I don’t want any other teenager [to] go through what I did as a teen in Poland,” Freeman said. “[Youth] will carry on my message to speak up and fight intolerance and hatred, to prevent future holocausts and stop genocide whenever it occurs.”

Funds raised by the event will be used for education, advocacy and on-the-ground relief projects for survivors in Congo and Sudan, according to Janice Kamenir-Reznik, JWW’s president and co-founder with Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis. Since its creation, JWW has raised more than $11 million. 

One of its initiatives is the Solar Cooker Project. The concept behind the project is basic — harness the sun’s energy to provide heat for cooking. The result, though, is deeply impactful. Many women in Darfur and surrounding refugee camps in neighboring Chad leave themselves vulnerable to abduction, rape and murder when they leave their camps to gather firewood. The solar cooker is able to reduce the amount of firewood needed and already has been distributed in four Chadian refugee camps. A 2007 study done on the effectiveness of the cookers in the Iridimi refugee camp in Chad showed that trips outside the camp to gather firewood were reduced by 86 percent.

Framing JWW’s fight against genocide with the biblical commandment to “not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” Kamenir-Reznik believes that the walk keeps the ongoing conflicts in Africa in people’s minds.

“Without activism, a cause gets lost,” Kamenir-Reznik told the Journal. “One of the main objectives of this walk is to ensure that the cause of the Darfur survivors and of the victims in eastern Congo does not get lost in the shuffle of the busy-ness of everybody’s lives.”

Juliama reminded the participants why they came. “We, with our will, intellect and passion, can walk to end genocide step by step,” she  said. “So let’s take the first step.”

Report: Israel secretly repatriated 1,000 Sudanese citizens

Israel secretly repatriated at least 1,000 Sudanese citizens via a third country, an Israeli newspaper reported.

The repatriation was done without the knowledge of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Haaretz reported Tuesday.

Sudan is an enemy country which has vowed to punish any of its citizens for entering Israel.

The U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees prohibits Israel from returning asylum seekers to Sudan since by entering an enemy country they are at risk of death if they are returned.

Asylum seekers can be jailed in Israel for years without trial.

The Population, Immigration and Border Authority, a department of the Interior Ministry, told Haaretz that “the government's policy of not deporting north Sudanese has not changed.”

Israel claims the repatriation was voluntary, according to Haaretz. Israel paid for the plane tickets, according to the newspaper.

Haaretz reported that it knows the name of the third country but is not releasing it in order to protect those repatriated.

Iranian warships dock in Sudan, report says

Two Iranian warships docked in Sudan on Monday, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported, less than a week after Khartoum accused Israel of attacking an arms factory in the Sudanese capital.

Two people were killed after fire broke out late on Tuesday at the Yarmouk arms factory in the south of Khartoum. Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman said four military planes attacked the Yarmouk plant and Israel was behind it.

Asked by Israel's Channel Two News about Sudan's accusations, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said: “There is nothing I can say about this subject.”

IRNA said the helicopter carrier Khark and the destroyer Shahid Naqdi were carrying: “the message of peace and friendship to neighbouring countries and were ensuring security for shipping lanes against marine terrorism and piracy”.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said that the vessels docked in Port Sudan on the Red Sea and the fleet's commanders were scheduled to meet Sudanese navy commanders.

Sudan, with close ties to Iran and Sunni jihadis, has long been seen by Israel as a conduit for weapons smuggled to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, via the Egyptian Sinai desert.

In May, Sudan's government said one person had been killed after a car exploded in the eastern city of Port Sudan. It said that explosion resembled a blast last year it had blamed on an Israeli missile strike.

Israel declined to comment on the May incident or the 2011 blast, which killed two people. It also neither admitted nor denied involvement in a similar incident in eastern Sudan in 2009.

Iran said in June it had plans to build more warships and increase its presence in international waters, particularly to protect its cargo ships around the world.

Pirates in the Gulf of Aden in January hijacked an Iranian ship carrying 30,000 tonnes of petrochemical products to a North African country.

Report: Israel hit Sudan twice in two months

The Israeli army has declined to comment on a report that it had launched two air strikes in Sudan over the past two months.

Israel Radio reported that the IDF spokesperson would not respond to its query regarding a Reuters asserting that Israeli aircraft struck targets in Sudan in September and then again Oct. 23.

The September strike, according to unspecified “foreign intelligence sources” quoted Thursday by Reuters, was conducted by a drone and targeted a weapons convoy south of Khartoum. The strike destroyed 200 tuns of munitions, including Gaza-bound rockets, the report said.

On Tuesday, a “huge explosion” ripped through a weapons factory near the Sudanese capital Khartoum, killing two people, Reuters reported. Sudan, the report added, swiftly accused Israel of sending four military planes to take out the complex.

The speaker of the Sudanese parliament, Ahmad Ibrahim Al-Tahir, declared that the “Israeli attack on the Al-Yarmook arms factory will not deter Sudan from continuing its support to the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas,” according to the Sudan Tribune, an online news site.

Sudan accused Israel of attacking a weapons convoy traveling from Sudan to the Gaza Strip last December and of a similar attack in 2009, as well as targeting a car carrying a high-ranking Hamas official last spring and carrying out other targeted attacks on vehicles.

Sudan threatens to ‘strike back’ at Israel

A Sudanese government minister threatened to strike Israel, and the country called on the United Nations Security Council to condemn Israel, over the bombing of a weapons factory in Khartoum.

Sudan “reserves the right to strike back at Israel,” Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman said Wednesday, hours after the attack on the arms factory which left two dead.

Osman told reporters that the four military planes that attacked the plant belonged to Israel, and were seen entering the country's airspace from the east.

He said that the factory made “traditional weapons.”

Sudan on Wednesday asked the Security Council to condemn Israel.

“We reject such aggression and expect your esteemed council to condemn this attack because it is a blatant violation of the concept of peace and security,” Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, the Sudanese envoy to the U.N. reportedly said. .

Sudan accused Israel of attacking a weapons convoy traveling from Sudan to the Gaza Strip last December and of a similar attack in 2009, as well as targeting a car carrying a high-ranking Hamas official last spring and other targeted attacks on vehicles.

Sudan reportedly is a transit spot for weapons smuggling, particularly to Gaza through Egypt, and a center for al-Qaida terrorists.

Israeli officials on Wednesday and Thursday would neither confirm nor deny involvement in the attack.

Israeli prosecutor: Yishai’s plan to deport migrants not approved

Israel's state prosecutor, saying the government has not approved a plan to arrest Sudanese asylum seekers, rejected a petition by Israeli human rights organizations to prevent its implementation.

“So far, no order has been issued to detain the infiltrators from Sudan,” the State Prosecutor's Office said Thursday in replying to the petition regarding the plan by Interior Minister Eli Yishai. “If such an order is issued in the future, it will be officially released by the (Immigration and Population) Authority 30 days before it takes effect.”

Six human rights groups had filed a petition in Jerusalem District Court against the plan announced Aug. 28 by Yishai that all Sudanese asylum seekers would be arrested and detained if they did not leave Israel by until Oct. 15. This month, the court issued an injunction against the plan until a hearing scheduled for the end of October.

Anti-American fury sweeps Middle East over film

Fury about a film that insults the Prophet Mohammad tore across the Middle East after weekly prayers on Friday with protesters attacking U.S. embassies and burning American flags as the Pentagon rushed to bolster security at its missions.

The obscure California-made film triggered an attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya's city of Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans on Tuesday, the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the United States.

In Tunis, at least three people were killed and more than two dozen wounded, state television said after police gunfire near the U.S. embassy in the city that was the cradle of last year's Arab Spring uprisings for democracy. At least one person died in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, a doctor said, after some of thousands of protesters had leaped into the U.S. embassy.

As U.S. military drones faced Islamist anti-aircraft fire over Benghazi, about 50 marines landed in Yemen a day after the U.S. embassy there was stormed. For a second day in the capital Sanaa, police battled hundreds of young men around the mission.

In Khartoum, wider anger at Western attitudes to Islam also saw the German embassy overrun, with police doing little to stop demonstrators who raised a black Islamist flag. Violence at the U.S. embassy followed protests against both Washington and the Sudanese government, which is broadly at odds with the West.

The wave of indignation and rage over the film, which portrays Mohammad as a womanizer and a fool, coincided with Pope Benedict's arrival in Lebanon for a three-day visit.

The protests present U.S. President Barack Obama with a new foreign policy crisis less than two months before seeking re-election and tests Washington's relations with democratic governments it helped to power across the Arab world.

He was at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington to greet a flight bringing home remains of the four dead from Benghazi.

It also emerged that Libya had closed its airspace over the second city's airport for a time because of heavy anti-aircraft fire by Islamists aiming at U.S. reconnaissance drones flying over the city; Obama vowed to bring the ambassador's killers to justice.

The closure of the airport prompted speculation that the United States was deploying special forces in preparation for an attack against the militants who were involved in the attack.

A Libyan official said the spy planes flew over the embassy compound and the city, taking photos and inspecting locations of radical militant groups who are believed to have planned and staged the attack on the U.S. consulate.

There were protests in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.


The Pentagon said it had sent a “fast” platoon of Marines to Yemen to bolster U.S. embassy security after clashes in Sanaa.

U.S. embassies were the main target of anger and protest but most embassy staff were not at work because Friday is the Muslim weekend across the Arab World.

The frenzy erupted after traditional Muslim Friday prayers. Fury over the film has been stoked by Internet video footage, social networks, preachers and word-of-mouth.

Protesters clashed with police near the U.S. embassy in Cairo. Two Islamist preachers in Egypt told worshippers that those who made the movie deserved to die under Islamic law but they urged protesters not to take their anger out on diplomats.

In the restive Sinai peninsula, militants opened fire on an international observer base near El Gorah, close to the borders of Israel and the Gaza Strip, and burned tires blocking a road to the camp, a witness and a security source reported. The source said two members of the force were wounded.

The Sudanese who broke into the German embassy in Khartoum and hoisted an Islamic flag, while one person was killed in protests in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

Police in the Sudanese capital had fired tear gas to try to disperse 5,000 protesters who had ringed the German embassy and nearby British mission. A Reuters witness said police stood by as a crowd forced its way into Germany's mission.

Demonstrators hoisted a black Islamic flag saying in white letters “there is no God but God and Mohammed is his Prophet”. They smashed windows, cameras and furniture in the building and then started a fire.

Staff at Germany's embassy were safe “for the moment”, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in Berlin. He also told Khartoum's envoy to Berlin that Sudan must protect diplomatic missions on its soil.

Sudan's Foreign Ministry had criticized Germany for allowing a protest last month by right-wing activists carrying caricatures of the Prophet and for Chancellor Angela Merkel giving an award in 2010 to a Danish cartoonist who depicted the Prophet in 2005 triggering protests across the Islamic world.

Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa, Samia Nakhoul in Beirut, Ulf Laessing and Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum, Gareth Jones in Berlin, Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Benghazi, Marie-Louise Gumuchian in Libya, Sami Aboudi in Dubai, Raissa Kasolowsky in Abu Dhabi, Aref Mohammed in Basra, Iraq, Siva Sithraputhran in Kuala Lumpur, Anis Ahmed in Bangladesh, Regan Doherty in Doha, Roberto Landucci in Italy and Mirwais Harooni in Kabul; Writing by Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Peter Millership and Alastair Macdonald

Israel’s refugee crisis: How about a Jewish response?

What shall be done about the large number of non-citizens who dwell in Israel?  This question is no longer merely vexing; it is urgent, inflammatory, sometimes violent, often vulgar.

The ger has a long and detailed history in Jewish texts and thought.  Its conventional translation is “stranger” but you don’t have to search hard to find alternatives: sojourner, foreigner, alien. 

Who are today’s aliens? There are some 14,000 migrant workers who entered the country legally but whose visas have expired or otherwise become void.  There are a number of Palestinians and Jordanians who work in Israel, some illegally.  There are more from other population groups.  And there’s the heart of the current matter, nearly 60,000 irregular immigrants, defined by the Ministry of the Interior as “infiltrators.”  They have arrived in Israel from Eritrea (60%), Sudan (25%), the balance from the Democratic Republic of Congo and other African countries; they come via Sinai, where many experience brutality from Bedouin gangs who guide them to the Israeli border.  Once in Israel, if identified as Sudanese or Eritrean, they are detained for a few weeks and then given a document that is, in effect, a deferred deportation order that must be periodically renewed and that explicitly states that it is not a work permit, plus a one-way bus ticket to Tel Aviv, where they are dropped at a park near the Central Bus Station.  And it is typically in that same neighborhood that they find shelter, work, and some social and medical services provided by volunteers.

These days, they also find rampant hostility from others in the neighborhood, hostility that has lately been marked by violence and by unambiguously racist slogans, hostility that has been encouraged by a number of Israeli politicians, most notably Eli Yishai, Minister of the Interior.  It is Yishai’s ministry that has formal responsibility for handling immigration issues, and the currently operative policy includes a law that was passed last January, holding that a camp shall be built near Saharonim, in the Negev, for these “illegals” (including their children), with buildings to house 13,600 of them and tents for the others.  The law provides that they may be detained there for three years or more.

The plan bumps head-on into two bodies of law.  First, there is the clear and repeated Biblical statement: “You shall not oppress a stranger, because you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt [Exodus 23:9]”  More proactively, in Deuteronomy [10:19]: “You are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.”  And still more: “There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you [Exodus 12:49]”.  It is difficult, to say the least, to square current Israeli policy with these precepts.

Still, the practical utility of such precepts is arguable.  Less arguable are the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, adopted in 1951 with Israel’s intense involvement and enthusiastic endorsement.  (Back then, the urgent problem was Europe’s displaced persons.) 

Who is a refugee?  The Convention, amended in a 1967 Protocol, defines the word: “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” 

No one reasonably argues that according to that language, the 60,000 irregular immigrants in Israel are not refugees.  But: Since 1948, Israel has awarded refugee status to exactly 166 people.  In recent years, Israel has categorically denied Eritreans and Sudanese access to refugee status determination, which leaves them in a legal limbo. And therein lies the outrage as also the plain violation of international law. 

The Convention also forbids the arbitrary detention of illegal immigrants – i.e., in this context, people who have entered Israel via Egypt.  Hence the plans for a massive detention center are also a violation of Israel’s legal obligations.

The Forward reports (June 17) growing recognition of these issues by Israel’s leadership.  Whereas Prime Minister Netanyahu said on May 29, in the immediate aftermath of the anti-immigrant rioting, “My policy on the matter of the illegal foreign workers is clear: First, stop their entry through the fence, while at the same time, expel all infiltrators from Israel,” by June 4 he admitted that Israel cannot consider deporting the vast majority of African immigrants, due to the poor political or humanitarian situation in their countries.  “It’s clear that we cannot return Sudanese and Eritreans to their countries,” Netanyahu said.

Presumably, that means that Israel now intends to finish the fence under construction along the Sinai border and to proceed with the development of the detention center near Saharonim. 

The truth is that any alternative policy is enormously complicated.  Making asylum a reality and enabling refugees to live in dignity raises endless problems.  But here’s another truth: We who were slaves – strangers, aliens – unto Pharaoh in Egypt, we who therefore know the heart of the stranger – ought we not insist that plausible claims for asylum be processed?  Or: If we expect others to acknowledge that Israel is a Jewish state, is it wrong to expect that it will behave as one?

Holocaust scholars urge Obama to sanction countries hosting Bashir

A group of 70 Holocaust scholars have sent a letter urging the Obama administration support a congressional amendment that would halt U.S. foreign assistance to countries that host visits for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

The letter, sent June 14 and addressed to Atrocities Prevention Board chief Samantha Power, highlights the recent amendment sponsored by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) adopted in the House Appropriations Committee that would suspend non-humanitarian assistance to those particular countries.

In the letter, which was sponsored by the Wyman Institute, the signatories endorsed sanctions provisions in the Wolf amendment, saying such sanctions “encourage America’s allies to step up their commitments to fight against perpetrators of genocide.”

Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, noted in a press release that “halting aid to those who host Bashir would be the first concrete step the U.S. has taken to isolate the Butcher of Darfur and pave the way for his arrest. If the Obama administration is serious about punishing perpetrators of genocide, it should support the Wolf Amendment.”

Signatories of the letter included Rabbi Dr. Irving ‘Yitz’ Greenberg, former chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; author Dr. Daniel Goldhagen; Prof. Rev. John Pawlikowski, who chairs the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s Subcommittee on Church Relations; and Prof. Deborah Dwork of Clark University, founder of the first graduate program in Holocaust and genocide studies in the United States.

South Sudan officials to help coordinate deportation

Officials from South Sudan are set to arrive in Israel to help coordinate the deportation of up to 1,500 of its citizens.

At least 300 South Sudanese migrants reportedly have signed voluntary departure forms indicating their willingness to be repatriated to their home country, according to Israeli media reports.

More than 100 illegal migrants from South Sudan have been rounded up in immigration control sweeps this week.

Some 200 South Sudanese migrants are scheduled to fly out of Israel on Sunday, as well as another planeload in July after the families’ children have finished school.

Editorial Cartoon: ‘Brothers’ in the fight against terrorism

Israel rounds up African migrants for deportation

Israel said on Monday it had started rounding up African migrants in the first stage of a controversial “emergency plan” to intern and deport thousands deemed a threat to the Jewish character of the state.

Israel Radio reported that dozens of Africans, mainly from South Sudan, had already been detained in the Red Sea resort of Eilat, including mothers and children.

“This is only a small group of the infiltrators,” Interior Minister Eli Yishai said. “I’m not acting out of hatred of strangers but love of my people and to rescue the homeland.”

The goal is to repatriate all the estimated 60,000 African migrants, whose growing numbers are seen by many Israelis as a law and order issue and even a threat to the long-term viability of the Jewish state.

Illegal migration, and the pool of cheap labor it provides, is a common headache for developed economies. Israel is grappling with its own special ghosts as it tackles the problem.

For some in Israel, built by immigrants and refugees, internment and deportation are bad solutions that may damage the international image of the country needlessly.

They say rounding up members of a different racial group and holding them in camps for deportation may invite allusions to the Nazi Holocaust, however unfair such comparisons may be, and betrays Jewish values.


About 500 Sudanese men held an orderly protest in Tel Aviv on Sunday against expulsion, the solution chosen by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after two months of heated debate over how to handle the flow of migrants.

“We are refugees, not criminals,” the Sudanese chanted, in a retort to allegations that Africans prey on Israeli citizens, following high-profile rape allegations.

Many Sudanese, including hundreds who escaped from conflict and humanitarian disaster in Darfur, have been in Israel for several years, living in legal limbo without formal refugee status, but peaceably, they say.

Now they are caught up in a wave of hostility towards blacks in general, focused on a poor area of south Tel Aviv where they congregate.

“We’re being called a cancer and an AIDS virus on the Israeli people, by politicians in the Knesset,” said protest organizer Jacob Berri. He accused government right-wingers of racist incitement and inflammatory language.

The number of migrants crossing into Israel over the Sinai desert border has accelerated since 2006. It ballooned last year when revolution distracted Egypt’s attention from policing Bedouin people-smugglers operating in the Sinai peninsula.

Israel has now built a high fence along the frontier.

“My policy with regard to the illegal infiltrators seeking work is clear,” Netanyahu said in a May 29 speech. “First of all, to stop their entry with the fence and at the same time to deport the infiltrators who are in Israel.”

He warns of Africans “flooding” and “swamping” Israel, threatening “the character of the country”. Emergency measures to reverse the influx will include “detention facilities with thousands of units”, Netanyahu said last week.

Berri said the South Sudanese number about 700. They know when they are not wanted and will leave, he said. But their refugee status must first be assured by the United Nations, and third-country resettlement programs established.


Israeli human rights and activist groups back the Africans. But right-wing and religious parties say that if they are not stopped today’s 60,000 will become 600,000 in a few years, in a population of 7.8 million.

Poor south Tel Aviv residents say affluent north Tel Aviv Jews can afford to be liberal, because the Africans are not in their back yard. An opinion poll last week showed 52 percent of Israelis agree that the Africans are “a cancer”.

“They’ve come here to rape and steal,” one Israeli woman shouted at a small but ugly anti-migrant demonstration earlier this month in south Tel Aviv. “We should burn them out, put poison in their food,” said an elderly man.

Netanyahu urges restraint. “We are a moral people and we will act accordingly. We denounce violence; we denounce invective. We respect human rights,” he said, but added: “Israel cannot accept “infiltrators from an entire continent”.

The term “infiltrators” is also used by authorities to describe armed Palestinian militants.

Voluntary deportees will get financial assistance.

“Whoever comes forward will get his grant … from the moment you come to immigration authorities and say you will pack up, from that moment you will be given an opportunity to pack up, and the grant of 1,000 euros,” Yishai said.

The first planeload is expected to leave Israel next week.

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell, Dan Williams and Crispian Balmer; editing by Andrew Roche

Jerusalem court clears way for S. Sudanese migrants’ deportation

A Jerusalem court ruled that Israel could deport South Sudanese migrants who entered the country illegally.

Thursday’s decision in Jerusalem District Court was in response to an appeal by NGOs representing African migrants. The appeal was filed after Israel’s Interior Minister Eli Yishai issued a decision to return the migrants.

Israel recognized South Sudan a day after it officially announced its independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, and initiated formal ties three weeks later.

The decision paves the way for the deportation of about 1,500 South Sudanese who entered Israel illegally. Yishai said that he hoped the decision would be a precedent to allow the deportation of African nationals from other countries.

“This is not a war against infiltrators,” Yishai said, according to the Jerusalem Post. “This is a war for the preservation of the Zionist and Jewish dream in the land of Israel.”

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said last month that South Sudanese could be repatriated to their country now that it has achieved independence and is deemed safe by the foreign ministry. Each asylum application must be considered individually, he added.

The Jerusalem court said that the deportations could commence since the case had not proven that those South Sudanese to be deported would face “risk to life or exposure to serious damage.”

It is not known when the South Sudanese migrants will be deported.

Flame computer bug may have been released by Israel, minister says

A computer virus attacking computers in Iran and the West Bank may have been created with Israeli involvement, a government minister hinted.

Israeli vice prime minister Moshe Ya’alon said in an interview Tuesday on Israel Radio that “Anyone who sees the Iranian threat as a significant threat would be likely to take various steps, including these, to harm it.”

“Israel was blessed as being a country rich with high-tech, these tools that we take pride in open up all kinds of opportunities for us,” Ya’alon also said.

The discovery of the Flame virus was announced Monday by the Kaspersky Lab in Russia. It was discovered in high concentrations in Iranian computers and also in the West Bank, Syria and Sudan.

The virus was created to collect data, and may have lain dormant for several years and is controlled by a remote computer, which can turn it on and off at will. It is being called “the most sophisticated virus of all times,”

It reportedly shares some characteristics with the Stuxnet virus, which damaged Iranian nuclear centrifuges before it was discovered in 2010.

Experts believe that it took a sophisticated programming team and state resources to create the program.

Car blast in E. Sudan, Khartoum points to Israel

One person was killed when a car exploded in the eastern Sudanese city of Port Sudan on Tuesday in what the government said resembled a blast last year that it blamed on an Israeli missile strike.

An Israeli government spokesman declined to comment on the explosion in Sudan’s east, which analysts say is used as an arms smuggling route to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip via neighboring Egypt.

Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told Reuters: “I’m not going to respond to generic allegations.”

A local journalist in the Red Sea port said he saw two small but deep holes near a gutted car and another hole beneath it. Photographs from the scene showed blood splashed on the road.

Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti, the highest level official yet to comment on the blast, stopped short of directly blaming Israel, but said the explosion looked similar to an April, 2011 attack Khartoum blamed on an Israeli missile strike.

“The style of the car explosion was similar to Israel’s attack on Red Sea state (in 2011),” he told the pro-government al-Shorooq television station, according to its website. A foreign ministry spokesman confirmed the remarks.

Israel, which Sudan considers an enemy state, declined to comment on the 2011 blast that killed two people, and neither admitted nor denied a similar attack in eastern Sudan in 2009.

A local security source in Port Sudan said the car’s driver was a prominent member of the Ababda tribe known for smuggling weapons and goods. Port Sudan is the country’s main port.

State news agency SUNA said a team of experts would be sent to investigate the explosion, and identified the dead driver as trader Nasser Awadallah Ahmed Said, 65.

Spokesmen for Sudan’s police and armed forces were not immediately available for comment.

Sudan denies allowing illegal weapon shipments across its territory, but analysts say smugglers bring in weapons through the country’s east, then route them through Egypt’s Sinai desert and into the Gaza Strip.

Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Alexander Dziadosz and El-Tayeb Siddig in Khartoum and by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Editing by Michael Roddy

South Sudan, world’s youngest nation, develops unlikely friendship with Israel

This city in the world’s newest country is not your typical Arabic-speaking capital.

For one thing, most of the city’s inhabitants are Christian. For another, the Israeli flag is ubiquitous here.

Miniature Israeli flags hang from car windshields and flutter at roadside stalls, and at the Juba souk in the city’s downtown, you can buy lapel pins with the Israeli flag alongside its black, red and green South Sudanese counterpart.

“I love Israel,” said Joseph Lago, who sells pens, chewing gum and phone cards at a small wooden stall decorated with Israeli and South Sudanese flags. “They are people of God.”

Many South Sudanese are not just pro-Israel but proudly and openly so. There’s a Juba neighborhood called Jerusalem. A hotel near the airport is called the Shalom.

Perhaps most notable, South Sudan’s fondness for Israel extends to the diplomatic arena, where the two countries have been building strategic ties in a relationship that long preceded the founding of South Sudan last July.

“They see in us kind of a role model in how a small nation surrounded by enemies can survive and prosper, and they would like to imitate that,” Haim Koren, the incoming Israeli ambassador to South Sudan, told JTA.

South Sudan was created last year when its residents voted to secede from Sudan, a country with a Muslim majority and without diplomatic ties to Israel. The government in Khartoum accepted the secession, but in recent weeks a long-simmering dispute over oil revenues and borders has brought the two Sudans to the brink of all-out war.

With Sudan having often served as a safe haven for enemies of Israel and the West, the South Sudanese and Israel have had a common adversary.

In the mid-1990s, Osama bin Laden found shelter in Sudan. In 1995, Sudanese intelligence agents participated in an attempt to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, an ally of Israel and the West. Khartoum signed a military cooperation agreement with Iran in 2008, and in 2009, Israeli warplanes reportedly bombed a 23-truck weapons convoy in Sudan bound for the Gaza Strip.

The first contact between militants from southern Sudan and the Israeli government was in 1967, when a commander with the Anyana Sudanese rebel movement wrote to then-Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol. The officer explained that his militants were fighting on Sudan’s southern flank, and that with some help, the Anyana could keep Israel’s enemies bogged down and distracted.

According to James Mulla, the director of Voices of Sudan, a coalition of U.S.-based Sudanese-interest organizations, Israel’s support proved pivotal to the Anyana’s success during the first Sudanese civil war, which ended in 1972.

“Israel was the only country that helped the rebels in South Sudan,” Mulla told JTA. “They provided advisers to the Anyana, which is one reason why the government of Sudan wanted to sign a peace agreement. They wanted to finish the Anyana movement just shortly before they got training and advice.”

Over the years, there have been reports of the Israelis continuing to aid South Sudanese rebels during Sudan’s second civil war, which lasted from 1983 to 2005 and resulted in an estimated 1.5 million to 2.5 million deaths.

Angelos Agok, a U.S.-based activist and a 13-year veteran in the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, recalls that the SPLM’s ties to Israel were kept discrete.

“It was an intricate case, where South Sudan was still part of Sudan, which is an Arab country,” Agok said. “We didn’t want to offend them, and we had to be very careful diplomatically.”

Agok said SPLA leaders traveled to Israel for training. The Israeli government declined to comment on the subject.

Koren says the relationship with South Sudan is consistent with Israel’s strategic interests in East Africa, where state failure and political extremism have provided terrorist groups with potential bases of operation.

“In the long run, we’re expecting that friendly countries like South Sudan could be an ally like other states that are built in a non-extreme way,” he said.

Agriculture is another reason for the alliance. South Sudan’s economic future likely depends on large-scale farming. There was little commercial development in the region during the war years, and the country still imports much of its food from Uganda, despite sitting on some of Africa’s richest potential farmland.

It’s an area in which Israel has deep expertise, and it shares that expertise in ongoing cooperative projects with numerous developing countries.

“We have the initiative and we have the abilities to contribute and to help,” Koren said of South Sudan’s agricultural potential.

Israel already has a small presence in the country in the form of IsraAid, an Israeli NGO coalition. In March, an IsraAid delegation helped South Sudan set up its Ministry of Social Development, which will provide social work-related services for a population traumatized by decades of war.

“Whenever you say you’re from Israel, they’ll open you the door,” said Ophelie Namiech, the head of the Israeli delegation. “When we say we’re Israeli, the trust has already been built.”

Eliseo Neuman, who is director of the American Jewish Committee’s Africa Institute and traveled to Juba with the SPLM when South Sudan was still under Khartoum’s control, says the close ties between Israel and South Sudan could complicate both countries’ relationships with the Arab world.

“The north was blamed by the Arab League generally for fumbling the secession, and some allege that now they have the Zionists on their southern frontier—meaning the South Sudanese,” Neuman said. “Any very overt strengthening of the relationship might be an irritant.”

The relationship faces another potential pitfall: the future of the estimated 3,000 South Sudanese living in Israel who fled to Israel via Egypt during the long civil war.

Israel has struggled with how to handle the migrants and differentiating between those who came seeking refuge from violence and those who came in search of economic opportunity.

Israel “takes its obligations as a signatory to the Refugee Convention very seriously, given the history of the Jewish people and the history of many people who ended up coming to Israel,” said Mark Hetfield, an official at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society who in two weeks will become its interim president and CEO. “But at the same time, they need to send a signal to people coming for economic reasons that they can’t sneak into the country under the guise of being asylum seekers.”

In February, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced plans to begin deporting South Sudanese who would not accept government financial incentives to leave the country voluntarily.

Hetfield, who is now senior vice president at HIAS for policy and programs, helped oversee a program in Israel that taught job skills to South Sudanese who planned on returning home, but the program was suspended when the threat of deportation loomed.

Hetfield says the group would like the Israeli government to grant South Sudanese a “temporary protected status” that would prevent them from being deported to their unstable homeland.

Mulla does not think that the Israeli refugee issue will have an impact on the broader strategic alliance between South Sudan and Israel. However, he said he has raised the issue of the possible deportations with the South Sudanese ambassador in Washington, and hopes that something can be done to halt the process.

“If Israel decides to deport them, of course it’s going to be devastating,” Mulla said.

Advocates for the Africans are appealing to Israel’s Supreme Court in an attempt to stall or halt the deportations.