Saturday, October 20, 2012

Yishai and Deri and the Eritrean hunger strikers

This week, hundreds of members of the exile Eritrean community Israel demonstrated outside the government compound in Tel Aviv. Asylum seekers, people who at great personal risk opposed the cruel tyrannical regime in their homeland and were forced into exile and came to us by a tortuous route, they now face a grim reality and very uncertain future.

This grim reality was prepared last year. Very quietly, without any real public debate, Israel's Knesset enacted the bill presented by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, culminating in the law which makes it possible to lock up "infiltrators" without trial for up to three years. No charges, no lawyers, no judges. The signature of an unknown official at the Interior Ministry is sufficient to get men and women and children behind bars for three years. This is now the law of the land in enlightened Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. It was enacted by a large majority some days before our Prime Minister delivered one of his keynote speeches in his excellent English.

The asylum seekers did not know it when the Knesset enacted such a law. How could they, when Israeli media hardly reported it and even among Hebrew speakers it became known only to those who read the paper very carefully and noticed even the minor news items on the bottom of the page. The asylum seekers only found out when the Interior Minister's emissaries took them out of their miserable dwellings and the gates of the Sharonim Prison in the Negev closed behind them and then their captors informed them: "Get used to it, this is going to be your home for the coming three years." And at getting these news the detained Eritrean women began a hunger strike, and the men then joined them.

A hunger strike? In prison? By Eritrean women? Whoever heard of that? Those who get their news from the usual media outlets would search in vain for this piece of news. Only Sharon Livneh of the independent online paper "Megaphone" managed to hear about it and talk to one of the detained Eritreans via a mobile phone smuggled into the prison.

So far, there are still many Eritreans walking free on the streets of Tel Aviv, as are Sudanese and other asylum seekers. The Civil Rights Association went to court and got an injunction stopping the detentions, at least temporarily (but not freeing those who had already been arrested). Anyway, the Saharonim Prison is small and overcrowded and does not have cell space for all the tens of thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese and other black skinned people who are unwanted on the streets of south Tel Aviv. The "Holding Facility" is being built at an accelerated pace, over there in the Negev desert.

Indeed, some unexpected difficulties and obstacles had been placed by the government's own Ministry of Welfare. The officials there object  to detainees being held in tents for the duration of their three years' detention. They demand that rigid structures be erected to house them.  Don’t these officious busy bodies at the Ministry of Welfare understand that it is a vital national mission to remove the black infiltrators from the streets of our cities as soon as possible, and if they have to be put in tents, then so be it?

In short, there is still a lot of Eritreans who still go free and can organize and protest and hold a demonstration in front of the government offices in Tel Aviv, together with the Israeli activists who stand by them such as the indefatigable Yigal Shtayim. "Refugees are not criminals" read the banners which were waved there, and also "Blacks are not criminals", and 'No to imprisonment without trial" and "Yes to freedom, no to jail" and "We asked for asylum - and here is what we got" next to a photo of the high fences surrounding the "Holding Facility" under construction. And there was also a sign bearing a verse from the Bible, still very topical: "I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. A new heart" (Ezekiel 36:26).

Another sign addressed the press directly: "Israeli media, do not hide the truth!" Not that this admonition really helped. Reporters and photographers, focusing on the elections fever, did not show much of an interest in Eritrean protesters. On the other hand, the forensic department of the Israeli National  Police did send its team which proceeded to systematically photograph the   protesters' faces, one by one, to be filed away in the police computers.

But,  after all, it touches the elections campaign – even if editors failed to notice the connection. It appears in the report in Yediot Ahronot of the leadership struggle in the Oriental Ultra-Orthodox Shas Party. The above-mentioned Interior Minister Yishai who led the party in the past twelve years  now has to share power with his predecessor Aryeh Deri, who came back after a prolonged term of imprisonment on corruption charges.

So reports the veteran correspondent Akiva Novick:

"Until Deri's return to the party fold, [[Interior Minister]] Yishai dreamed of an aggressive elections campaign focusing on his war against the African infiltrators. 'We had counted on sweeping many votes on this' a party source told this week. 'we made some checks and found that this issue holds a considerable appeal to our potential voters'. However, the arrival of Aryeh Deri reshuffled the cards. 'Aryeh shudders to even think about this' says a confidant of Deri, who already in his first day embarked on steering the party's elections campaign. 'We are not against anything. As far as Aryeh is concerned, there will not be one word against the Sudanese. Our campaign will concentrate purely on social issues".

Really, it's not fair. For more than a year, Eli Yishai had worked hard at transforming himself into yet another Israeli Le Pen, an Israeli Geert Wilders. What did he not do? Fiery speeches on the existential threat which the Africans pose to the Jewish white (sic!) State of Israel. Speaking on the Knesset floor and making proposals in the cabinet and making sure that his proposals be actually implemented and sending police and inspectors to catch Black infiltrators and coming personally to the airport to make sure  they are all really placed on the aircraft to South Sudan, the men and the women and the children, to the very last. Nor did Yishai hesitate to leave his bureau and go down into the streets and meet personally with racist rabble rousers; talk to them and make speeches  and inspire them to persist in the sacred task of cleansing our country of the black infiltrators.

And exactly when it's money time, when Minister Yishai wants at last to cash in on his long hard work at incitement, suddenly that bastard Deri pops up and spoils it. Really, there is no justice in the world.