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The purge: Israel gives African migrants two options – leave or jail

in Africa & the Diaspora/World Affairs by

Israeli right-wing dominant government works to remove African refugees.

Government officials prepare to expel some 40,000 African migrants in a deportation agenda profiling Sub-Saharan migrants. According to the Israeli government, Africans have 90 days to leave voluntarily or face jail time.

Several aspects of the plan show that Africans will be transported to Rwanda or Uganda if they rely on Israel to assist in their departure.

Photo credit: Matthew Spiteri

Others voice concerns with this schema, as some say Africans who are returned to home countries are targeted and killed. In other cases, there are claims that deportees are stripped of their documents before leaving and offered no protections.

Confiscating documentation raises more issues, in light of recent news of a slave trade selling Sub-Saharan Africans who attempt to travel through Libya to migrate to Europe.

For Africans leaving Israel, there are reports that Africans who leave are funneled trough the slave system too.

Another issue with the sites of relocation are that most migrants do not originate from the area that Israel plans to drop them.

A bulk facing deportation are Eritreans and Sudanese refugees seeking asylum from countries experiencing years of tumultuous leadership and civil war.

Using dangerous methods to make it into Israel, African refugees rely on smugglers or try to take the journey themselves. Once they get to the border, they incur other dangers. At times, Israel guards shoot unarmed asylum seekers.

However, Israeli officials claim that those who entered seek economic opportunity rather than flee due to persecution or conflict.

Infiltration System

In Israel, African migrants are labeled the pejorative term “infiltrators.” According to officials, Africans drain resources and take jobs, as well as disturb the Jewish cultural identity.

Previous measures show how Israel implement progressively aggressive measures making it uncomfortable for Africans.

Last July, Israel introduced a tax on African residents where money taken from their salary could only be accessed if they left the country.

According to Gideon Kinda, a professor at Tel Aviv University who teaches in the department of labor studies, in an interview by Haaretz, the terminology describing migrants shifted from “refugee” or “asylum seeker” to “infiltrator”. Kinda says that the term has historical roots.

He says, “It’s part of our collective memory, going back to the early period of the state, to Ma’aleh Akrabim [a 1954 attack on a bus in the Negev in which 11 Israelis were shot dead by cross-border marauders] and to Palestinians who tried to return to their land.

Israel is part of a collective of nations attempting to stop African migration. More so, the European Union has budgeted programs to provide employment opportunities in Africa that provide incentive in not migrate.

Israel’s measures are some of the more extreme.Since mid-2000s, African refugees came to Israel through Egypt’s border. In 2012, Israeli residents began protesting African migration. Shortly thereafter, Israel officials proposed and constructed a steel wall, which reduced immigration to zero in 2017.

At a press conference, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said:

    “The infiltrators have a simple choice, cooperate with us and leave voluntarily, respectably, humanely, and legally, or we haver to use the many other tools at our disposal, which are also according to the law.”

Preserving Jewishness

Maintaining Jewish religious and cultural identity, as well as restoring a decimated Jewish population became paramount after World War II. During the global conflict, millions were killed in Nazi concentration camps.

Orthodox Jewish men walk in Jerusalem. Photo credit: Arno Smit

Once the war ended, the British earmarked a portion of Palestine territory for Jews to establish a national home. According to Jewish history, the area was their ancestral home, but were forced to leave under persecution. However, in 1948, a mostly Arab population lived there.

Over time, Israel became a haven and significant heritage site for Jews. It is a place for Jewish diaspora and to preserve jewish culture. As they settled and became the majority, millions of Palestinians fled or were dispelled by growing Israeli populations.

While the laws bolster the protection of Jewish culture, there is a glaring issue of gross racial disparities.

Even, the historical Ethiopian Jews who live in Israel face hostilities. Complaints of police brutality and a host of inequalities such as poverty, homeless and disproportionately high incarceration rates plague the community that shares the same religion.  

According to Black Agenda Report, Africans make up 90 percent of Israel’s prison population.

Nonetheless, Africans have became a part of the Israel-Palestine society. Mostly concentrated in South Tel Aviv, the population of migrants make a living earning low wages in the service sector.

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