Years from now, historians may look upon the final weeks of 2013 as the beginning of Israel’s black civil rights movement.
On Sunday, December 15, hundreds of non-Jewish African asylum-seekers walked out of a detention center where they had been transferred only days before, and refused to return from their twice-daily furloughs.
A few days earlier, on December 10, the Knesset passed an amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law, which authorized the detention without trial of approximately 55,000 Africans currently living in Israel. To circumvent a High Court ruling prohibiting the detention of people whose only crime was crossing the country’s borders and seeking asylum, the government announced it would give furloughs to the African detainees. In the government’s view, this move transformed their circumstances into something other than imprisonment.
The protesting African asylum seekers walked through the desert, through the biting cold of a wicked winter storm, and until they reached Jerusalem, to protest their indefinite incarceration without trial.
By Tuesday, December 17, the asylum-seekers had reached government buildings in the city where they publicly pleaded their case. While the police let them protest, once demonstrations came to a close, they violently rounded up the African activists and shipped them back to a neighboring jail even worse than the first. Two days later, a similar attempt to march on Jerusalem was snuffed out, stillborn just hours out of the gate.
Word got out about the asylum-seekers who had found the strength to demand their freedom, and their courage caught on. On the night of Saturday, December 21, thousands of African asylum-seekers ran through the streets of Tel Aviv for hours, chanting “Freedom!” and “No More Prisons!” The event seemed to create a sense of solidarity and empowerment for these people targeted by Israeli oppression.
Already, this week, there has been major pushback against these activities from the government, which is determined to incarcerate and expel all African asylum-seekers. On Sunday, December 23, the government announced that many of these asylum-seekers would soon receive notices ordering them to leave Tel Aviv and move to the desert detention center. Should they fail to comply with these orders within one month, they will be hunted down and rounded up.
Solidarity activists on the ground report that Israeli forces are already scooping asylum-seekers up off the streets and sending them to the desert. On Tuesday, December 24, the first group of Sudanese refugees, who had peacefully protested in Jerusalem and are now back behind bars, were indict‐ ed by an Israeli court in absentia. In a chilling sign of government- sanctioned dehumanization, the indictment against the accused listed them by number rather than name.
While these acts of civil disobedience may lead to a larger movement for civil rights among non-Jewish African asylum-seekers in Israel, the road ahead is sure to be long and hard.