Header Photo Credit

*The stunning photo in the header of my blog is all thanks to Ron Shoshani. Visit his facebook page for more of his amazing photographs of Tel Aviv!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Be Good this Holiday Season and Support "Advocates for Asylum"

*sponsored post*

I figure that the Israeli Holiday Season is a great time to clear my conscience and use my blog to improve my standing in the eyes of the big guy in the sky. I know I still got time since everyone here in Israel is still using the salutation "Hag Sameach" (חג שמח) meaning "Happy Holiday", and the valediction "G'mar Chatimah Tova" (גמר חתימה טובה) literally meaning "good final inscribing", but idiomatically meaning "May you be inscribed in the book of life forever".  These sayings are directly related to the first three holidays of the holdiay season: Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

According to learnhebrew.org,

"The days of repentance are divided into two parts: The first the inscribing begins on Rosh Hashana and finishes Yom Kippur when the final "sealing" (chatima) of our fate takes place. Many sages give us a second chance - an extra 12 days until a really final sealing on Hoshana Rabba (the 7th day of Sukkot)."

All right! I guess I can wipe the sweat of my brow since there are still a few more days left of Sukkot.  I can still use these extra 12 days to do as much good as possible and earn me some "mensch points".  So here goes. Let's cross our fingers that I make it into the "good book".

Considering that for the past three years I've lived in areas of Tel Aviv which are highly concentrated with African immigrants, its surprising that I haven't heard of "Advocates for Asylum" (AOA)until recently.
 Advocates of Asylum, or in Hebrew, פעילים למען פליטים (P'ilim L'ma'an P'litim), is an organization that is dedicated to promoting a just Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process in Israel.

According to AOA, the current Israeli policies toward asylum seekers are not simply inadequate, they are also grossly unfair and surprisingly out of line with Jewish  Halacha  (Jewish Law) and the 1951 Geneva Convention for the Protection of Refugees.  The '51 convention was actually initiated by Ben Gurion and other world leaders to prevent the deportation of Holocaust refugees in the wake of World War II.

Photo courtesy of the Sudan Tribune
AOA reports that "...today, hundreds (perhaps thousands) of asylum seekers have been forcibly deported by Israel back to Egypt, where many refugees are killed, raped, abused, and/or deported to their country of origin, including Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)."

These individuals endure extreme hardship in their journey from their homeland to Israel. Egyptian soldiers do not hesitate to open fire at any asylum seeker attempting to cross the border from Egypt to Israel, employing an official "shoot to stop" policy .  When they reach Israel, many are immediately deported back to Egypt or Sudan where they typically disappear.

In April, NY based "Human Rights Watch" quoted Joe Stark in their article on the issue:
"By definition, a refugee is someone who has a well-founded fear of persecution," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "To send that person back to a place where his life or freedom would be threatened is illegal and inhumane."
Photo courtesy of jewcy.com

To be more specific, "Asylum seekers" are defined as any individual appealing to be recognized as a "refugee". Article I of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines a "Refugee" as:

"A person who owning 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 their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country."

Despite the declaration of the Geneva Convention, asylum seekers that attempt and succeed in crossing the Egyptian border into Israel are not recognized as asylum seekers, but are refereed to as "migrant workers" or infiltrators".  This makes it nearly impossible for them to even apply for political asylum from the very get-go.

Photo courtesy of jssnews
The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) refers to the Infiltration Prevention Bill of 1954 when dealing with asylum seekers who cross the border from Egypt to Israel. This bill allows deportations, ignoring the Geneva Convention for the Protection of Refugees from 1951. According to Stephen Lendman, blogger, journalist and political activist, “Israel’s 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law was enacted to criminalize fedayeen freedom fighters, deny Palestinians their right of return, and deport them if they came.”

(Side note: Lendman's May article in the "Palestinian Chronicle" is actually pretty interesting, and very thorough. For anyone that has the time to take a look at his take on the refugee issue in Israel, I recommend a quick read. )

What's more, the government has expressed their intention to amend the current Infiltration Prevention Bill from 1954 to legalize the immediate deportations of asylum seekers.
Photo courtesy of globalvoicesonline.com. Credit: Oren Ziv, Activestills.org

In their effort to raise awareness about the plight of asylum seekers in Israel and promote a fair RSD system in Israel, Advocates for Asylum has begun compiling and circulating refugee testimonials to policy makers, the public and the media.

Below you'll find an animated testimonial of "Gabriel", a Sudanese asylum seeker living in Israel created by AOA.

In the spirit of the Jewish Holiday Season, go check out AOA's website. There are a number of ways you can volunteer or help contribute to the cause.


  1. ‎My friend Ramon commented on a facebook link to this blogpost:

    "criminalize fedayeen freedom fighters", is just, since their proclaimed purpose is to "defeat Zionism",
    any Jew that came to Israel after 1917 (that is most of us) should go somewhere else (where?),
    there is no Israel, free Palestine. It's... hard to see how that settles in with setting up "a secular, democratic,
    nonsectarian state." in Palestine, to me that sounds like declaration of war, so no, they were not welcome
    in 1954 and they are not welcome now.
    Lendman's comments are extremely biased and offending, on the issue of immigration and others..
    So he's discounted.

    But this is besides the point, as to the refugees from sudan, there are currently between 750,000 to 4 million
    refugees in Egypt, and since they get a better treatment here than any other place in the middle east they come
    here, I have a lot of pitty for them, the shit that goes through in Sudan is horrific, and the comparison to
    Jews who saught sanctuary from European countries during the second world war is really adequate in this case.
    but hosting 4 million Sudanese here is not practical, not by a long shot, not even 100,000.
    That being said I accept the fact that they are being treated unfairly and that needs to change, but that's not a
    solution, treating them fairly won't change the underlying situation, and it won't fix it.

    If Lendman cared at all about Sudanese refugees he would use his influence to try and promote a viable solution, such as
    having a worldwide coalition of countries hosting the refugees (Belgium adopted 50 of them a while ago)
    but it seems all he cares about is Israel bashing.

  2. People often say that not deporting refugee wont change the "underlying situation," as if saving a life, through asylum, is not part of the solution for saving lives. The Geneva Convention from 1951 WAS such a "worlwide coalition of countries hosting refugees", and Israel is opting-out of it when deporting refugees - deporting them before coming even close to her maximum capacity for absorbing, and making absolutely no efforts to turn to other countries for resettlement.

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Let me know what you think!