Israel’s ramped-up racist attacks on African refugees: “it’s scariest when no one objects”

During a funeral procession, mourners carry the body of Sharif Nasser, who was killed by an Israeli drone strike on 4 March in northern Gaza.

Ashraf Amra APA images

This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:

The Electronic Intifada podcast is available on iTunes! Click here to view the podcast archive, or subscribe via the iTunes interface (search for The Electronic Intifada).

Listen to the entire Electronic Intifada podcast:

Israeli drone kills 2 in Gaza

Rami Almeghari: This week, the Alzaneen family of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza mourned their second family member killed by Israel in less than two months.

Mos’ab Alzaneen, along with Sharif Nasser, two young men in their early twenties, were killed by an Israeli drone inside an inhabited area that is about 2 kilometers away from the Israel-Gaza boundary fence.

Saber Alzaneen is brother of Mos’ab Alzaneen. Saber has been a peace activist for years now, taking part in protests against Israel’s buffer zone in north of the territory.

Saber Alzaneen: Pity him and my parents. Mos’ab had been very helpful to my parents and was always trying to make them smile. Mos’ab’s death is a loss for his neighbors, as he was much loved and helpful to everyone.

RA: An Israeli army statement said that both Sharif and Mos’ab were killed because they were preparing to fire rockets into Israel.

Since 2013, armed Palestinian factions, including smaller, new ones, have fired hundreds of rockets onto nearby Israeli areas, leaving no casualties but some slight material damage. Both Israel and the ruling Hamas party committed to a ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, back in late 2012. Israel holds Hamas responsible for the rocket fire from Gaza.

Ehab Alghosain is a spokesperson for the Hamas-led government in Gaza. Alghosain believes that a response by Gaza-based armed factions to Israeli attacks is just a matter of time.

Ehab Alghosain: They are trying to exert every possible political effort by talking to many sides, including Egyptians and UN officials, to pressure Israel to stop such an Israeli policy. But if these efforts will not bear fruits, I believe that the resistance movements will take a step by making something against the Israelis. For the moment they all prefer to refrain from any action, in order to give a chance for political solutions.

RA: Last week, an Egyptian court outlawed the Hamas party and prohibited any activities of the group on Egyptian soil. This comes on top of several months of tension between the two sides, mainly after Egypt’s military ousted the elected Egyptian president, Mohammad Morsi, last July, and imposed a coup government that has sealed the border with Gaza and has destroyed hundreds of essential tunnels.

Dr. Mosheer Amer is a political analyst in Gaza. Amer doubts Egyptian mediators would act the way they acted during the administration of the ousted president, Mohammad Morsi.

Mosheer Amer: These continued violations of the ceasefire understandings between Israelis and the resistance movements indicate that we are maybe on the verge of a full-fledged confrontation between Israeli forces and Gaza-based resistance groups. This is a very difficult situation for the people of Gaza, who have been under an illegal siege, imposed by the Israeli occupation forces.

RA: According to the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, since last December, Israeli attacks including drone and gunfire have increased, leaving at least eight Palestinians killed and dozens others injured. The attacks come against the backdrop of Israeli threats against the coastal territory, in what Israel says is a response to Palestinian rocket fire into Israel.

End transcript.

African asylum-seekers in Israel

David Sheen: The situation right now is pretty dismal. So, there are about 55,000 African asylum-seekers in the country, and almost hardly any of them have any rights to work in the country. With people not being able to eke out a living, there’s widespread poverty. In addition to that, the government is now rounding people up off the streets and issuing summonses that within X amount of days, they have to show up at this detention center in the desert where they can be jailed there indefinitely.

So, people are abandoning their lives and heading down to these desert detention centers. They’re incredibly depressing. As I’ve described, people who have managed to smuggle out video footage talk about not even getting fruits and vegetables, any heating in the winter, hot water showers sometimes, no basic medical services — the very basics that even murderous criminals in jail are deserving of. And even that, people don’t get access to in this desert detention center.

The government is trying to railroad people in, eventually hope that they become so depressed at their circumstances that they eventually give in and agree to self-deport. So the people in recent months have decided to go on strike and to put on protests. It’s very inspiring, it’s exciting to see people stand up for their rights and demand refugee rights. And they’ve been quite creative and resilient, but it seems like no matter how much they protest, they’re not making any headway at least in terms of convincing the government or the people that they should be seen as humans with human rights.

They haven’t given up the fight, by any stretch of the imagination, and the protests are ongoing. But it’s difficult to imagine that they’d be able to put a halt to it.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: David, you mentioned in your presentation here at UC Berkeley that last year, the Israeli high court issued an order saying that people should be let out of the jails and concentration camps in the desert within three months. What was the reaction of the Israeli attorney general after that, and what happened to the African asylum-seekers?

DS: Well, as listeners to this podcast are probably aware, the Israeli government often does not feel obligated to comply with the orders of the high court, and this was another instance where that occurred. Just days afterwards, the attorney general ordered law enforcement to completely disregard the supreme court decision and to continue arresting Africans. And so that has continued.

Their status, which allows enforcement to arrest them on any basis without having access to trial, even without having to present any evidence or it being even a serious crime, even minor crimes, are enough for them to be rounded up into jails. And so that’s continued. And sure enough, within three months, when the deadline came up for the government to release all these prisoners from jails, the government simply issued a new version of the same law but even worse than the first, where instead of detaining people for three years at a time, it detains them indefinitely.

So, the supreme court — though it’s often seen as some kind of liberal last resort, but it’s completely disempowered, and the government easily runs roughshod over it. The same war on Africans continues unabated.

NBF: David, can you talk about specific policies by specific Israeli politicians and civic leaders which have resulted in incitement, violence and pogroms in the streets of South Tel Aviv?

DS: So, some of the politicians that are the worst — the most vicious racists — no longer have the same status, but other politicians who have been issuing these intensely racist comments, some of them have been promoted to higher levels of government, in fact, to positions of power. Power over the lives of these Africans. Michael Ben Ari, who has incited, he didn’t enter the last Knesset, and you have former Interior Minister Eli Yishai who called them “disease-ridden,” and saying that “Israel belongs to the white man,” and that he’s going to make the Africans’ lives miserable until they leave, making them responsible for AIDS and drugs and rape and murder, everything, you name it, he’s accused them of.

He’s no longer the interior minister. But Miri Regev, who famously called Africans “cancer,” and who later apologized — not to Africans for comparing them to cancer, but she apologized to cancer victims to comparing them to Africans — this woman was then appointed to be head of the interior committee which is the committee that determines the fate of these African asylum-seekers.

So instead of these people being marginal, they’re actually promoted into positions of power. And that’s the scariest part. And then of course you have religious leaders in the highest levels, hundreds of chief rabbis across the country issuing these racist religious edicts forbidding people from renting apartments to Africans, and them instead of being stripped of their positions, they’re rewarded with bigger budgets.

And then you have these rabbis issuing more religious edicts calling any Israeli who aids the Africans or who is in solidarity with them, calling them a rodef, saying that they’re deserving of murder. And anyone who assassinates them is guiltless.

So you have insane levels of incitement against both African asylum-seekers themselves and those few Jewish Israelis and others who would be in solidarity with them.

It’s an incredibly scary place to be an activist and to stand up for equal rights, because the level of hatred is so great that probably the scariest part to me isn’t when some foaming at the mouth racist starts screaming at my face, but then to observe that none of the bystanders who are just standing around and observing this are making any effort to intervene whatsoever. It’s all good. And to me, that’s the scariest part of all, when no one objects.

NBF: Finally, David, you’re here in the US on a speaking tour during Israeli Apartheid Week across US campuses. Can you talk about why it’s important for college students to know about what’s going on in Israeli political circles and Israeli policies, whether it’s toward Palestinians or African migrants, why you’re here now and what the reaction has been to your speaking tour so far?

DS: The reason that I’ve come is because I feel like there are no forces in Israeli society that could possibly put an end to this. No matter how much I report — I’ve issued over a hundred resources on this topic, articles, videos, et cetera — but it seems that it doesn’t penetrate. And the American mass media has failed. It’s completely covered up this story, that’s why you haven’t heard of it. Or, I’m sure that readers of The Electronic Intifada have, because it’s been very diligent in its coverage, and I appreciate that.

But few and far between are the Americans who know about this. So my objective here — realizing that the government is in its endgame, and it’s in the final stages of kicking out the Africans, so this is the last chance to affect policy. And policies are often decided here in the United States. It’s no secret that the US provides Israel with not just billions of dollars in financial aid every year, military aid, but also political backing.

And just yesterday you had Congress passing this SPA — I think they called it the Strategic Partnership Act, or Sycophantic Phallus Adoration — and in any case, whatever you call it, it’s over the top, 410 to 1 of people giving Israel the highest-possible status no other nation in the history of the world has been given this accolade by the American government. And if you’re going to be treating Israel as the most strategic partner, then the question is, does it align with your values?

And of course there is no shortage of racism in America, and it needs to be fought wherever it crops up, but the examples of state-sponsored racism such that I’ve described and reported on are just so over the top. And of course I’ve focused my reporting mainly on racism as it affects Africans, but of course readers of The Electronic Intifada are familiar with the insane levels of racism, state-sponsored racism, directed towards Palestinians.

Americans have to ask themselves: Are these values that they want to support? I’m here to at least do my duty to let people know, to leave no stone unturned, to make sure that at least people had the opportunity to find out for themselves what’s going on. And I hope that people will help spread the word and we can get past around this self-censorship of the American mass media.

End transcript.

Amnesty International video highlights “trigger-happy” Israel’s killing of teen

Amnesty International: January, 2013. Amid frantic scenes, doctors try to save a Palestinian youth who’d been shot several times by the Israeli Defense Forces. Samir Awad died on the operating table; he was just 16. He was shot close to an Israeli fence that cuts across Palestinian land on the outskirts of Budrus in the West Bank. Samir, who had just finished a school science exam, planned to go and protest along with friends. Malik Murar had planned to go with him.

Malik Murar: The gates were open and they had set a trap of more than 10 soldiers. When he came, they shot him with the first bullet in the foot in that area. Then he ran away but fell over as he couldn’t continue due to his injury.

AI: Initially, the IDF claimed that the soldiers had thwarted an attempted infiltration into Israel by a Palestinian.

Samir’s school teacher: If they had wanted to arrest him, they could have shot him in the leg with rubber bullets. They could have, but it seems they planned to assassinate him.

Malik Murar: They threw a stun grenade at him. Because it was so loud, he jumped up. As he did that, they shot three bullets at him. He bled for 20 minutes. They never tried to help him.

AI: Shot in the back, Samir lay bleeding to death until help arrived from the town. He was rushed to hospital.

Lufti Awad (Samir’s father): I saw him at the hospital morgue. The police came as well as other officials, they showed me the boy. He was shot in the head, the leg and from one side out through the other. We started the funeral in Ramallah. Everyone from the village participated, in addition to people from outside the village. The funeral was like a wedding for him.

AI: IDF rules of engagement state that soldiers can only use live ammunition as a last resort. In the past 12 months, the IDF has killed 22 civilians, and four were children. Samir’s schoolteacher is in no doubt as to the effect that his pupil’s death has had on the other students.

Samir’s school teacher: Every time they hear gunshots after the killing of Samir, they fall silent. There is a negative effect on their psychology. It creates confusion, and leads to a reduction in learning and achievements in their studies.

Malik Murar: Of course, every time we see the army, we feel compelled toward resistance. The anger inside us starts to well up. When they kill innocent youths who love God. Why would they kill him? Arrest him, but why kill him?

Samir’s school teacher: As you can see, the influence that this has had by the graffiti writing on the walls, and maybe you can say the students want to follow Samir’s path in confronting this.

Malik Murar: If we youths could have weapons and if we could kill them, maybe we would, but then we would become killers like them. There is God and he will judge them, but the soldier who killed him and the one who ordered it should be punished. And sentenced in the international and criminal courts.

AI: An official investigation into the killing of Samir Awad was launched a year ago. But it has yet to publish its findings. Amnesty International believes that this incident is one of several where the IDF has carried out willful killings which could amount to war crimes.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).