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More Camps to Accommodate Detained Asylum Seekers in Israel

In June 2012, Israel began implementing the amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law according to which all asylum seekers who cross the Israel-Egypt border are automatically jailed or subjected to internment for a minimum period of three years without trial. [Note: Internment is the imprisonment or confinement of people, commonly in large groups, without trial.]

Citizens of ‘enemy states’ (such as Sudan) are jailed indefinitely.  The law does not include an exception for children or asylum seekers who have survived the torture camps in Sinai. The amendment to the law, promoted by the Benjamin Netanyahu government, passed into law in January 2012, but its implementation was postponed because Israel did not have enough prison places to accommodate the flow of asylum seekers entering Israel. During 2012, the Israeli government undertook a massive construction effort, erecting three new internment camps for asylum seekers. In addition to the expansion of the already-operational Saharonim interment camp (3,500 prison places), Israel constructed the Ktziot (2,400 prison places), Nachal Raviv (4,000 prison places) and Sadot (8,000 prison places) camps. The camps, most of them consisting of tents surrounded by guard posts, fences and barbed wire, were erected near the Israel-Egypt border, in the Negev desert.

Refugee rights activist Lea Miller Forshtat shared this photo of the Saharonim internment camp on Facebook:

Leftist blogger Noam R. wrote on his blog o 1 39 (Hebrew):

The State of Israel is constructing a concentration camp. Correction: the State of Israel has constructed concentration camps in what it refers to in official memos as “Stay Facility Nachal Raviv” and “Ktziot Prison”. There, some of the refugees from Sudan and Eritrea will be housed in temporary tents or containers refitted to house humans, exposed to the elements ahead of the coming winter, in greatly crowded conditions with poor sanitation, and without social or mental care. In these facilities, women, men, children, including babies, will be jailed for an indefinite time. Yes, the State of Israel will jail infants whose only crime is that their parents sought a life for them.

Blogger Noam Sheizaf described a visit to the interment camps on the +972 Magazine blog:

The first asylum seekers were brought to Ketsiot prison, in which Israeli used to hold thousands of Palestinian prisoners (500 of them are still there). Right next to it, Israel built the Saharonim facility, which has been operating for several years. Across the road, construction of the Sadot prison is under way, and a couple of miles east, one can see rows of tents that comprise the “Nachal Raviv” holding camp.

This is Nachal Raviv. It was built on army land in order to bypass the local zoning committees and objections expressed by the regional council, which claimed that the conditions were not suitable for humans. The planned capacity is said to be between 2,000 and 4,000 inmates.

Nahal Raviv internment camp. Photo by Noam Sheizaf

Leading refugee rights expert, Anat Ben-Dor, described in the blog Laissez Passer one of the most disturbing aspects on the Anti-Infiltration Law – the fact that asylum seekers who have undergone torture at the hand of smugglers in Sinai are jailed under this law as well:

There are things one can do only when no one else is looking. Detaining a baby girl a year and three months old for a period of three years, for instance. We met Ambat yesterday in Saharonim prison – an active child, she was dressed in red and was held in her mother’s arms. We sat in the oppressive 30 degree heat for an hour… The two of them have been in this prison, surrounded by fences, security towers and barbed wire for over three months. Trapped in a tent with 12 others – six women and six children. It is doubtful whether Ambat’s mother, who is only 23, knows that she and her daughter will spend the next three years in this place.

Zabib and Ambat were transferred from one person to another on their way to Sinai…. In the end, they were brought to a smugglers’ camp in Sinai. There, Zabib’s legs were cuffed, while the smugglers demanded a ransom of $25,000 in exchange for her release. This is when the baby turned into her mother’s protector. While other women were raped and sexually abused, Zabib was only the victim of beatings and lashings. The smugglers often dangled Ambat out a window, threatening to throw her in front of her mother. They also slapped her when she cried. Zabib says that Ambat learned from the smugglers: she gently strokes her mother’s cheek before suddenly slapping her, in much the same way as the smuggler slapped Ambat.

Activist Mey-Tal Danon decided to spend the Jewish holy day, the Day of Atonement, outside the Sadot internment camp, to protest against what she sees as the sin of incarcerating refugees without trial. Mey-Tal documented her two-day stay outside the fences on Facebook. She took this photo of the camp:

Blogger H. B. Hoffman wrote on her blog (Hebrew):

This week I saw my Prime Minister speak at the Knesset. He spoke – with real repugnance – about the ‘infiltrators’ [the common term used by the Israeli government to describe asylum seekers] at the southern border and about the great danger they pose to Israel. He presented them as terrorists, who threaten the strength of the state and its Jewish character. I heard these words and felt chills down my spine. About what Jewish character is His Honor talking about? … What Israeli honor is there in treating members of another people as human garbage just because they are not members of the ‘right’ religion? And why don't we all rise up together and kick out the man whose political agenda, and the justifications he presents for another term, to a large degree, is based on inciting xenophobia?

And then it hit me… This is not about hatred of foreigners. It is about a hatred of humans. Because they focus on the amorphous concept that is the ‘state’ they forget that the state is made up of people, and people need to be cared for. Bibi [nickname for Netanyahu] and his friends at the Knesset and government who jabber about the Jewish character and the strength of Israel did not bat an eyelash when poor people burned themselves on the streets due to economic hardship. Those miserable people were Jewish and Israeli, and still they did not receive an ounce of compassion. Many like them suffer from hunger and poverty and their numbers are growing day by day. They do not do this on a fence outside the state, in front of loaded rifles, but inside the state, in a place that is supposed to be a safe home for the Jewish people. Jewish character? Don't make me laugh. When other people's humanity becomes invisible, when a human is not seen as first and foremost a human, and instead calculations of profit and loss are made, all of our lives are in danger here.

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