(CHICAGO) — A new Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) report is titled, “Tortured in Sinai, Jailed in Israel.” More on it below.
Separate and unequal defines longstanding Israeli policy. Arabs aren’t wanted. Neither are non-Jewish immigrants or asylum seeker. Discriminatory laws target them. Fundamental rights are denied. Redress most often is impossible.
Even torture victims fleeing repression face enormous hurdles to gain entry. Israel spurns international law with impunity. It does what it wants unaccountably. It ignores international law. Protecting refugees and asylum seekers doesn’t matter.
Article I of the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees calls them, ”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.”
Post-World War II, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established to help them.
To gain legal protection, they must:
be outside their country of origin;
be harmed or fear harm by their government or others;
fear persecution for at least one of the above cited reasons; and
pose no danger to others.
Israel signed the 1951 Convention. Nonetheless, Interior Ministry procedures and secret inter-ministerial determinations decide individual cases.
A not-so-warm welcome to Israel
Compared to Western states, Israel accepts the fewest number of temporary or permanent refugees even though being legally and morally bound to help.
Thousands of South Sudanese refugees were deported. While in Israel they were harshly treated. Despite repressive conditions at home, Israel called them illegal. Obligations under the 1951 Convention were spurned.
Sinai torture victims discover Israeli hospitality firsthand. Israel’s Law to Prevent Infiltration greets them. Asylum seekers are imprisoned without trial. They’re subjected to harsh treatment and deportation.
Anyone helping them or providing shelter faces five to 15 years in prison for being a good samaritan. Avoiding it involves proving they didn’t know the refugee lacked residency status and wasn’t guilty of alleged criminality.
Netanyahu and likeminded extremists sponsored the measure. Jews alone are wanted. Others needn’t apply. Those gaining entry learn firsthand why they’re not wanted.
Targeting the ‘other’
The Infiltration law targets refugees, asylum seekers and their families. Minimally, they face three years imprisonment. Detentions may be extended indefinitely. Extraordinary humanitarian circumstances alone qualify for early release.
The bill’s earlier version mandated life sentences for refugees and asylum seekers convicted of property damage. Offenses as minor as graffiti were criminalized. Persons providing aid faced five to 15 year sentences.
The Association for Civil Rights (ACRI) in Israel called the measure “one of the most dangerous bills ever presented in the Knesset.” Despite softening, its new version remains brazenly draconian, undemocratic and shameful.
ACRI calls it “draconian and immoral, and its entire purpose is to deter refugees from entering Israel. The law blatantly disregards Israel’s most basic commitments as a member of the community of nations and as a signatory to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.”
“The State of Israel has the right to protect its borders, but not by trampling human rights and ignoring democratic values.”
The current measure targets persons entering Israel without permission or caught carrying weapons or drugs. It also applies if convicted of human trafficking. Most of its original provisions remain.
The bill’s sole purpose is to deter refugees and asylum seekers from entering Israel for any purpose. In addition, migrant workers can be imprisoned for three years to life for misdemeanor type offenses.
The Knesset’s 1950 Law of Return grants all Jews worldwide the right to citizenship and residency. Yet no refugee law exists, despite Israel being a signatory to the U.N.’s 1951 Convention.
Among Western states, Israel is least hospitable to refugees and asylum seekers. At best, some get temporary limited stays.
Most often, they’re summarily denied, including those with legitimate persecution fears. Although legally mandated to help, Israel consistently refuses.
PHR-I discussed hurdles torture victims seeking asylum face. Visible signs of torture must exist to qualify. Currently from 5,000-7,000 survivors reside in Israel. Social rights and other forms of help are denied.
An EEPA/Tilburg University study based on torture victim testimonies in captivity and after release estimated that 4,000 didn’t survive their captivity and journey in the past five years.
“The lack of proper identification procedures and treatment of torture survivors by Israeli authorities can be observed when comparing the number of survivors identified and treated by Israeli authorities to the number of those identified and treated by PHR-I.”
The place of torture
In 2011, 54 women told Israeli authorities they were sexually abused. Twenty-three got gynecological treatment. Over the same timeframe, PHR-I helped 1,585 women (mainly African) get proper treatment. Twenty-one underwent abortions.
Of the 1,543 asylum seekers who entered Israel from June through September 2012, “only 30 shared with the Administrative Tribunal their experiences.” Israel imprisoned them on arrival.
Torture victim survivors way exceed this figure. They number many hundreds. Rape is especially common. Many victims say little or nothing. They’re unaware that torture, if proved, gains them release.
Administrative Tribunal hearings don’t explain. They also discourage asylum seekers from describing their experiences. Testimonies PHR-I obtained were “credible enough for the Tribunal to transfer the protocols for further examination by relevant authorities in order to establish if they are slavery victims.”
All were Eritreans. About 30 percent had visible evidence of torture. Four women and two men were slavery victims. Only one man was transferred to a shelter for help. Others waited months for release.
Most survivors are women. Over half admitted being raped. Hostages endured captivity an average 140 days. Release cost them $33,660 in ransom. Family members raised it to help.
Israel’s Administrative Tribunal recognized half the survivors as kidnap victims. Prior to and during proceedings they’re imprisoned.
Israel’s Public Defender describes conditions as substandard, overcrowded and unsanitary. Medical services are woefully inadequate or nonexistent. Harsh treatment is commonplace. Its impact for some is damaging and irreversible.
Suicides result. Survivors experience trauma. Hunger strikes and prison riots occur. Israeli prisons are some of the worst. Even victims of torture and slavery aren’t spared. Many languish for months without help or justice.
PHR-I said a Channel 2 report discussed what Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers face in Saharonim Prison. Torture and slavery victims are treated like “infiltrators.”
Abuse is common. Confinement lasts months. They’re locked in “waiting cages” and forgotten. Problems they experience go largely untreated. Israeli treatment is nearly as bad as captivity in Sinai.
Compassion isn’t in Israel’s vocabulary. Jews alone get some, others practically none. Abuse substitutes for lawful treatment.
Israel has the right to protect its borders. It’s also obligated to obey international law. Instead, it spurns it with impunity. Victimization is compounded by further abuse. No wonder Israel is so widely despised. Many Jews condemn its practices.
A final comment
Earlier this year, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe toured Canada. He lectured on “The False Paradigm of Peace: Revisiting the Palestinian Question.” He addressed 10 common myths:
- Palestine was a land without people for a people without land.
- Palestinians committed terrorist acts against Jewish settlers prior to Israel’s creation.
- Numerous myths about Israel’s War of Independence and creation.
- Israel was benign and democratic prior to 1967.
- Palestinians wanting liberation are terrorists.
- In 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza to assure peace.
- Israel’s occupation is benevolent. Palestinian violence forced harsh responses.
- Oslo reflected both sides wanting peaceful resolution.
- Arafat orchestrated the second Intifada as a mass terror attack.
- Solving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict “is just around the corner.”
Israel grants rights to Jews alone. Increasingly they’re afforded solely to society’s privileged. Neoliberal harshness affects others. Arab Israelis suffer most.
Palestinians wanting to live free are called terrorists. Non-Jewish refugees, asylum seekers and those suffering from captivity and torture aren’t wanted. In Israel they’re imprisoned. They’re treated harshly with no rights. Most are deported.
Israel matches the most unjust, repressive societies. Netanyahu exceeded the worst of his predecessors. Victimization before entry into Israel continues while there. Like America, it’s no fit place to live in.
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