“Denying entry to or, worse, deporting people from a country because they are or were in their past critical of its governmental policies is a classic feature of authoritarian regimes. Israel contends to be a liberal democracy, but Omar’s case clearly shows that the government is persecuting people on political grounds.”
— Michael Sfard, Shakir’s attorney.
An Israeli court issued an interim injunction on Wednesday temporarily preventing Israel’s Interior Ministry from deporting Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.
Shakir, a U.S. citizen, had his work permit revoked this month based on a recent amendment to the country’s immigration laws aimed at fighting supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
This is the first time that Israel is applying the law against a person already inside the country; in previous instances, BDS activists seeking to enter the country have been blocked. If Shakir is expelled, critics say, it places Israel in a highly undesirable group of nations that have banned human rights activists.
“Human Rights Watch is a credible human rights organization. Even though we do not agree with all of their assertions or conclusions, given the seriousness of their efforts, we support the importance of the work they do.”
— Mark Toner, US State Department spokesman
Israel has given a Human Rights Watch director two weeks to leave the country, accusing him of promoting a boycott, in a move the rights group said sought to muzzle criticism. The interior ministry said Tuesday it had terminated the residency permit of HRW’s Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir, a US citizen, over accusations that he supported a boycott of Israel.
“Following the recommendations of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, containing information that Shakir has been a BDS activist for years supporting the boycott of Israel in an active way, the ministry has decided to terminate (his) residence permit,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
“My interrogation in Tel Aviv made it clear that I was banned from entering Israel because of my work in the U.S. on behalf of Palestinian rights. No government is immune from criticism for its human rights record. The abusive treatment Vince Warren and I received at Ben Gurion airport ironically illustrates how the state of Israel refuses to respect the political and civil rights of its own citizens, of Palestinians, and of human rights defenders globally.”
— Professor Franke
Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and Katherine Franke, chair of CCR’s board and Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Columbia University, were detained Sunday, April 29, for 14 hours and interrogated at Ben Gurion International Airport, then denied entry into Israel and deported, arriving back in New York early Monday morning. Warren and Franke were questioned about their political association with human rights groups that have been critical of Israel’s human rights record.
“The Israeli government denied us entry, apparently because it feared letting in people who might challenge its policies. This is something that we should neither accept nor condone from a country that calls itself a democracy,” Warren said. “Our trip sought to explore the intersection of Black and Brown people’s experiences in the U.S. with the situation of Palestinians, and Israel could not have made that connection clearer.”
Israel has struggled with what to do with those already in the country, alternating between plans to jail and deport them and allowing them to work in menial jobs.
The Israeli government informed the High Court of Justice Tuesday it had scrapped its controversial plan to deport tens of thousands of African migrants from the country, after Israeli authorities failed to cement an emigration deal with a third country.
“At this stage there is no possibility of implementing involuntary deportations to a third country. Therefore, as of April 17, 2018, [the state] has ceased to hold hearings as part of the deportation policy, and no more deportation decisions will be made at this time,” the state said.
The admission marked a dramatic setback for the government in its years-long attempts to expel the asylum-seekers, most of them from Eritrea or Sudan, and a triumph for activists who appealed to the court against the government plans.
“I don’t want to go to Rwanda. I’m from Eritrea, and I don’t want to return to Eritrea. I’m going to jail, without fear.”
— Dabsai, a 47-year-old Eritrean resident of Netanya
The Population, Immigration and Border Authority will begin issuing deportation notices on Sunday to asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan who are not held in the Holot detention facility.
In the first stage the notices will be issued to men without children who come to renew their residence visa. Citizens of Eritrea and Sudan are required to renew their visas every two months at the authority’s office in Bnei Brak. They will receive their last two-month visa, along with a letter stating that during this period they are expected to leave the country, otherwise they will be forbidden to work and can expect to be incarcerated indefinitely. Authority personnel will suggest that they leave for either Rwanda or their native countries. . . .
“It should be noted that the girl and her father are illegal immigrants in Israel, and therefore she was sent to Erez Crossing . . . entered the Gaza Strip.”
— Israel Prison Service statement
Israeli authorities deported a 14-year-old epileptic Palestinian girl from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip earlier this month, without notifying her parents, and despite the fact that she has never lived there a day in her life.
Ghada, who was born in Ramallah where she has lived much of her life, was arrested by Israeli Border Police officers on January 13 for being in Jerusalem without a military permit. She was traveling back to her home in a-Ram, just northeast of Jerusalem where she lives with her mother and siblings, from her aunt’s home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya.
Her father, though originally from the Gaza Strip, currently lives in the West Bank as well, her mother told Israeli human rights group HaMoked, which is representing the family. When Ghada was born, Israeli authorities listed her address as Gaza for an unknown reason.
“The asylum seekers that are deported from Israel end up in Libya, end up being sold. This is not just an idea, this is what happens to them actually once they are deported from Israel. Their lives are in danger. We came today to the Knesset to reinforce that message.”
— Sigal Avivi, Israeli refugee rights activist
A group of Eritrean asylum seekers and Israeli refugee advocates staged a mock slave auction outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, while a conference on government plans to begin mass deportations of asylum seekers took place inside Wednesday morning.
Around 10 asylum seekers stood on make-shift auction blocks made of milk crates, while an auctioneer called out, “get your slaves, slaves for half price,” over a megaphone. A single member of Knesset, Dov Khenin, came outside to support the asylum seekers, and called Israel’s refugee policy inhumane and unacceptable.
Israeli officials have stated that starting in a matter of weeks, tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel will face a stark choice: indefinite imprisonment or agree to be sent to Rwanda or Uganda. Asylum seekers who have left Israel for the two countries in recent years have not received any legal status there, and faced dangerous conditions and choices, including heading toward Europe through Libya, where human trafficking and other types of violence is a constant danger.
There is no peace process, nor is there a real discussion over one state or two states. Even discussions on whether Israel is an apartheid state have become intellectual fodder for Jews and leftists. The reality is one that resembles a prison, and the prisoners will continue to be held by force . . . .
The Knesset passed a law Monday night denying entry visas or residency rights to foreign nationals who call for boycotts against Israel or the settlements. The law won’t have much of an effect on entry into Israel proper, but rather will mostly affect those trying to enter the West Bank — a solid reminder that the ban is yet another example of the way Israel holds Palestinians prisoners. After all, one can assume that most people who enter the Palestinian territories oppose the settlements or support some version of the boycott.
Because Israel controls every point of entry into areas under Palestinian control in the West Bank, Palestinians cannot leave (without a permit) or come back (without a permit). With the passage of the law, they are no longer allowed to have visitors. In other words: they are prisoners, and these restrictions are just the tip of the iceberg.
I can’t unsee what I’ve seen or ignore what I know. The violation of another people by the Jewish State in the name of the Jewish people has pricked my conscience and inspired my activism over these last four decades. It makes me mourn for the principles enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence whose words, now moribund, once sent us out in the streets dancing for joy. . . . If that makes me an enemy of the state, so be it. But like many other Jews outraged by this new ban, I will return because Israel’s founders guaranteed me refuge and my parents taught me that Israel was my second home. The border officers will have to look me in the eyes and hear my story before they turn me away for good.
Okay, yes, I’ve written critical articles and signed Open Letters protesting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and decrying the settlement enterprise; and yes, I’ve been a member of Americans for Peace Now for more than 30 years and a supporter of B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, ACRI, and the New Israel Fund, among other “suspect” organizations. So it’s a safe bet that, under the new Israeli entry ban, I’m going to end up on the government’s blacklist.
But if they’re going to ban me, I think they ought to know a few other facts about the American Jewish woman they’ve judged too dangerous to step foot beyond the security gate at Ben Gurion airport. To wit:
My paternal grandparents made aliyah in the 1930s and both are buried in Tiberias, my grandfather the victim of an Arab raid, my grandmother the casualty of her traumatic loss.