Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, addressing the "African-Americans Speak Out for Palestine" forum on January 31, 2009 in Detroit. (Photo: Alan Pollock), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Tens of Thousands of African Migrants Hold General Strike, Mass Demonstrations in Israel
Protesters demand immediate asylum, an end to racism and decent wages
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
With the death of former Israeli leader Ariel Sharon and the ensuing national mourning by the Zionist settler state, tens of thousands of African migrants suspended a general strike that had been in effect since January 5. Since the beginning of the strike, demonstrations were held in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem against laws that specifically target Africans for institutional discrimination, detention and deportation.
A list of demands put forward by the African community most of whom come from Eritrea and South Sudan, called for the nullification of the recently enacted Anti-Infiltrator Law, the halt to arresting people under that law, the release of those currently jailed and a review of asylum requests for Eritreans and Sudanese. The strike impacted the hotel, restaurant, café and cleaning services sectors of the Israeli economy.
Some 60,000 migrants from Eritrea and South Sudan have entered Israel since 2006. Over the last two years a new detention facility has been constructed to hold migrants on the border with the Egyptian Sinai.
The migrants are fleeing ongoing conflicts in Central and East Africa and the subsequent economic devastation they have created. These conflicts are a direct result of western imperialist interference in the internal affairs of post-colonial African states.
Reports have already surfaced of retaliatory actions being carried out by employers of those who staged the strike. Many African migrants were told not to come back to work and that the strike is being viewed by some employers as a voluntary departure from their jobs.
The Workers’ Hotline organization has received numerous complaints from African migrant workers of terminations and other threats from employers. “A group of workers came to our offices, and we also got phone calls from workers in Eilat who were told not to come back, and that their strike was seen as quitting without notice,” said Noah Kaufman, who works as a coordinator for refugees and asylum seekers at the agency. (Haaretz, January 13)
Kaufman went on to say that “There were two accounts of workers given ultimatums – either agree to change their employment conditions for the worse, or quit without getting severance pay or notice.” The agency is in the process of developing a legal strategy for addressing the ultimatums and firings.
A staff attorney for the Workers’ Hotline, Michael Tadjer, was quoted as saying “Employers cannot exploit the asylum seekers’ suffering to worsen their terms of employment. They are using this as a means to threaten their workers. In essence, they’re saying, ‘We can fire you, so either you quit or we take away your seniority, worsen your conditions,’ or lots of other things. Employers are using this for exploitation.” (Haaretz, January 13)
Tadjer went on to note that “The legal question is how much the strike was protected. Although they are unorganized workers, there is an umbrella organization that declared this strike, and there have been precedents in Europe in which sectors of the population went on strike in protest against the government, when policy directly harmed individuals. This strike is a political strike, and it might be that it is supported by law, but it hasn’t come up for legal review. We think that firing workers after a week-long strike against a law that harms the most basic thing – their freedom and ability to work – is an act committed in bad faith.”
Strike Galvanizes African Migrant Population to Demand Asylum
The political actions of the African community in Israel have created a sense of urgency. On January 12 long lines gathered outside the immigration offices in Tel Aviv in order to fill out forms requesting asylum.
One migrant told Haaretz that “I had an appointment, and the first security guard passed me through. The second one said, ‘You’re leading all of the protests and strikes, you were interviewed on Channel 2, I’ll show you.’ He tore up the slip, and said, ‘Go home,’ and began to scream at me.”
Political attacks on the African migrant community have been taking for the last two years. From low level politicians to Prime Benjamin Netanyahu, the Africans have been labeled as “infiltrators” and “criminals.”
There have been demonstrations by Israeli settlers through neighborhoods where African migrants live and own businesses. People have been beaten up and their stores trashed.
In response to these racist provocations the African migrant community is becoming more outspoken and militant. The general strike and the subsequent mass demonstrations are a reflection of a heightened consciousness and organizational sophistication.
On January 6 thousands of migrants marched to the foreign embassies in Tel Aviv seeking international intervention on their behalf. Later on January 9, thousands gathered outside the parliament in Jerusalem where several left-wing labor politicians addressed them decrying the conditions which they are subjected to by the Israeli authorities. (Reuters, January 8)
David Grossman, a writer who has been labeled as a member of the Israeli left-wing, told the mass demonstration in Jerusalem that the state's treatment of the migrants was shameful.
"I look at you now ... I feel embarrassed and ashamed. Israel has not created this problem, but there is a problem now (and) we have to struggle with it and to solve it in the most humane way."
Continuation of Settler Policy Against Palestinian and Arab People
Nonetheless, Israel is inherently a settler-colonial state which was born in alliance with world imperialism through the suppression, oppression and forced removals and mass killings of the Palestinian Arab population. Palestinians still live as colonial subjects in their national homeland and are subjected to constant harassment, dislocation, racist discrimination, military occupation and repeated attacks by the army and air force.
Palestinians who have been forced from their homeland are denied the inherent right of return. In the Gaza region of the country, 1.5 million people live in what has been described as the largest open-air prison in the world.
Israel also occupies the Golan Heights in Syria where an imperialist-backed war of regime-change has resulted in the deaths at least 100,000 people over the last three years. The Israeli Air Force has carried out several bombing incursions against Syria in just the last year.
Other Israeli air strikes have been carried out against the Republic of Sudan which is a staunch supporter of the Palestinian national liberation struggle and maintains a close fraternal relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Israel is backed up by the United States government through billions of dollars in direct aid, diplomatic support and military assistance.
Developments in Israel involving the escalating repression against African migrants should be seriously taken up by the African Union and other mass organizations on the continent. Israel was one of main advocates and supporters of the partition of South Sudan from Khartoum leading up to its realization in 2011.
South Sudan has undergone tremendous instability since 2011 and over the last month the emergence of an intense power struggle between the two leading factions inside the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). The years long U.S. and Israeli military and political assistance to the SPLM/A helped in the fomentation of deep divisions and fissures within Sudanese society.
In addition with respect to the situation in the neighboring Horn of Africa nation of Eritrea, decades of war with Ethiopia have created similar economic and social problems. Both Eritrean and South Sudanese are entitled to a legal system of asylum that has been enshrined in international law.