Thu 27.12.12, Morning
It has to be said at the outset that, contrary to the opinion of several MW members, visiting this vast prison where asylum seekers are incarcerated is definitely part of MW's mandate: checkpoints and the violation of human rights are our mandate, and here we are dealing with another kind of checkpoint abuse, same government, same abusive, racist policy. It also has to be said that gathering information here is no easy matter and we received conflicting details, including whether we were at Ketziot or Saharonim.
Our shift was planned for the last Thursday in the month, since we were informed that this is the day when visitors are allowed. We arrived at 10:00 a.m. to find the place packed with cars and busy with Israelis, no asylum seekers or refugees in sight. It turned out that the visitors were either professionals from NGO's dedicated to dealing with the refugees or lawyers. MW has no status in this regard and there is no chance we would be allowed to enter the prison, which we knew in advance.
We approached the guard at the gate to verify that this was indeed visitor's day. He was of course 'forbidden' to answer but obligingly offered to call someone senior, who appeared in due course and also felt he was prohibited from giving a straight answer. Prison service officer Yohanan Eliv, following our promise to report him to the Prison Service for withholding information from the public, told us that he organized visits on a humanitarian basis once a month, usually the last Thursday. Prisoners were given a week's notice to organize the visit. For further information please contact the Prison Service (PS) spokesperson. We eventually met another officer (GSS?) dressed in black who was more forthcoming: vists ae monthly, usually the last Sunday and Monday of the month, relatives of the first degree only, 45 minutes,but they can arrive at any time from early morning till 12:30. At Keziot, visiting day is the last Thursday, unless someone decides differently. Ketziot is the whole complex, Saharonim is part of that complex and we, actually were standing at the Saharonim part... Unlike the Palestinians, the refugees do not require a permit but they also do not receive transport from the REd cross but must make their way from Tel-Aviv, Netanya, or wherever to Beersheva and from there by public transport to the prison.
A young Bedouin arrived to visit a family member but was sent to Ketziot, beyond the dark horizon. We met Sharon Harel from the UNHCR (High Commission for Refugees) which is the only body permitted to enter the cell wings, all the other professionals must use the lawyer's rooms and thus don't actually see the conditions inside. Sharon invited us to meet with her and get more thorough information, which we will certainly do. She was very positive about our presence there.
An Eritrean couple arrived, a woman with a baby trying to visit her husband who has been incarcerated for 8 months, (the baby is three months old), after much negotiation they were refused entry but told they could come back on Sunday, January 30 (we will follow up on this). The man-in-black promised he would make sure they were permitted entry.
The woman showed a paper that indicated she must appear in court in Eilat in February, presumably prior to her and teh child being imprisoned also. There is a special wing of the prison for women with children. Incidentally, although the woman spoke ARabic and some Hebrew there was an interpreter present, a young Eritrean woman whose ID tag showed that she was part of the immigration service of the Ministry of the Interior. Her body language did not demonstrate much empathy with the young woman and she rudely refused to answer our own questions.
In short, while these individual cases are sad and cruel, the overall picture of government policy is really the issue here and needs to be kept before the public eye. Eritreans, Ethiopians and Sudanis '"enjoy" group protection as endangered populations and cannot be deported; contrary to the practice in other Western countries, Israel does not investigate the right of indivduals to asylum but regards them as infiltrators who must be suffered but not given redress, hence the imprisonment. After all, this is the only democracy around these parts, is it not?
...Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world..
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and every where
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity...
From Second Coming W B Yeats