The Bare Minimum

In some headlines this week you may have noticed very brief mention of three so-called “African migrants” who were granted entry into Israel. According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, these Eritrean asylum seekers were forcibly removed from Israel into Egypt and given as “as little as possible” water in the words of one IDF officer. The three that were admitted into Israel were two women and one child. Human rights group We Are Refugees confronted the Israeli government with a petition insisting that they accept the entire group of Eritreans at the Egyptian border. The Israeli government was accused of transgressing international conventions of which they are a signatory by failing to check the status of the Eritreans as political asylum seekers before forceable deportation. In response, the Israeli high court ruled that it was an irrelevant responsibility since the group was no longer in the country (as a result of their being forcibly moved by the IDF (i.e. dragged over to the other side of the border on a tarp?) from Israel back to Egypt).

There are a number of interesting trends in the handling of political asylum seekers that are at play in this situation. The first is the humanitarian leveraging that the Israeli’s have a long history of deploying  (just think of the undermining of Geneva Convention stipulations on the amount of food and water necessary for populations to survive that the occupying power is required to allow to enter unimpeded. The Israeli government intentionally kept Gazans significantly under supplied during the 2008 occupation of Gaza, using the bare minimum requirements as a measure to determine how far one could transgress without facing public scrutiny for neglect).  Eyal Weizman in his new book The Least of all Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza, does an excellent job of describing the conniving violence that forging a path of least of all possible evil justifications (for a review see the post below). This new form of international political action manipulates the rule of law in order to evade responsibility. One could indeed argue that the act of allowing the women and children access to the potential for a political asylum hearing in Israel, obscures the illegal act of denying the other 18 Eritreans in the group their right to be considered for political asylum, the violence of deportation, and the violence of providing them with the least possible amount of food and water to survive. Israeli laws that grant unconditional asylum only to seekers from Darfur (and more importantly to anyone who is Jewish) further illuminates this trend of undermining of the rule of law when it comes to political asylum. For example, out of the 60,000 “migrants” in Israel there were only 4,000+ political asylum hearings last year. Out of those 4,000+ only one was approved for a Darfurian asylum seeker. The supposed rational behind granting Darfurians unconditional asylum is that they are coming from an internationally recognized site of genocide, however the politics of naming and shaming have good reason to call into question the singularity of Darfur. Indeed one could make a case that the Eritrean Afar ethnic minority are facing a similar type of violence as the Darfurians. But then again, Israel just deported 127 South Sudanese “migrants” in June.  These individuals are quickly dismissed as economic migrants and Again we see the power of naming where describing individuals as economic migrants or  “infiltrators” others that individual in a way that is rife with a parasitic undertones.

Just a couple of months ago, in May, there were race riots in Tel Aviv agains the 60,000 or so “migrants” living in legal limbo. A number of Africans were injured and a number of businesses were destroyed. Some have proclaimed the event Israeli Kristallnacht. Others are concerned about the participation and endorsement of the event by certain right-wing politicians. Some think the foundational moment of Israel as a refugee state that is thus responsible for living up to a legacy that offers safe haven for the world’s disenfranchised. Others view Israel as a Jewish state and it’s African “infiltrators” as posing a “demographic threat.” For now Israel has followed in the American example of building a fence between the Egypt Israel border, the same border where 6 African “migrants” were killed in August.


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