Opponents of the Eritrean regime accused their ambassador in Israel on Sunday of ordering his supporters to attack them during an event on Saturday at Kibbutz Kinneret, near Tiberias
The allegations came after police and Israeli media accused migrants opposed to the regime of Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki, who has ruled the African country for over 20 years, of showing up to confront attendees of the event, then attacking them with stones and metals bars.
The ambassador, Tesfamariam Tekeste, was quickly removed from the scene and was not hurt.
At a Tel Aviv press conference attended by around 100 opposition members, migrants accused the ambassador of setting loyalists on them as they came to confront him verbally about regime practices.
Opposition member Tumzghi Tame said that the ambassador had used the pretext of a tour to gather regime supporters for a secret meeting.
“A group of Eritrean opposition members went to participate and ask questions about the Eritrean community who suffered and continues to suffer a lot under the dictatorial regime in Eritrean and here in Israel,” he said. “While we were trying to enter the meeting hall and participate peacefully in the meeting, the ambassador told the participants that we were Ethiopians and that we were coming to disturb the meeting and then he ordered everyone to attack us. After that the participants inside the hall tried to beat us with stones and sticks they collected in the area.”
“We tried to tell them that we are Eritreans and that we are refugees like them and that we came to talk peacefully.”
Police said they arrested 50 people in the incident. They were taken to the Tiberias police station where they were questioned with the help of interpreters.
“We would like to thank the Israeli police,” said Filmon Rezene. “They came and saved us from this dangerous group and took us to the police station. However, even though we were the victims we were arrested for over 20 hours. The ambassador ordered [them] to beat and kill us. We were only sixty being attacked by 600 supporters.”
Magen David Adom paramedics at the scene said they treated 12 people for light injuries, while one man was taken to Rambam hospital in Haifa for a head injury.
Supporters alleged that one of topics on the ambassador’s agenda was how to launder money through a bank in Germany to send back to Eritrea.
They accused the government of extorting migrants in Israel by denying consular services for those who refuse to acquiesce to regime demands.
“If you do not pay the 2 percent tax of your salary and if you do not have the ID-card issued by the Eritrean embassy,” charged Rezene, “you can never go back to Eritrea, have land there and your family will be jailed.”
Eritreans make up more than 60 percent of the more than 60,000 African migrants who are believed to be in Israel.
As a signatory of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Israel cannot deport asylum seekers if they face danger in their country of origin. Israel grants Eritreans collective protection, but does not recognize them as refugees.
However, Israel has pursued a controversial option of “voluntary deportation,” in which migrants agree to leave, either to their country of origin or a third country, in exchange for monetary compensation.
In February, a group of some 25 Eritrean migrants said they were pressured by Israeli immigration officials to sign a declaration saying they would agree to be deported to Uganda and then discovered that they were scheduled to fly to Eritrea, human rights group Hotline for Migrant Workers charged. The Eritreans refused to get on the plane.
On Thursday, for the second time a week, dozens of African migrants escaped a new detention facility in Israel’s south, and made their way toward the Beersheba central bus station for a planned protest sit-in.
The protesters were arrested and taken to either Saharonim or the newly established Holot.
Since last Thursday, 480 African migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, were transferred to the Holot open detention facility, which is located in the Negev desert and can hold as many as 3,000.
Earlier this month, the Knesset passed a new version of the so-called “Infiltrator Law,” which allows for the detention of illegal African migrants for up to one year, and additionally provides for the detention of such individuals in what is termed an “open” facility.
The previous version of the law, which provided for detaining “infiltrators” for at least three years, was struck down as unconstitutional by the High Court of Justice in September.
The Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.