The snow might be melting in Jerusalem, but the state of affairs on the northern border with Lebanon is chillier than ever after a lone Lebanese gunman shot and killed an Israeli soldier on Sunday. The press is still piecing together the details of the incident two days later. But what makes front pages for Haaretz and Maariv is the march by over 150 Sudanese detainees on Jerusalem in protest of their extended incarceration without trial.
According to Haaretz, the asylum seekers began their protest after being transferred to the Holot detention center, where they were banned from working, had to report in three times a day, and couldn’t leave the facility after 10 p.m. On Sunday, the paper reports, “the 150 or so detainees decided not to return to [the facility] and marched for six hours on foot to Beersheba — a distance of 70 kilometers (~40 miles).” After spending the first night in the southern city’s bus station, they decided to continue on to the capital and protest in front of the Knesset.
“If I return to Sudan, they’ll kill me or put me in prison for decades. We are refugees and asylum seekers in Israel, don’t treat us like murderers,” one of the men was quoted by Haaretz saying. Another threw the good book at Haaretz readers, quoting Exodus 22:20, “for strangers you were in the land of Egypt.”
The paper’s editorial condemns the government’s treatment of Sudanese refugees in Israel, writing that the government, “which just a week ago passed a law that allows these people to be jailed without ever having been investigated, suspected, indicted or convicted in court,” responded to the protest by saying “‘We have beefed up enforcement in light of the opening of the facility; we are carrying out enforcement in keeping with the law, both as a matter of routine and with regard to infiltrators who left the facility and did not return.’”
Enough said. It closes asking “Will the urgent petition filed to the High Court of Justice once again be a lifeline to rescue the state from the shame it is heaping on itself?”
Maariv also champions the cause of the detained Sudanese, putting the story on its front page and inside the cover. It reports, however, that on Tuesday Immigration Authority officials are expected to arrive and arrest the refugees and bring them back to the Saharonim detention facility.
“We don’t intend to return there, we fled war in order to be free, but here too they’re putting us in prison,” Mubarak Ali Muhammad, who fled Darfur for Israel, tells the paper.
As expected, right-wing Israel Hayom not only buries the story on Page 11, but demonizes the Sudanese “infiltrators” with the sub-headline: “On the verge of a clash?” To its credit, it features brief op-eds from either end of the spectrum by former interior minister Eli Yishai (Shas) and Meretz party leader Zahava Gal-on. Yishai says Israel must continue its “clear and uncompromising policy” because “we have no other country.” Incarcerating the Sudanese refugees sent a clear message to “the world’s infiltrators,” he says, “Israel is not another destination for you.”
Gal-on says that the Sudanese recognize that despite the whitewashed term “open facility” used to describe the detention center, “it is a prison in every respect: it’s run by the Israel Prison Service, it is distant from every settlement, it has mandatory roll call thrice daily and locked gates overnight.”
She says that instead of “wasting time on populist and inflammatory laws” the government ought to provide these people with the option to work, health care and life with dignity.
“At this time the state needs to investigate those detained here, to check whether they’re asylum seekers entitled to an international refugee ID — with which they can go to a country accepting refugees — or whether they are migrant workers,” Gal-on writes. “This is not only the ethical and moral way, it is the way in which a functional democracy needs to behave.”
Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom run pictures of Shlomi Cohen, his infant daughter and his widow in an effort to put a human face on the soldier’s tragic death. Cohen was laid to rest with military honors at the Haifa military cemetery on Monday.
According to Israel Hayom, the shooting along the border was an isolated incident, and both Jerusalem and Beirut have acted to calm the situation. “Israel has refrained from retaliation against targets belonging to the Lebanese army or Hezbollah,” the paper writes. “The understanding is that the Lebanese government has no will for a conflict with Israel, and the Israeli interest is to keep the quiet on the northern front.”
For Yedioth Ahronoth, the burning question is why Cohen, a communications technician, drove to the base on the border with Lebanon in an unarmored civilian vehicle along the road that runs parallel to the border, instead of the main road which is less dangerous.
“Both routes are permitted for military vehicles, but the main route is safer and permissible for regular, unarmored administrative vehicles” like the one Cohen drove, it writes. “The northern route… is more exposed to fire from the direction of Lebanon, and because of that driving is permitted only in accordance with strict military protocols” — namely, donning protective gear.