Police on Sunday evening clashed with hundreds of protesting African migrants after they refused to clear a protest camp they had erected in the Nitzana forest near the border with Egypt.
The migrants were protesting Israel’s refusal to review their applications for refugee status and its policy of holding them for long periods without trial at the nearby Holot detention center.
Dozens of police arrived at the scene in the afternoon and tried to persuade the asylum seekers to board buses back to Holot, which they had walked out of on Friday.
When the migrants refused, police began to forcibly remove them and place them on buses. The were to be taken to the Saharonim prison facility where hearings would determine whether their walkout had violated the rules at Holot. Those found guilty could face terms of up to three months at Saharonim, Ynet reported.
Later Sunday, the migrants declared a hunger strike, appealing in a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Committee for a solution.
The migrants, who trekked to the border crossing at Nitzana with the stated intention of crossing into Egypt, had camped in the forest after Israeli border guards would not let them cross.
By Saturday afternoon, they had erected the protest camp in the forest, complete with a mobile clinic set up by Doctors for Human Rights and a mass morning prayer session led by Eritrean Christian faith leaders from Tel Aviv.
As they protested Israel’s detention policies and waited for the government to respond to their demands, Israeli activists brought the migrants food and water and helped them set up the makeshift tent city.
In recent months, detainees at Holot, mostly asylum-seekers from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia, have stepped up demonstrations against Israel’s migrant policies.
The government, however, has said that it does not plan to change its policies toward the migrants, insisting that most of them are illegals who have come to Israel seeking to work, not refugees fleeing conflict zones.
Holot, which was opened last year to hold the migrants before they are deported, houses 2,400 people. Migrants are sent there by order of Israel’s Interior Ministry.
Over the past week-and-a-half, 2,000 of the Holot detainees chose not to report to authorities there, despite being required to do so three times a day, Haaretz reported.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.