A number of severed doll heads doused in red paint were found outside the Tel Aviv office of the Population, Immigration, and Border Authority (PIBA) on Saturday, in what appears to be a protest move against the Israeli government’s intention to deport African asylum seekers.
The dolls and paint were accompanied by typed notes saying “their blood is on your hands,” and “this is just the beginning,” according to Hadashot TV.
Police launched an investigation and said that law enforcement authorities viewed any vandalization of government offices “with severe gravity.” Police added that the probe is being given high priority.
PIBA said in a statement that the incident was a “despicable act against government employees doing their jobs, an act that has no resemblance to a legitimate fight or acceptable [form of] protest.”
Severed heads installation outside Israeli immigration unit in Tel Aviv responsible for (not) giving refugee status. Israel plans to deport 10000s of refugees to persecution & likely death in Africa (photo credit: @ItayBlumental) pic.twitter.com/p0oCChMJPC
— Asaf Ronel (@AsafRonel) January 27, 2018
“[It is] an act of insanity that calls for violence the likes of which are seen in the underworld and we won’t let it come to pass quietly. Today, a red line was crossed and this is where it stops,” said the authority.
Last month, the Knesset approved an amendment to the so-called “Infiltrator’s Law” paving the way for the forced deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants and asylum seekers starting in March, and the indefinite imprisonment of those who refuse to leave “voluntarily.”
There are approximately 38,000 African migrants and asylum seekers in Israel, according to the Interior Ministry. About 72 percent are Eritrean and 20% are Sudanese, and the vast majority arrived between 2006 and 2012. Many live in south Tel Aviv, and some residents and activists blame them for rising crime rates and have lobbied the government for their deportation.
The amendment has gained international attention and is fraught with controversy.
On Friday, nearly 800 American Jewish clergymen signed an open letter urging the Israeli government to halt the expected deportations.
The letter, initiated by Jewish organizations including the New Israel Fund, refugee support group HIAS and rights group T’ruah, states that “Our own experience of slavery and liberation, and our own experience as refugees, compel us to act with mercy and justice toward those seeking refuge among us.”
In the new letter, rabbis, cantors, and students called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “start living up to Israel’s international responsibilities” towards refugees.
“This includes providing asylum seekers a fair chance to file applications for refugee status, and refraining from deporting asylum seekers to countries that cannot guarantee their safety. This also entails that your government begin to examine these applications in an effective, fair, transparent, and impartial manner.”
The document followed similar letters by North American Jewish leaders in recent weeks, in which they asked Netanyahu “to do the right thing, the Jewish thing, to be a light unto the nations in the way we treat the strangers among us.”
Last week, a group of Israeli Holocaust survivors also urged Netanyahu to stop the planned deportations. The 36 survivors called on the prime minister to make a “historic decision” and reverse the controversial deportation plan, according to the Haaretz daily.
“We ask you: Stop this process!” their letter read. “Only you have the authority to take the historic decision, and to show the world that the Jewish state will not allow suffering and torture of people under its protection.”
Heads of groups including HIAS, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the National Council of Jewish Women, J-Street, and T’ruah initially sent a letter to Netanyahu in November urging him not to deport asylum seekers. The Prime Minister’s Office responded weeks later challenging the description of African migrants as refugees or those seeking shelter from persecution or war.
In a rebuttal earlier this month, the groups noted that many migrants from Sudan and Eritrea had applied for refugee status, but were not being treated fairly.
“We know that many of [the migrants] are indeed asylum seekers and refugees deserving of protection, and we are deeply concerned for their welfare,” the letter read.
“We also know that outside of Israel approximately 56 percent of Sudanese and 84% of Eritrean asylum applicants have been accepted as refugees. The fact that fewer than 1% of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum applicants in Israel have received refugee status casts serious doubts on the validity of Israel’s asylum process as it currently stands.”
The letter signatories said reports indicated that migrants forced to leave were not finding safe havens elsewhere.
Netanyahu has announced deals to send migrants to third-party countries in Africa, but has refused to divulge where they are.
In November, Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said the country could accept approximately 10,000 asylum seekers from Israel. Israel will reportedly pay $5,000 to the Rwandan government for each deported migrant, plus a $3,500 “leaving grant” directly to the person being deported.
Previously, Rwanda and Uganda accepted about 4,000 migrants and asylum seekers who signed a document saying they had “willingly left” Israel, but until now the countries have not accepted any asylum seekers who were deported against their will.
JTA contributed to this report.