Italy’s Largest Immigrant Ghetto Is Incredibly Bleak
The colored neon lights and the music pumping from the speakers rip through the silence of the countryside near Foggia, in the region of Apulia, southern Italy. I should be in the middle of nowhere but there’s actually quite a lot of traffic here: cars, motorbikes, and people coming and going. It’s around 10 PM and after almost two hours wandering in the roads around Foggia I find myself in front of what the locals call “The Big Ghetto,” or more simply the Rignano Ghetto.
The “ghetto” was spontaneously formed more than 15 years ago, after the evacuation of an abandoned sugar mill, which had served as accommodation for foreign men working in Foggia’s “slavery triangle.” Exploitation of migrants in agriculture is not particular to Apulia—it is common all over Italy, especially in the south. A 2012 report by the Flai Cgil (the Italian General Confederation of Labor’s affiliated Agro-industrial Workers’ Union), said that 700,000 regular and irregular pickers work in the fields and about 400,000 of them are recruited irregularly for very low wages.
Inside a shack
Over the last decade the Rignano “village” has expanded. The demography of the ghetto changes depending on the season and the demand for work in the tomato fields. During winter it hosts around 200 immigrants (mainly coming from French-speaking African countries), while during summer the population rises to 800. Some of its inhabitants arrived in Italy by plane 20 years ago, while those who arrived recently had to cross the desert and pay thousands of dollars to travel in rickety fishing boats across the Mediterranean, hoping they wouldn’t lose their lives like those inLampedusa recently.
Once they succeed in crossing the Mediterranean, day laborers in southern fields are forced to camp out in abandoned factories, with no money and a daily dose of violence from landowners who make enormous profits out of their work. The work conditions border on the Medieval.
I Watched a Guy Get Crucified for Easter
On Easter Sunday, as a publicity stunt for some website called Battlecam, a guy dressed as Jesus was crucified in Beverly Hills.
I was sent a press release about it a couple of weeks ago and assumed it was going to be fake, as Battlecam is the same company that recently released videos of an assisted suicide and a naked fat guy attacking a member of the Phelps family. Which rank, respectively, as the second- and third-fakest-looking things ever made (the first is that new Oz movie) and fooled approximately no one.
But I figured I’d head down anyway, ‘cause what else is there to do on Easter?
When I arrived Jesus was in makeup.
His name is “Mr Eyelidz,” and he’s a user of the Battlecam site, which I don’t understand even after visiting it and reading the company’s press releases. It’s described as both “an internet-based live and interactive reality television channel” and an “anti-social networking site.” From what I can tell, this means they’re a social network where people do “edgy,” Jackass-type stuff live on webcam, sometimes for money, usually just for attention.
Mr Eyelidz told me he had previously done things on the site like smash flaming beer bottles on himself and pierce his eyelids (hence the name). He said he was being paid for the crucifixion, but said he wasn’t allowed to say how much. A couple of people commenting on the Battlecam site put the amount at $10,000.
It took place in a storefront window so that people could watch it from the street. It was also livestreamed online and broadcast on some local TV stations.
For reasons that were never explained, noted statutory rapist Joey Buttafuoco was there. At one point, he went on camera and said some stuff about the Battlecam crucifixion being important because it helps to protect the First Amendment. So maybe he was there for political reasons? That would be fucking amazing.
They were having issues with their livestream, so the run-up to the crucifixion went on for-fucking-ever. They had people do various stunts on camera. Like this guy, who is snorting a line of crucifix sawdust. Awesome, bro.
When the crucifixion finally started, they had Eyelidz walk down the street carrying a cross on his back. I think they were expecting a crowd to turn up and watch. Except only about five people showed, and all of them were invited into the studio. The presenter kept lying and saying on camera that there was a big crowd gathered outside.
Also, I’m not really sure why they did the crucifixion on Easter Sunday, rather than Good Friday. Maybe Eyelidz couldn’t find anyone to cover his shift at Hot Topic. IDK.
THE MYSTERIOUS AND DEPRESSING CASE OF PRISONER X
The grave of Ben Zygier, Israel’s “Prisoner X”
On Tuesday morning, the Australian news network ABC broadcast a story revealing the identity of the mysterious “Prisoner X,” who died in solitary confinement in an Israeli prison in 2010. In fact, “Prisoner X” was the subject of a case so secret that ABC claimed even the guards inside the Ayalon prison didn’t know his identity, and that he “lived hermetically sealed from the outside world.” His arrest and detention have been described as a “disappearance,” setting alarm bells ringing for bodies such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, who argued that the idea of individuals simply vanishing from society is not a characteristic of a democratic state.
If the case already sounded like a bizarre 21st century combination of a Cold War spy thriller and The Man in the Iron Mask, things only got murkier when it was revealed that Prisoner X was found hanged in a cell that was under 24-hour surveillance, yet his incarceration was not officially recognized by either the Israeli Prison Service or the government. The Sydney Morning Herald also revealed on Wednesday that he was being watched by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), and that he had traveled to Iran, Syria, and Lebanon—all places that bar entry to people who’ve visited “the Zionist entity.” Israel forbids its citizens from traveling to these places for “security reasons,” so it was reported that Zygier, along with at least two others, had used their Australian passports. It’s been suggested often before that Australians are favored for spy missions because they don’t attract suspicion.
One thing ABC was clear about from the start was his identity—he was an Australian national named Ben Zygier, who had moved to Israel ten years before his death and changed his name to Ben Alon, before marrying an Israeli woman with whom he had two children. It seems likely that Zygier spent time working as a spy for the infamous Israeli secret service agency the Mossad before being jailed without an open trial and dying in his cell. ABC stated that his body was flown to Melbourne in December 2010 for burial, but the Australian government wasn’t informed of his death. This constitutes a violation of fairly basic international law, something that Israel is admittedly no stranger to.
Ayalon prison, where Zygier was detained
This is where it all started to become a problem for the Israeli government. Israeli media outlets usually manage to bypass the military censor for high profile stories by quoting foreign media sources and, initially, the local Israeli press jumped on ABC’s revelation. However, it seems that the Prisoner X case is shrouded in even more secrecy than the strikes Israel recently carried out in Syria and the country’s incursion into Lebanese airspace. Ha’aretz later reported that:
“The Prime Minister’s Office called on Tuesday an emergency meeting of the Israeli Editors Committee, an informal forum comprised of the editors and owners of major Israeli media outlets, to ask its members to cooperate with the government and withhold publication of information pertaining to an incident that is very embarrassing to a certain government agency.”