Between Beirut and a Hard Place
Israel’s African Refugees Are Protesting Against Indefinite Detention
Last October, African asylum seekers living in south Tel Aviv held a demonstration demanding “security.” By that, they meant refugee status and the rights that accompany it: for example, the basic police protection most of us take for granted, including the right not to be attacked by a racist mob, like the kind occasionally seen in South Tel Aviv’s streets.
Three months later, Tel Aviv’s African asylum seekers are back out in protest against their treatment by the Israeli government. Last week I went to a demonstration in Jerusalem and found thousands of people gathered in front of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament building, chanting “We are refugees! We need protection!” Along with the already huge number of people who’d arrived over the previous few days, supporters were still streaming in by the busload, with estimates putting the total number of demonstrators at more than 20,000.
"Today we’re here to find our rights," said Sumia Nadiy, an asylum seeker from Sudan. "We came to speak with the government members in the Knesset, to see and talk to them to find a solution about the situation for refugees or asylum seekers here."
I Was Abducted by Hezbollah at Beirut’s Bombed Iranian Embassy
Yesterday, at around 9.30 AM, two suicide bombers attacked the Iranian Embassy in Beirut. The building is in Bir Hassan, a Hezbollah-controlled suburb in the south of Lebanon’s capital. Targeting the Iranian embassy sent a clear message. Iran is a major supporter of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as the Shi’a political and paramilitary organization Hezbollah. At least 25 people were killed in the blast—including the Iranian cultural attaché, Ebrahim Ansari. About 145 more were injured.
Within hours of the bombing, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades—a Lebanon-based jihadist group with links to al Qaeda—claimed responsibility for the attacks over Twitter. Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the group’s religious guide, described the twin bombings as a “double martyrdom operation carried out by two heroes from the heroic Sunnis of Lebanon.” The attack marked the third time this year that areas in Beirut’s Bir Hassan suburb have been targeted, with previous attacks on July 9 and August 15 killing a total of 27 people.
Lebanese politicians were quick to present a united front in condemnation of the attack. Caretaker Prime Minster Najib Miqati described the twin blasts as a “cowardly terrorist” attack, suggesting that foreign agents were using Lebanon as a “mailbox” for their own agendas, while opposition leader Saad Hariri stated that “the blasts should become a new impetus to steer Lebanon clear of the fires in the region”. Iran, as it does with everything from political instability to natural disasters, pointed the finger at Israel.
Driving with the Female Street Racers of Palestine
I’m driving around the streets of Ramallah, Palestine with Noor Dawood, the celebrated Palestinian street racer and the only female drifter in the Middle East. Noor is one of four members of the “Speed Sisters,” the first and only female racing team in the Middle East, who have brought international attention to the burgeoning Palestine street racing scene, pissing of Muslim clerics and dismantling the caricature of Palestinian womanhood as they go.
From the driver seat of her GTI, Noor speaks about the challenges the women faced at the beginning. “At first, [the other drivers] were skeptical,” the Texas-born 23-year-old tells me as we drift around a turn. “They weren’t used to seeing a woman driving crazy behind the wheel—racing against and beating men. But then they were like, ‘These women can drive.’”
They defintiely can, and I quickly reconsider my choice of venue for the interview. Noor’s aggressive driving on the tight, steep, and manic streets of occupied Palestine is whittling away at my composure, every terrifying curve sends my scripted questions into pre-pubescent squeaks.
A bird’s eye view of the course. In the background, you can see a monument erected in memory of the Palestinian lives lost during the Second Intifada. Behind that, the Israeli settlement of Beit El is visible.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Ramallah has a geography that breeds racers, who evolve out of the lawless and severe landscape of the occupied territories. “Yeah, learning to drive here was definitely part of it,” Noor tells me. “These streets are how I got my start, where I first learned how to race, and how to drift. All is equal out here.”
Uganda Is Taking Israel’s Unwanted Asylum Seekers to Get Cheaper Weapons
Earlier this month, it was reported that Israel was trying to swap Africans for arms. Or, more specifically, broker a deal with a number of unspecified African countries that would see thousands of African refugees included in lucrative deals for Israeli weapons and military training. If you take back these annoying, resources-sapping asylum seekers, the Israelis seemed to be saying, you can buy our guns for cheap.
The Israeli government is currently detaining thousands of African asylum seekers in desert prisons on the Egyptian border. Many of them now face being shipped off, against their will, to whichever African country will take them. Seemingly no thought has been paid to sending asylum seekers back to oppressive regimes they may have been fleeing in the first place.
It seems that a deal has now been struck, as late last week Israeli Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced that he would start the process of deporting migrants to Uganda.
The Israeli government already have strong relations with their Ugandan counterparts, with Israel currently “working to introduce sophisticated agro-technology" to the country. But it is newer support to Uganda’s military—weapons, training, fighter jets, and possibly drones—that many suspect to be behind the country’s decision to import asylum seekers from Israel.
"We’re hoping to operate in the coming weeks and months in a way that will make another exit for infiltrators in the country,” Sa’ar explained, “while trying to reach agreements with more countries.”
This Palestinian Taxidermist’s Stuffed Animal Zoo Is Heartbreaking
OK sure, so somebody stuffed Napoleon’s horse, but in general, no one pays too much attention to the animal victims of war. No one except Dr. Sami Khader, that is.
Dr. Khader lives in the Palestinian city of Qalqilya. It’s a place that’s seen its fair share of hate. Since 2003, the 40,000 or so people who live there have been encircled by the walls of theinfamous Israeli West Bank Barrier. It’s also home to Palestine’s only zoo, where Dr. Khader is the resident veterinarian and director.
Scattered around his room are plastic soda bottles of various sizes that serve as mobile terrariums for the doctors’ creatures. On the table two snakes are curled up at the base of their bottles, on the floor a scorpion paces back and forth in its container and a soda bottle pokes out of the doctor’s leather bag, though I can’t see what creature is living in that. Maybe it’s just a Coke. All the animals were either found by the doctor or dropped in by the Qalqilya townspeople, and scattered among the living are skeletons, pinned insects and a stuffed bobcat.
Dr Sami Khader, director, resident veterinarian, and self-taught taxidermist at Qalqilya’s zoo.
“Do you want to hold it?” Dr. Khader asks, gesturing to a snake on the desk. He casually describes being bitten by another snake recently, by a species that could, apparently, have killed him in an hour had it not been for a delayed shot of antivenom.
“It was a very stupid day,” recalls Dr. Khader. “I was giving a lecture at a school and I brought some snakes to show the kids. It was dark and I reached into the wrong container. Usually I pick the snake up by its head, but this day I chose the wrong snake and I was bitten. I acted like nothing happened. I finished the presentation then went to the hospital.”
I’m not here to gawk at snakes in bottles, though, I’m here to see an exhibition of stuffed animals that Dr. Khader has created from the beasts that were killed in the Second Intifada, the four-year period of fighting that claimed the lives of 4,000 Palestinians and more than 1,000 Israelis.
It is probably worth mentioning at this point that Dr. Khader appears to be an entirely self-taught taxidermist.
Israel’s Killer Robots
Israel is the world’s biggest exporter of military drones, used around the world for everything from surveillance to precision rocket attacks on speeding cars in remote locales. Israel’s drone program hasn’t stirred as much controversy as its American counterpart, but not because their targeted killings are any less fatal. VICE sent Simon Ostrovsky to a drone testing airfield in Israel to find out what their latest eye-in-the-sky can see.
I Refused to join the Israeli Defense Forces
Moriel Rothman doesn’t sound bitter when he reflects on the contradictions that formed his childhood identity and eventual political outlook. In fact, he sounds more saddened, if anything. “On the one hand, my heroes were Israeli commandos, and on the other they were the young Jewish American Freedom Riders [Jewish civil rights activists in 1960s America]. I held these two together without fully coming to terms with the fact that there might be a contradiction.”
That contradiction, if you hadn’t picked up on it, stems from the fact that while the Freedom Riders were fighting for the rights of America’s persecuted minorities, Israeli commandos were systematically crushing the rights of their persecuted Palestinian neighbors.
Moriel is a 23-year-old American-Israeli who was born in Jerusalem, spent most of his life in the US, and is now back in the city of his birth. “I think we’re brought up to talk on a universal level about values of justice, standing up to inequality, breaking the law when the law is unjust, and standing up for the oppressed,” he continued. “But not when it comes to our own context—not when it comes to Israel and not when it comes to standing up for Palestine.”
Late last year, Moriel spent time in a military prison for refusing to live out the first part of his childhood dream: the military commando. Military service in Israel is mandatory by law for Jewish youth and young people from the Druze religious minority, however, only around half of those eligible enlist and many more leave during their service.
Dancing Idiots, Candy Floss, and Rubber Bullets: Passover in Hebron, Palestine
The city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank is a pretty bizarre place at the best of times. But the recent Passover festival held by Jewish settlers living on the Palestinian land was easily among the most surreal things I’ve seen in a region that seems to thrive on weird shit.
The collective psychosis in Hebron stems from a centuries-old ownership dispute over the Tomb of the Patriarchs, known as the Ibrahimi Mosque to Muslims and the Cave of Machpela to Jews. The tomb is the supposed burial place of Abraham/Avraham/Ibrahim, the founding father of Islam, Judaism, and, therefore, Christianity. I don’t subscribe to any of those, but—despite the fact that the founder of three of the world’s largest religions surely has enough love to go around—I guess it’s understandable to fight over access to your spiritual father’s grave.
Hebron’s current state of madness, however, has less to do with religious craziness and more to do with ethnic segregation. Hebron is the only place in the West Bank where Israeli settlers live directly inside a Palestinian city. To deal with the minor awkwardness that presents, it’s been divided into two sectors—one controlled by the Israeli military, the other by the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The proportions of settlers, Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in the Israeli-controlled old city are totally unbelievable, in the sense that I probably wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it for myself. There are around 500 Israeli settlers and 30,000 Palestinians, with 2,000 Israeli soldiers milling about to keep them in line.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs itself is also divided into a Muslim half and a Jewish half, because, as you might expect, there are those who refuse to play nice. In 1994, an American settler named Baruch Goldstein decided to play spectacularly un-nice and is now immortalized on Murderpedia for his massacre of 29 Palestinians in the Muslim side of the tomb. That, plus the Second Intifada, set the stage for the head-spinning clusterfuck that is today’s Hebron.
One Young Druz vs. the Israeli Military
Every able-bodied Israeli has to serve in the military when they turn 18. Exceptions are made for Arab citizens and ultra–Orthodox Jews, but not for the country’s 125,000 Druze, an Arabic-speaking ethnic and religious minority that is primarily based in the north of the country. Last October, a 17-year-old Druze from Galilee named Omar Saad took a stand against Israel’s mandatory military service when he refused to appear at the recruitment office for a medical examination. In Omar’s widely circulated open letter to the government, he wrote, “Many of our Druze men served in the Israeli army… But what did we get out of this? We are discriminated against on all levels. Our villages are the poorest, our land has been confiscated, there is no urban planning or industrial areas…” Omar hasn’t backed down in the months since his letter went public, and with his graduation approaching I thought I’d call him up and see how things were going.
VICE: What’s your situation right now? Are you getting a lot of heat for the letter?
Omar Saad: I was sent three messages to go and do the required medical tests before enlisting in the army. The last letter they sent me said that if I didn’t go by this specific date, a police officer could arrest me and take me over to the station to do the medical exam. This isn’t usually sent to 17-year-olds who don’t have an enlisting order. I don’t have an enlisting order because I’m not 18 yet.
Why are you refusing to join the army?
I am a Palestinian, and I cannot fight my own people. It’s against the way my parents raised me. Many years ago, my two brothers and I agreed that we would not serve in the army. Last year it began to be more of a reality when I received my first letter from the authorities.
What are you going to do after graduation?
I can’t do anything. I can’t travel. I can’t even go to university. I am trapped inside my land. I think I am going to spend some time in prison, and after prison, I really want to continue my studying of music—maybe abroad. I’m a musician, and my friends and I play for peace and to end the occupation.
Are you scared of being imprisoned?
I’m nervous. Every student in my class thinks about continuing their lives normally—maybe going straight to college or having fun for a year. Because I am studying in Nazareth, my siblings and I are the only Druze in our school. I’m thinking, I’m going to end up in prison. That’s not a place for a normal guy to be.
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