A family of Sudanese migrant surrounded by Israeli soldiers after crossing from the Egyptian border, 2007. (Photo: AP)
The Israeli military is operating inside of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, arresting African asylum seekers before they enter the Jewish state and turning them over to Egyptian authorities. A report released on August 10th by human rights organizations including Amnesty International, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Hotline for Migrant Workers is the first to expose the secretive army activities. According to the Associated Press, the “Israeli military censor banned Israel-based journalists from writing about the report.”
At times the Israeli military also deceived the refugees into thinking they were already inside of Israel in a ploy to detain them. One anonymous soldier said in an affidavit published by Lina Attalah in the Egypt Independent on Friday:
In light of this, they recommended that we give them the illusion that they have arrived to the territory of Israel by not using aggressive behavior, displays of tension, or threats with our weapons. They suggested that we receive those that come with the blessing ‘Welcome to Israel,’ to act friendly, to ask the purpose for their arrival, to offer food and water and to promise them that a bus will arrive soon to take them.
In a separate incidence, the same soldier described:
The catching of the three [infiltrators] occurred in the early morning, a few tens of meters from the border, inside the Egyptian territory. We guarded the three a few hours and afterwards we marched them along the border, on the Egyptian side, a few kilometers until the point where we were supposed to hand them to the Egyptian forces.
The soldier’s account clearly indicates Israel was conducting military activities outside of its borders, and confirms coordination with Egyptian forces:
In an additional event that I participated in, I was called to guard a group of about 40 people, including 30 men and another 10 women, female adolescents, girls, and one baby. They were arrested throughout the night by our forces in a deep valley inside Egypt. I arrived during the day. The group sat on the ground and we guarded around them. I guarded there eight hours during the day. Brigade level ranking commanders also arrived to the place. They told us that we are waiting for the arrival of the Egyptians to a close road and there we will carry out the return.
While members of Israel’s military have confirmed the cooperation with Egyptian soldiers, Egypt is denying the joint deportations. Speaking to Attalah, Sherif Ismail, a security advisor in the Sinai district, said, “This is unheard of. It’s a matter of Egyptian sovereignty.”
The number of migrants apprehended by Israeli forces and turned over to Egyptian authorities is unknown, but the rights groups reported in July the number of Africans entering Israel was reduced by 75 to 90 percent. “According to information from the Israeli interior ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority, just 248 migrants successfully crossed in July; in previous months the numbers ranged from 928 to 2,295,” reported Attalah.
Since the spring, African migrants in Israel have been subject to numerous acts of mob violence, discriminatory laws, and mass incarcerations and deportations. Just this week, the Israeli government added new roadblocks to migrants seeking to overturn their deportation orders, forcing the refugees to leave the country before filing an appeal. And recently two Tel Aviv hospitals adopted a program to medically segregate and test on undocumented migrants.
There are an estimated 60,000 African migrants living in Israel, with a majority entering the country in the past 10 years. The rising discrimination against them thrives in Israeli communities fearful that the refugees will change the Jewish nature of the state. However, as migrant populations are not citizens and therefore cannot vote, their presence is unable to reduce Israel’s demographic majority.
It is worth noting the arrest and subsequent deportations are not the only coordinated military action between Israel and Egypt. Newly elected Mohammed Mursi is continuing ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s legacy of joint security efforts with the Jewish state, following last Sunday’s attack on an Egyptian police station when 16 officers were killed. The ambush was Egypt’s deadliest border attack since 1979, when the Camp David Accords were signed. On Thursday Israel exempted Egypt from some of the demilitarization terms in the peace treaty, allowing Mursi to deploy tanks, ground troops and helicopters in the Sinai.