Mondoweiss

As Tel Aviv prepares to welcome Beyoncé, here’s a review of Israel’s atrocious record towards black people

Ethiopian Israelis took to the streets of Jerusalem on the evening of April 30 to protest police brutality and systemic racism. (Photo: Lior Mizrahi)

Days after her Super Bowl halftime appearance, Israeli outlet Yedioth Ahronoth has confirmed rumors that Beyoncé Knowles will perform two dates in Tel Aviv, Israel this August, which would be in violation of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Her recent performance referenced the Black Panthers, the Black Lives Matters movement, and Malcolm X. Beyoncé’s dancers wore Black Panthers style berets and black leather, and were photographed raising their fists in an homage to Tommie Johnson and John Carlos salute at the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City. They were also photographed holding a sign that read “Justice 4 Mario Woods,” who was killed by San Francisco police last December.

The day before, she released a video for “Formation,” her latest song which references police brutality and Hurricane Katrina.  

In light of her decision to perform in Israel – which would put her at odds with Malcolm X’s sharp criticism of Israel – I have compiled a review of Israeli policy towards people of African descent.

Afro-Palestinians

Afro-Palestinians descend from pilgrims who came from Chad, Nigeria, Sudan and Senegal for religious reasons as well as to take up arms with Palestinians against British and Zionist colonization. Their population size is unknown, numbering somewhere in the tens of thousands. Trapped behind Israel’s separation walls in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip, their freedom of movement is subject to Israel’s military occupation and they are unable to enter Israel without rarely-issued permits – certainly not to attend Beyoncé’s performances in Tel Aviv. They have been subject to Israeli colonial violence since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, most recently the 2014 mega-assault on Gaza Israel termed “Operation Protective Edge” which killed more than 2,200 Palestinians including 551 children.

African refugees

The approximately 40,000 African asylum-seekers fleeing political persecution and ethnic cleansing in Eritrea and Sudan currently inside Israel would not be able to attend either. Deemed “infiltrators” by Israeli officials, 3,360 refugees are imprisoned in the Holot detention center – what President Reuven Rivlin called a “concentration camp.”

Last fall, when the high court ordered the Israeli Prison Service to release African refugees who had been imprisoned in Holot for more than twelve months, the Interior Ministry banned them from living or working in Tel Aviv and Eilat, effectively creating sundown towns. Mayor of Arad Nisan Ben Hamo extrajudicially erected police checkpoints at the entrances to the town to keep refugees out – a move widely supported by the townspeople. The mayor of Beit Shean followed suit.

Culture Minister Miri Regev called them “cancer in the body” (a statement 52% of Israelis agreed with) inciting mob violence in impoverished south Tel Aviv, where the Israeli government rounded them up and dumped them in a public park years before.

The Israeli police’s Yoav Unit is tasked with rounding up foreign workers and refugees, sometimes entering apartments and sending them to Saharonim, a prison next to Holot.

Exorbitant ticket prices aside, African refugees who could legally attend would likely would not because of the climate of fear these round ups have produced.

Last October, a mob including uniformed Israeli soldiers and security guards lynched 29-year-old Eritrean refugee Haftom Zarhum and prevented emergency medical services from evacuating him after a Palestinian opened fire in the Be’er Sheva central bus station. To date, only four of the nine participants have been indicted.

In 2014, Eritrean refugee Yordanes Yamena was carrying her baby when an Israeli man stabbed the infant with a pair of scissors. He told police that he attacked baby Kako because “I wanted stop black terror,” and deemed psychologically unfit for trial. The Israeli government issued a summons to Holot to the baby’s father, despite the ruling that married men were exempt. The Israeli government refused to grant the family legal residency, and two years after the stabbing, they received asylum in a European country.

Ethiopians

Israeli citizenship and serving in the military has not prevented Ethiopians from being discriminated against. Brought into Israel beginning in the 1980s, they have suffered heavy discrimination from the moment they arrived.

Ethiopian women have complained that their entry to Israel was conditional based on taking Depo-Provera birth control shots or being refused entry to Israel. Others claim to have been unwittingly administered Depo-Provera. This led to a 50% decline in the birthrate of Ethiopian population, and “a ‘missing generation’ of Ethiopian children.”

In 1996, blood donated by the Ethiopians was destroyed by the Health Ministry over fears that it may be contaminated with HIV. In 2013, Member of Knesset Pnina Tamano-Shata was refused donating blood because of “the special kind of Jewish-Ethiopian blood” by the Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross.

Last summer, a video emerged of two police officers beating Damas Pakada, a uniformed Ethiopian-Israeli soldier, setting off protests decrying official maltreatment. These demonstrations were met with police brutality that had previously been reserved for Palestinians only. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the soldier, assuring him that substantive changes would be made. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein later announced that the police officers who beat Pakada would not be tried on the grounds that Pakada had provoked the beating.

Ethiopian-Israeli Avera Mengistu crossed into Gaza in September, 2014. The Israeli government threatened the family, telling them that he would stay in Gaza for another year if they did not remain silent about it, and placed a gag order that prevented Israeli media from reporting on it.  The gag order was not lifted until July, 2015, prompting accusations of racism from the Ethiopian community. Mengistu remains in captivity in the besieged Gaza Strip.

African Hebrews

The African Hebrews, a group of African-Americans who embraced Hebraic traditions and immigrated to Israel in 1969 from the United States, have found similar treatment in Israel. Not officially recognized as Jews, they were not granted permanent residency until 2003.

Last year, nineteen-year-old Toveet Radcliffe became the first African-American to die in the Israeli army when she was found dead on a military base. The army repeatedly altered its story, and the official report delivered to the family last month suggested that the death was a suicide. As journalist David Sheen reported, the explanation of her death appears to be physically impossible, raising suspicions of a cover up. To date, the military has not answered questions the Radcliffe’s family has about her death. Her younger siblings will enlist in the military in the coming years.

Arming despots in Africa

Israel has long been unscrupulous in providing weapons to despotic African regimes, including those accused of genocide. In the 1970s and 80’s, Israel provided arms to apartheid South Africa despite international sanctions. From 2006 to 2010, Israel supplied arms to Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Lesotho, Nigeria, Rwanda, the Seychelles, South Africa and Uganda.

Israel continues to export weapons to Burundi, despite that “there has been a ‘genocide alarm’ out on Burundi for several months.”

Propaganda coup

Beyoncé’s upcoming appearances would be a coup for the Israeli government, which brings in international touring acts to improve its image as part of an official strategy.

“One of ours goals is to strengthen the relationship of Israel to the young generation in the diaspora, not just for Jews, but for blacks…” Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan told the New York Times. Erdan recently introduced Tel Aviv’s chief of police to May Golan, a leader at anti-African demonstrations in Tel Aviv and head of the Jewish City party – a political party that backed the governing Likud party in exchange for political power in its anti-refugee agenda. “I am proud to be a racist,” Golan told a crowd at an anti-African refugee demonstration in 2012.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that African Hebrews are eligible for citizenship upon completion of military service. Thanks to journalist Andrew Esensten for the correction.