Trending Topics:

African refugees hold up i.d. numbers, recalling Holocaust tattoos

on 22 Comments
African immigrants rally at Rabin Square

African asylum-seekers march in Tel Aviv on Saturday night,  December 28. The numbers are the IDs issued by the Israeli immigration authorities.  A biblical quote from Exodus is above (behind) the 144519 sign.

Thousands of African asylum-seekers, joined by Israeli supporters, held a silent march through Tel Aviv last night (Saturday).   The protesters demand  that the Israeli government recognize them as political refugees and request freedom for their countrymen, who are being held in three Negev desert detention centers, Saharonim, Ketziot and Holot, because of their official status as illegal immigrants.  The march, which began at Lewinsky Park in southern Tel Aviv, concluded with a rally at Rabin Square.  Ha’aretz estimated 5000 protesters participated in the demonstration.

An African man, who spoke in rudimentary Hebrew at the rally, compared the situation of the asylum-seekers to that of the Jews in Europe in 1939.  He told those gathered about the dictatorial governments from which the immigrants had fled and their desire to live in a democracy and to have “equality.”

Many of the demonstrators carried candles, while others carried placards, some in Hebrew, and others in English and French.   Many marched with signs on which were written the seven-digit identification number assigned them by the immigration authorities.

The idea for using the numbers on the placards came as a result of a newspaper article from earlier in the week which touched off a public outcry against the immigration authorities.  The mass circulation daily, Ma’ariv, ran a story titled, “From the Point of View of the State, the Detainees Are Only Numbers.” That piece reported that African asylum-seekers who were arrested at a Jerusalem demonstration, after fleeing from the Holot “open” detention facility, were listed in a court document solely by their ID number [see graphic below].   The court papers were later refiled to include the names of the detainees.

From the point of view of the State, the detainees are just numbers

Headline: “From the point of view of the State, the detainees are just numbers.”  Ma’ariv, Dec. 26. The photo shows an African demonstrator near the Knesset being arrested by the Immigration Police last week.  The daily Ha’aretz reported that the police acted “brutally” in making the arrests.   At right, the document which the Ministry of Immigration sent to the court, listing those arrested at the Jerusalem protest only by their ID number.

For most Israeli Jews the numbers immediately bring to mind the ID numbers which were tattooed on the arms of Jews in the concentration camps of Europe during World War II.  The numbers are instinctively associated with captivity and dehumanization in most Jewish minds.

A Hebrew language sign which was employed at the march on Saturday evening, one that had been carried at previous protests, was taken from the Book of Exodus (23, 9).  The sign quotes the biblical injunction:

And a stranger shalt thou not oppress, for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

This passage is recited each year by Jews during the Passover meal and for them it is one of the most familiar biblical quotations.  Ironically, few Jews currently living in Israel have suffered oppression in Egypt, but many African asylum-seekers who are mostly Sudanese or Eritrean and crossed into Israel from Egypt did endure great hardship in the land of the pyramids (see “G.”‘s story, below).

Last week the left-leaning newspaper Ha’aretz published a sympathetic editorial calling for the government to review the asylum petitions of the Africans.  More surprisingly, the right-wing paper Ma’ariv, in addition to the story quoted above, ran a very supportive editorial concerning the rights of the African refugees.  Unfortunately however, most government officials and many Israelis hold extremely intolerant views toward the Sudanese and Eritrean immigrants.

The Israeli government currently employs a policy that includes neglect, vilification, detention and repatriation.  It has been reported that Tel Aviv is presently trying to find an African nation to which the new immigrants could be transferred.

The plight of the Africans has been extensively covered by David Sheen.  He made this video documenting a right-wing Israeli demonstration and “pogrom” against the Africans in which members of the Israeli Knesset participated.  Sheen also has a new piece at the Electronic Intifada detailing the views of government officials and others whose  racist attitudes toward the asylum-seekers are presently determining future Israeli policy.

There are about 60,000 non-Jewish Africans currently living illegally in Israel.  Most live in southern Tel Aviv.  The Israelis have recently completed a security fence on the southern border with Egypt that has stopped the African immigration.  About 2,000 Africans are being held in detention facilities in the Negev desert.

An Eritrean man who participated in the Saturday demonstration and was identified only by his first name, Emmanuel, said that the situation is “not logical” because there are tens of thousands of illegal Africans living in Israel, but the government, “only wants to put 2000 in prison.”  “How are you going to solve any problem by placing 2000 people in prison, he stated. “What will you do with the rest?”  Emmanuel declared, “We are human beings and want to be related to as such.  We did not come to do evil or to hurt anyone, only to get our lives back.”



The table below is from the Ma’ariv article, “From the Point of View of the State….”  The header reads, “The People Behind the Numbers.”  A translation of the table follows:


“The People Behind the Numbers” Ma’ariv, December 28, 2013


G., asylum-seeker from Eritrea

20 years old.  He fled from Eritrea to Sudan, was kidnapped there by smugglers and brought to the Sinai where he was held prisoner.  He suffered harsh torture by Bedouins.  His family paid $25,000 in exchange for his release.  During his imprisonment in the Sinai he witnessed men who were burned to death.  He arrived in Israel in August, 2012.  He has been imprisoned in Saharonim since that time.



M., asylum seeker from Darfur

In his 50s.  He fled from the Jebel Marra district.  In 2004, according to his testimony,  “The war arrived in my village.”  His eight-year-old son was murdered and his house was completely burned down twice.  All his property was stolen.  He moved with his children and wife to a refugee camp until he was able to flee to Egypt and from there to Israel.  He arrived in Israel in December, 2012.  Since then he has been held at Saharonim.


E., asylum-seeker from Darfur

23 years old.  He was born and raised in Jebel Marra, from there he fled to the interior because of the war.  He was accepted to study at the University of the Blue Nile [Sudan] and joined a student organization that supported the opposition.  Many of his friends “were disappeared” or were murdered during that time.  He infiltrated into Israel via the Sinai.  He was caught upon entering  Israel and imprisoned in Saharonim, where he remains to this day.


M., asylum-seeker from Darfur

23 years old.  He fled from a town named Mogia [?] which during the war became a refugee camp.  He joined the opposition forces and was place under constant surveillance by the government.  He was arrested and was tortured severely.  He said that among other things they threw boiling water on his arm.  He arrived in Israel in July 2012.  Since then he has been imprisoned in Saharonim.



Marching in Tel Aviv.  December 28, 2013

Africans and Israeli supporters marching in Tel Aviv, December 28, 2013
Photo credit: Oren Ziv/

Ira Glunts

Ira Glunts is a retired college librarian who lives in Madison, NY. His twitter handle is @abushalom

Other posts by .

Posted In:

22 Responses

  1. annie on December 29, 2013, 12:30 pm

    those aren’t the only weird numbers in israel, there are also the Graveyard of numbers

  2. DICKERSON3870 on December 29, 2013, 4:14 pm

    RE: Emmanuel declared, “We are human beings and want to be related to as such. We did not come to do evil or to hurt anyone, only to get our lives back.”

    A HYPOTHETICAL SUDANESE OR ERITREAN SPEAKS: Hath not a Sudanese or Eritrean eyes? Hath not a Sudanese or Eritrean hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer as an Israeli Jew is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
    If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
    If a Sudanese or Eritrean wrong an Israeli Jew, what is his humility?
    Revenge. If an Israeli Jew wrong a Sudanese or Eritrean, what should his sufferance be by Jewish example? Why, revenge.
    The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.

    The Merchant of Venice –

  3. Xpat on December 29, 2013, 4:43 pm

    Thanks, Ira.
    While we are looking at the resonance of images, one should note that the biblical verse is set in Koren type. This distinctive type is familiar to Israelis from formal texts. In English language terms, Koren type not quite as grand as Gothic but is not for everyday use either. It was actually developed for the first Hebrew bible printed in Israel (“wiping away Jewish shame” at all the Christian=printed bibles as Ben Gurion put it). Curiously, the man who initiated the new print type was an American Reform rabbi Judah Magnes. Magnes moved to a Palestine as a Zionist. He objected vocally to Ben Gurion’s aggression and went back home to the States in 1948 over an ideological rift with Israel.

    • Mikhael on December 30, 2013, 2:38 pm

      The Koren Tanakh was the first to be *printed* in the modern State of Israel after its independence (although Jewish printers first published Bibles in Europe), but obviously it wasn’t the first Tanakh assembled by Jews in Eretz Yisrael, the Tanakh we have today was the work of the Masoretic scribes in Tiberias

      Although Magnes supported a binational state, it’s misleading to say that he “went back home to the States in 1948 over an ideological rift with Israel” . He went to the States during the war for health reasons, although he also lobbied the Truman administration and the Jewish community to withdraw support from Israel. He also sought sanctions on the Arab belligerents. Part of his motivation stemmed from a fear that Israel would lose the war and its Jewish population would be destroyed.

      After his death, Magnes’s remains “went back home” to Sanhedria cemetery in Jerusalem, just as Zeev Jabotinsky (who also died in the US) was buried in Jerusalem.

      • Xpat on December 30, 2013, 6:39 pm

        “(Rabbi Judah Magnes) went to the States during the (1948) war for health reasons, although he also lobbied the Truman administration and the Jewish community to withdraw support from Israel.”

        Thank you for that! Rabbi Magnes was an early proponent for sanctions against Israel. As a Jewish organization on university campuses Hillel should take note that:
        A. The concept of BDS is as old as the State of Israel
        B. BDS is as Jewish as it comes. The founder of Hebrew University instituted a prototype of BDS.

  4. Daniel Rich on December 29, 2013, 4:53 pm

    The Israeli government can claim they do the number thing, because it helps them in [easily] identifying whatever it is they want to identify.

  5. Krauss on December 29, 2013, 8:48 pm

    The last time I heard someone speak about Israel as a “light unto the nations” was Naftali Bennett, unironically.

  6. Mikhael on December 30, 2013, 2:09 pm

    Israeli citizens (be they Jewish, Muslim, Druze, Christian or XXX) also are assigned numbers by the state and have to know them by heart–and carry them on their ID cards (teudat zehut) –just as US citizens have Social Security numbers. Nobody is branding and tattooing these undocumented migrants into Israel (some of who may be legitimate refugees, but many of whom came seeking work opportunities) by searing these numbers into their flesh as was done to concentration camp inmates. The comparison is obscene.

    • Woody Tanaka on December 30, 2013, 2:19 pm

      No, Mikhkhkhkhael, what is obscene is the zionist entity reducing people to numbers. That is obscene.

      • Mikhael on January 2, 2014, 2:08 am

        No, Mikhkhkhkhael, what is obscene is the zionist entity reducing people to numbers. That is obscene.


        Israel, like other well-organized, sovereign democratic states, assigns ID numbers to its citizens, alien residents, and people petitioning for asylum within its borders. Get back to me when the US abolishes Social Security and TIN numbers for its citizens and legal residents, or the UK no longer assigns Social Insurance numbers for its citizens or requires asylum seekers within its borders to carry an Application Registration Card with an ID number on it. You’re not a smart person, so you probably do not understand that just as it is not obscene or reducing people to numbers when these governments have such policies, neither is it when Israel does the same.

      • Mikhael on January 2, 2014, 2:10 am

        British ID card for alien asylum seekers, with NUMBER

  7. Mikhael on December 30, 2013, 2:17 pm

    re ” It has been reported that Tel Aviv is presently trying to find an African nation to which the new immigrants could be transferred.”

    Whether to allow the undocumented foreign migrants to stay in Israel and for how long (assuming they are legitimate asylum-seekers)or deport them to their homelands or a third country is not a matter to be decided by “Tel Aviv”–its municipal government, mayor and city council, will not be making policy decisions on this matter. Tel Aviv-Yafo’s jurisdiction extends to Tel Aviv-Yafo and this is a national matter. National policy decisions are made by the State of Israel’s national government, which sits in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.

    • American on December 30, 2013, 2:35 pm

      “”which sits in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.””

      No country including the US recongizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

      • Mikhael on December 30, 2013, 2:50 pm

        re “No country including the US recongizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

        Doesn’t change the fact that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, the place where its government and Knesset sits, and that the city government of “Tel Aviv” will not be making national policy decisions for the State of Israel.

      • talknic on December 30, 2013, 3:27 pm

        It doesn’t change the fact that Israel is in breach of International Law and the UN Charter Mikhael. A criminal state.

        Do you support all crime Mikhael?

        Say …… I wonder if Mikhael would agree to the Palestinians having Tel Aviv as their capital.

      • Mikhael on January 2, 2014, 1:48 am

        “Say …… I wonder if Mikhael would agree to the Palestinians having Tel Aviv as their capital.”

        Tel Aviv, just like Jerusalem, is an Israeli city under Israeli jurisdiction and sovereignty, but it is not the Israeli capital.

      • Woody Tanaka on December 30, 2013, 6:35 pm

        “Doesn’t change the fact that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital”

        No, Mikhkhkhkhkhkhael, the zionist entity claims the city as its capital. If that claim is not respected by the world (and it’s not), then it’s meaningless.

      • Mikhael on January 2, 2014, 1:42 am

        No TanaKKKa,

        The city where our main governmental institutions are, where the cabinet, PM’s office and Presidential House (where foreign ambassadors must present their credentials), where the Knesset convenes (where even our Arab MKs agree to be sworn into office, including former Arafat advisor Tibi, who earlier today angrily denounced a proposal to transfer Israeli territory to Palestinian sovereignty as part of a land swap if it meant that Arab–excuse me, “Palestinian” –citizens of Israel would have to live in a Palestinian state) is de facto and de jure our capital.

      • JeffB on December 30, 2013, 3:37 pm


        No country including the US recongizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

        Not true. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 specifically does recognize it. ( Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have issued a waiver on national security grounds as the act permits against the US moving the embassy. But congress has spoken. And the USA recognizes that Jerusalem has been the capital since 1950.

      • American on December 30, 2013, 3:52 pm

        “”But congress has spoken.””

        Doesnt matter how often the I-Firsters in congress put that bill up…the decision rest with the Executive.
        And I will make you a bet that the US executive never recongizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or any Israel sovereignty over Jerusalem.
        Only way you would get it is if some US President really did want to start a total ME conflagration…in which case Israel would be fried along with everything else.

      • Woody Tanaka on December 30, 2013, 6:24 pm

        “Not true. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 specifically does recognize it.”

        Too bad that the Act is blatently unconstitutional as an infringement on the powers of the executive branch. (But when has legality or respect for US institutions meant anything to a zio?)

  8. Daniel Rich on December 30, 2013, 6:15 pm

    @ Ira Glunts,

    “A practice was established to tattoo the inmate identification numbers. Initially, in Auschwitz, the camp numbers were sewn on the clothes. With the increased death rate it became difficult to identify corpses, since clothes were removed from corpses. Therefore the medical personnel started to write the numbers on the corpses’ chests with indelible ink. Difficulties increased in 1941 when Soviet POWs came in masses, and the first few thousand tattoos were applied to them. This was done with a special stamp with the numbers to be tattooed composed of needles. The tattoo was applied to the upper left part of the breast. In March 1942, the same method was used in Birkenau.

    Metal stamps turned out to be impractical, and later numbers were tattooed with a single needle on the left forearm.

    The tattoo was the prisoner’s camp number, sometimes with a special symbol added: some Jews had a triangle, and Romani had the letter “Z” (from German Zigeuner for “Gypsy”). In May 1944, the Jewish men received the letters “A” or “B” to indicate particular series of numbers. For some unknown reason, this number series for women never began again with the “B” series after they had reached the number limit of 20,000 for the “A” series.[1]” – LINK.

    Does the term ‘holocaust tattoos’ include all inmates?

Leave a Reply