Israel: The State of African Refugees

November 12, 2012

60,000 African migrants, escaping violence in their home countries, now face protests, attacks, detainment and deportation in Israel. Artist Elham Rokni documents the new climate of fear for immigrants living in Israel illegally in a video entitled Capture.

A crescendo of demands calling for the expulsion of a 60,000-strong African migrant community in Israel has instilled an unprecedented sense of dread in those targeted. Artist Elham Rokni documents this new, fearful environment in a video entitled Capture. Opening with a shot of swaying foliage that strokes what appear to be bags of the immigrants’ belongings stuffed in the crooks of branches, Rokni’s video evokes a precarious state of existence.

Suspended between their own war-torn, impoverished home countries and an increasingly harsh refuge, the subjects of Capture face an ominous future. This past May, Knesset member Miri Regev declared the Sudanese “a cancer in our body” in front of a group of 1,000 Israelis demonstrating in an immigrant neighborhood. Shortly after she spoke, protesters reportedly smashed the windows of cars and a grocery store, looted a barbershop and beat Sudanese migrants.

Earlier, in January, the Knesset enacted an “anti-infiltration” law giving authorities the power to arrest migrants illegally entering Israel and hold them in detention centers like the enormous Ktzi’ot Complex for up to three years without trial. A spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry has announced the goal of eventually deporting up to 30,000 migrants; towards that end, the country has already flown scores of Southern Sudanese refugees back home, ruling it safe for them to return.

Despite their claims to be refugees fleeing war and violence, only a handful of African migrants—most of whom hail from Sudan, Eritrea, and the Democratic Republic of Congo—have obtained legal permission to stay in Israel. Since signing the 1951 Refugee Convention, the nation has only granted refugee status to 170 people, deeming the majority of migrants illegal job-seekers.

This piece was originally commissioned by Omer Krieger for the Under the Mountain Festival of New Public Art.