Warehousing African Migrants in Israel

February 1, 2013

With approximately 60,000 African refugees now living in Israel, the Knesset has authorized increasingly draconian measures to detain and deport migrants. Here, the artist Nir Evron showcases the architecture of a new detention center near Israel’s border with Egypt.

In early 2013, Israel wrapped up construction of a roughly 150-mile-long fence along its southern border. The galvanized steel mesh and barbed wire barrier was designed to prevent an influx of African migrants, who primarily enter Israel illegally through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. With approximately 60,000 refugees now in the country, Israel is using increasingly draconian measures to detain and deport migrants. The Knesset passed an amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law in January 2012, which, among other statutes, states that people who have entered the country illegally are subject to imprisonment without trial. Human rights groups have argued the legislation violates international law.

The above video, Playing A Role, was shot in the Nahal Raviv facility, a new prison located three miles from the Egyptian border. The site, which has also become known as “Tent City,” was built to accommodate 4,000 African migrants. The erection of the border fence, Nahal Raviv and other detention centers signal a major governmental push toward stemming illegal immigration.

The planning of the Nahal Raviv facility was put in the hands of a well-known and experienced Israeli architect who has worked extensively with the Israeli government, and whose past large-scale projects include West Bank settlements, army bases and housing units in major cities. I based the narration of Playing a Role on a long interview I conducted with the architect, who asked not to be mentioned by name, in his office.

Commissioned by Jerusalem’s “Under the Mountain” Festival of New Public Art, Playing a Role was broadcast on Israel’s Channel 10 news program “London and Kirshenbaum” in August 2012. It was the first media report showing footage of “Tent City.”