Thousands of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan travelled to Jerusalem on Wednesday afternoon, taking their protest over Israeli policy toward them, now in its fourth day, directly to the lawmakers in the Knesset. The protesters set out from Tel Aviv earlier in the day, in some 90 buses prepared for the occasion.
But the eight asylum seekers who had arranged to meet with MKs Michal Rozin of Meretz and Dov Khenin of Hadash were denied entry to the parliament building, after Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein agreed to a request by Likud MK Miri Regev, known for her vehement opposition to the presence of the asylum seekers in Israel.
Edelstein made his decision after consulting with the head of the Knesset security detail, Yosef Griff,
- Israel's African refugees to hold general strike
- UN slams Israel for asylum seeker policy
- Op-ed: Infiltrators are existential problem for Israel
"Infiltrators sought to gather in Jerusalem to benefit their ongoing campaign to bring down the State of Israel, and this is an insult to the Knesset," Regev wrote to Edelstein. "This is another attempt to damage Israel's image, and turn it into a violator of human rights in the eyes of the world."
Rozin had dismissed Regev's request as unreasonable.
"I see no reason to stop eight people from meeting with members of the Knesset," she said. "For what reason? What are they scared of, hearing an opinion? We could go out to the Rose Garden with them without permission from the speaker, but why not let them sit on chairs like human beings?"
Outside the Knesset, the protesters, who have been on strike from their mostly menial jobs since Sunday, chanted, "We need protection," and carried banners reading, "We are not criminals, we are refugees" and "We are not infiltrators, we are human beings."
One of Israel's most respected authors, David Grossman, attended the asylum seekers' protest. He said: "The policy is opaque and doomed to fail, we cannot accept this." Grossman chatted with several asylum seekers and told them that he "hopes that the humiliation they endure will end."
President Shimon Peres also addressed the asylum seekers' protest, during a visit to the Technion in Haifa, saying: "There is an international pact which Israel has signed, and we must operate according to its language."
The protests mark the fourth day that thousands of African refugees have demonstrated against Israeli government policy of detaining and then expelling them, although it is the first time that the major protests have moved out of Tel Aviv. There have been sister demonstrations in Eilat, which employs a number of asylum seekers in the hospitality industry, which have been relatively small in size.
Moran Azulay contributed to this report