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Israel’s black lockdown

Ishmahil1The Voice newspaper has an attention-grabbing exclusive today, claiming that “Hundreds of Black People Being Held in Israeli Jails”
The claim comes from filmmaker Ishmahil Blagrove, who was part of a mercy mission to deliver much needed aid to Gaza. Blagrove, along with former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney were trying to reach the shore when their ship Spirit of Humanity, was rammed by an Israeli naval boat.

The Voice quotes Blagrove as saying: ”

The first day I was there, I witnessed 500 Africans scooped from the streets of Tel Aviv thrown into prison. The next day 300 more Africans were taken in and the prison population continues to grow daily with Africans falling victim to the Israeli judiciary system.

“There were Africans from the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Eritrea and so on. The prison population in Israel is 90 percent black, which is why I was so welcomed by fellow inmates. There are thousands upon thousands of Africans inside the Israeli prisons.”

The numbers Blagrove talks about seem very high, but as someone who has visited Israel it was certainly an eye-opener to see small villages of indigenous black people – who lived on the land centuries before many of the Jewish European settlers – living in terrible poverty.

More recent black residents include significant numbers of Ethiopian refugees, who are also generally socially excluded. I observed marginally better conditions of Jerusalem’s black population, many of whom were housed in cramped conditions in a converted prison, called appropriately enough ‘Prisongate.’

Israel also waged hostilities against the African Hebrew Israelites, a peaceful community of mainly African-American followers of Ben Ammi Ben Israel, who live in Dimona in the Negev desert. The Israelites told of poisonous powder being dropped on their village from army helicopters. The Israeli state has since made its’ peace with the black village, however.

But while all right-thinking people would defend the right of Israel to exist, the government do have a case to answer about their treatment of black people, both now and in the past.

Lester Holloway


15 Responses

  1. “The prison population in Israel is 90 percent black.” That’s hard to believe because when you think of Israel, you think of the conflict between Arabs and Jews.

    I would, though, like these figures to be confirmed.

  2. You may call me left-thinking, but no, Israel has no more right to exist than had Apartheid in Africa.

  3. I disagree with you Tom. Whatever Israel has done, or is still doing that offend people, they have a right to exist. Jewish people have a strong claim to the land. Not all the land they claim for, but some of it!

    Lester Holloway

  4. What would that claim be? The claim of Manifest Destiny? The claim of The White Man’s Burden? The claim of Civilizing the Natives?
    People want to live in Palestine? No problem, but don’t ethnically cleanse the indigenous population.

  5. No state has the right to exist as a racist state.

    Imagine if Britain defined itself as a ‘white state’ and said that British Black & Asian citizens were denied the right to own or rent land on 90% of the land. Imagine if to get most jobs you had to have done military service, but in the White state, Black & Asian citizens were barred from the military.

    Imagine if the three main parties in the state favoured banning Black and Asian political parties & if they just passed a law sacking all Blacks and Asians from working on the Railways of the country.

    Substitute the word ‘Jewish’ for White, and ‘Arab’ for Black and Asian and I have described the political set-up within Israel (nevermind the situation on the West Bank and Gaza Strip). Yes, 20% of the population of the country who are Palestinian Arab are denied the right to rent or live on over 90% of the country they are supposedly citizens of!

    The majority of Palestinians are refugees, ethnically cleansed from their homes in 1948. Under international law they have the right to return, sixty years doesn’t diminish the right but undermines the urgency of it. Studies have shown that Israel could absorp these refugees, the reason it doesn’t is because by increasing the number of Arabs in the country it would undermine Israel’s integrity as a Jewish State – a state founded upon the ethnic cleansing of 80% of its indigenous people, making those not driven out have less civil rights on the basis of race & setting up an apartheid system combined with military occupation on the occupied territories. If you goto the West Bank, you see one race separated from another, the illegal colonisers live in luxury in armed enclaves defended by the Israeli military, while the Palestinians live in fear in bantustans.

    I submit that we have no more reason to support Zionism in historical Palestine than Apartheid in S.Africa.

    I want to see Israel replaced with a non-racial democratic state of Israel/Palestine where Arabs, Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists or whatever live with equal rights on the basis of one person-one vote – The issue is racism and equality.

  6. The figures are ridiculous. There is simply no way 90% of Israel’s prison population are black. There simply are not that many black people in Israel. It is impossible. This guy had an obvious anti-Israel agenda before he was put in a (single) prison as he had been on a trip to Gaza.

    As for Israel being a racial state – that is simply false in any recognizable sense of he word “racial”. It is a Jewish state. Britain is a Protestant country. There are black, white, brown and yellow Israelis – and that’s just the Jews.

    Arab – Israelis are known in the Middle East as the “Fat Arabs” because they are so much wealthier than any other mass population of Arabs.

  7. Most of us with no connection to Israel would love to deny it’s right to exist.

    Why should a state created by colonial powers (like a few others but more contentiously) be armed, pumped with financial aid and be allowed to crush the people whose land they are appropriating?

    But the fact is that we lost the arguments over the denial of existence. Partly because the many ‘peace accords’ – Camp David, Oslo – were predicated on the right of Israel to exist, so the international community came to accept it and now even expect it to be the first point of understanding.

    Its better that we keep pushing the analogies between apartheid South Africa and Israel, an understanding of who the aggressor is, who wants to expand and take other peoples land, who is abusing basic human rights and killing children.

    We need to keep pushing a choice. Are you for real democracy and justice in Israel and the region (not just a voting system) or are you prepared to let young children be shot in front of their parents by conscripts directed by a paranoid government and supported by right wing donors from the US and worldwide?

  8. Mr. Singh, not sure that I agree that Israel can be directly compared to apartheid South Africa. Those who were involved in the anti-aparthied campaign remember the extent of oppression of the black majority and the denial of any representation. Israel, by contrast, has seen a level of self-government by Palestinians. While there are valid arguments about how Israel continues to treat Palestinians, I don’t think it’s comparable to South Africa.

    Lester Holloway

  9. Lester, recall the bantustans where Blacks were given self-government within isolated, economically crippled ghettos. That’s Palestinian self-government. The West Bank is being split into little ghetto’s by the Apartheid Wall that will create a refugee population similar to that of 1948. Ehud Olmert, then leader of Israel, in the aftermath of the January war on Gaza outlined his vision for the Middle East – ‘Maximum Jews, Minimum Arabs’ –
    – to grab as much Palestinian land as possible while isolating the Palestinians into little prisons, he also 3 years earlier (just as Netanyahu has) explicitly stated that he believed that all of historical Palestine should be Israel. The stuff about a Palestinian state is just crap they occationally feed to the gullible western press.

    The West Bank is completely separate from Gaza/
    Gaza has self-goverment, but its borders are sealed, it’s air, land and sea are controlled by other powers. That’s not self government! That’s the biggest open-air prison on the planet!

    Is it the same as apartheid in S.Africa? No, the system of racial oppression is much more complex with different degrees in the occupied territories and Israel itself + the refugees who are blocked from returning.

    The ANC and PLO historically had very close links seeing themselves as both being engaged in an anti-racist universal human rights struggle(just as the government of Israel and South Africa had fraternal relations, for example, developing nuclear weapons together).

    Israel bears many similarities with South Africa, both are settler states founded on the myth of an empty land.

    White South Africans used to ludicrously claim that the land had been empty and that Black people came afterwards attracted by the society they had created. Zionist ideology likewise has a strong strand that seeks to deny that the land was very much occupied before they turned up on the scene. (Many Jewish people saw through this, before the creation of Israel, a Rabbi who visited the area famously said – ‘The bride is beautiful – but she already has a husband’ and one of my heroes, the philosopher Martin Buber tried to put forward the idea of a binational state based on equality)

    However, there is a fundamental difference.

    South Africa dealt with the indigenous population mainly through creating a system of domination. The South African system relied on black labour.

    Whereas Zionism aimed to exclude and drive out the indigenous population. Hence the history of the last 60 years has been one of ethnic cleansing, land grabs and population transfer.

    All the essential features of Apartheid – exclusivity, inequality, separation, control, dependency, violations of human rights and sufferings – are an integral part of Israel both within & on the occupied territories.

    If you went to Galillee (the area of Israel where the majority of Palestinians in the country live) you would see state discrimination against the 20% of the population who are Arab (but are herded onto 2% of the land), but it would be only a whiff of apartheid.

    If you were to go onto the West Bank and see the apartheid wall that is dividing people away from their land & all the mechanisms of separation related to Jewish settlements, you would get more than a whiff of apartheid.

    You would see armed enclaves where one race lives with swimming pools and luxury, while another race suffers from shortages of water and economic collapse. Palestinian land is seized to make way for ‘Jew only roads’ that connect the settlements and are designed so that the Jewish settlers don’t even have to see the Palestinian inhabbitants. Meanwhile Palestinians face a regime of military checkpoints with the equivalent of a two-hour journey taking hours, sometimes a few days, sometimes not allowed.

    This is an account from an Israeli Jewish human rights activist of the set-up in Hebron, West Bank. This is a place where the Israeli army routinely abuse thousands of Palestinians in order to defend 450 racists who occupy the choicest 20% of the town while 160,000 get the other 80% and suffer regular human rights abuses.

    ‘Hani, a Palestinian, lives with his family in a house near a barracks that shelters settlers. The house is like a cage; the entrance and the entire front of the house are covered with a close-meshed grill. The chicken-wire is not to keep the family inside the house, but to prevent the rotten eggs and stones thrown by the settlers from constantly damaging the windows. Hani’s sister — speaking both Arabic and English — tells of the constant attacks: as soon as she leaves her home, eggs and stones rain down on her. “You have to try and imagine what it’s like,” Yehuda says. “These people can’t even meet their friends for a coffee without it being cleared with the military and planned. Exit permits have to be issued. It’s simply not possible to maintain a group of friends here.”

    Hani’s father died a year ago. Because the way into the city, through the settlers’ quarters and the “exclusively Jewish” roads, was closed to them, the family had to carry the body of their dead father through the fields to the checkpoint — on their backs. From here, a Palestinian ambulance collected him, Hani’s sister continues. Settler ambulances don’t come for their Palestinian neighbors when they are ill. The woman breaks down in tears.

    The whole reality in Hebron cries out, “Why?” But Yehuda says: “This is an upside-down world. Here the answer is, ‘Why not?’ Why shouldn’t the settlers throw stones at Palestinian girls on their way to school? Why shouldn’t they break into a Palestinian house and smash everything up? Why shouldn’t they cut down trees to deprive Palestinians of their connection to the land? Why shouldn’t they take over, road by road, until the Palestinians are left with nothing?”‘

    It is clear that many people supported the creation of a Jewish State for noble motives, the systematic genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people in Europe was a strong factor, but the practicalities of setting up such a state in an area where another society flourished for generations meant that it had to be based on explusion and exclusion of the indigenous population, resulting in a political set-up that is fundamentally racist.

    What’s the solution? Universal human rights.

    We need a set up where a Palestinian Arab has the same human and civil rights as an Israeli Jew. We cannot support the self-determination of Israeli Jews if it is as the expense of the human rights of another people.

    This is the only basis for a lasting peace that is in the interests of all who live there.

    The slogan of the Palestinian movement has never been one of subjugating Israeli Jews, but rather one of liberation and equality:

    ‘No race holds a monopoly of beauty, of intelligence, of strength and there is a place for all at the Rendezvous of Victory’

    One person, one vote, one state has to be the movement now.

  10. Lester, By drawing comparisons between Israel as an apartheid state and South Africa under apartheid rule is not to diminish the struggle of black South Africans, but to learn from that struggle and understand what is gong on in Israel.

    Desmond Tutu and many in the ANC see the parallels in the two situations.

    Your self -rule argument is narrow and put to bed by Adamski, with whom I agree that the denial of human rights, free movement and the development of a parallel (non) economy is a form of apartheid.

  11. The story was rubbish. The journalist made up the quotations attributed to Ishmahil Blagrove. A correction was published in The Voice (in the letters section unlike the original article).


    I am disturbed that many of the statements attributed to myself in the article are factually incorrect and a letter of corrections has been published in this weeks Voice.

    Let me clarify a few of these:

    1. I am British born and not Jamaican as suggested by the article.
    2. The boat the Spirit of Humanity was 18 miles from Gaza, in Palestinian waters and not international waters.
    3. Most of our confiscated equipment was returned, the British Consul is attempting to secure the remainder of our equipment, including the boat.
    4. The medical aid and toys were not destroyed. The Isreali government promised to deliver the aid by road after security checks.
    5. The cell where we were held was 7 metres x 4 metres and not 7 feet x 7 feet.
    6. We were never threatened with physical abuse.
    7. Disobedient prisoners were put in a small cell (solitary confinement) with the lights on 24hrs and monitored by CCTV.
    8. The bread in our cell was changed every three days, but was solely meant for breakfast. Lunch and an early evening snack were always provided.
    9. I did not witness 500 Africans scooped off the streets. I was incarcerated and had no leisure time to stroll the Israeli streets. It was reported that 500 Africans were taken in the first immigration swoop of 1st July, and 300 the following day.
    10. It would be ridiculous for me to suggest that the Israeli prison population is 90% black. This reference was made in regards to the prison block where I was held. Cynthia McKinney the US congresswoman made the same observation where she was detained in the womens section.

    Again, whilst I commend the Voice for raising awareness to the issue of Africans incarcerated in Israeli prisons, I am concerned that many statements in quotation marks were attributed to myself. I have and will always continue to push for accuracy and truth in journalism.

    For anyone wishing to communicate with some of those Africans still imprisoned, please contact the Voice and ask them to forward you my email address. Perhaps a direct conversation with those who are still living in those conditions will slap you out of your ignorant coma.

  12. Thank you Dave G for this post, and for drawing to our attention the inaccuracies in The Voice article, and the fact that the newspaper had issued a clarification.

    Having now seen it, we are happy to acknowledge that the Voice article, which we drew attention to, did indeed contain a number of inaccuracies. Our original blog article did, however, note at the time that the number of black people reported to be in Israeli jails “seem very high”, casting doubt over the reported figures.

    In light of the clarification, we now note that Ishmahil Blagrove did not say that Israel’s prison population was 90% black, but was in fact referring to the specific prison block where he was held. The Voice contend that the inaccuracies ‘do not fundamentally change the thrust of the story’, but it is clear the whole story must now be treated with some caution.

    Lester Holloway

  13. “The Voice contend that the inaccuracies ‘do not fundamentally change the thrust of the story’, but it is clear the whole story must now be treated with some caution.”

    Indeed it must and the story appears to have now been removed from The Voice’s website reinforcing that the thrust of the story has been shown to be fundamentally wrong.

  14. Dave G, I just thought it important to at least give a nod to the position of The Voice on this matter and not ignore what they’re saying now.

    But I hope the sentence you quote makes clear that I’m not agreeing with the Voice’s statement.

    So I think we really are singing from the same hymn sheet, trust me!

    Lester Holloway

  15. Lester H,

    I agree that we are singing from the same hymn sheet on this but I am, perhaps, a little less understated than you. The Emperor is not wearing any clothes in this instance.

    By the way, you state in the original blog post that,

    “Israel also waged hostilities against the African Hebrew Israelites, a peaceful community of mainly African-American followers of Ben Ammi Ben Israel, who live in Dimona in the Negev desert. The Israelites told of poisonous powder being dropped on their village from army helicopters. The Israeli state has since made its’ peace with the black village, however.”

    I have never heard of this before. As I understood it, the Black Hebrews went to Israel on two week holiday visas from the States and stayed on in Dimona. I know they had immigration difficulties with the authorities (as you might expect in those circumstances) but poisoning? Do you have any corroborating sources or evidence? Contrary to what you might read in The Voice and elsewhere the Israeli government is not genocidal.

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