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Thu Jan 2, 2014, 07:28 PM

'This Is Not A Life': A Journey To Israel's 'Open' Detention Center

When a group of Jewish Israelis set out for the Holot ‘open prison’ in the Negev, they were hoping to sing Christmas carols to the asylum seekers. But by the time they got there, the things they saw and heard made it clear that there was nothing to sing about.

By Ayla Peggy Adler

When asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan walked out of the Holot prison last week, they walked out of obscurity. Until then, even people like myself who had been involved in their community six years ago when they first arrived to Israel—and who, three years later, had protested against the Holot prison—had allowed them to disappear. The truth was, even though I live in the Negev, I wasn’t even sure exactly where Holot had been built.

At the same time, Christmas time was making me homesick for family and friends-who-knew-me-before-I-was-forty. I had this embarrassing impulse: I wanted to Christmas carol for the Holot prisoners. I knew that only some, Eritreans, were Christian, and that even they celebrated the Coptic Christmas on January 7th, and that anyway, neither they nor most Israelis would know the songs that I, an American Jew, had grown up on (Silent Night, Little Drummer Boy, O Holy Night…). But I felt, somehow, that it would bless them, and us, if we knocked on their door and sang these noels of love and devotion.

It was six years ago that my friend, Tsehaye showed me how if you want to reach out to people: you simply show up. Tsehaye had overheard me, a stranger then, on the telephone talking to Israeli NGOs about wanting to help African refugees, and he approached me, saying, “I am an African refugee.” Like many, Tsehaye had walked from Eritrea through Sudan and Egypt into Israel, all along risking his life, imprisonment, and paying enormous bribe money to human smugglers. He offered to take me to south Tel Aviv to meet his community. We went. After that, I visited people at the shelter once a week. It was there that I finally met the NGO workers I had been trying to connect with by telephone. But really, they were just people doing what I was doing and a lot more of it: learning what people needed, trying to help.

So it was with Tsehaye’s guidance in mind that I created an event on Facebook: “Caroling for Holot.” There was only one person I was sure would come: SH of +972 Magazine commenting fame. We had met each other commenting on the site and had been in touch for years, but until Thursday, had never met in person. After creating the event, I posted confident posts, though in truth, I suspected SH and I would be singing duets.

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http://972mag.com/this-is-not-a-life-a-journey-to-israels-open-detention-center/84843/

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