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An Open Letter To The Israeli Embassy

An Open letter to H.E. Mr. Ron Dermer,
Ambassador of Israel to the United States of America
Embassy of Israel, Washington D.C.

Dear Ambassador Dermer,

I am writing on behalf of thousands of Eritreans who are in Israel in conditions that raise serious concerns of human rights and humanitarian issues. They have been corralled and placed in mass detention camps in the Negev desert by the government of Israel. Recently, they broke out of the camp in protest, in a desperate effort to tell the world about their conditions. Who are these people, and why have they been treated in a manner unworthy of Israel? They are refugees forced out of their beloved homeland because of repression and conditions of forced labor practiced by the government of Eritrea. The repression and conditions of forced labor have been condemned by the United Nations whose Council on Human Rights recently appointed a Commission of Inquiry to investigate Eritrea’s egregious human rights violations.

These young people are not economic refugees in search of work in Israel but victims of an intolerable condition of life that left them no alternative but to flee. They find themselves in Israel because Israel is, like Egypt and Libya, a gateway to their ultimate destination—Europe (and America). In this hazardous journey, these people have passed through hell; some have survived a cruel fate, including torture at the hands of human traffickers and human organ harvesters. They chose Israel as a safer alternative gateway, only to end up warehoused like cattle in detention camps. And the entire world has seen scenes of Israeli security forces mistreating them when they organized a protest march having broken out of the detention camp. Such treatments serve neither the end of justice nor Israel’s security imperative.

Mr. Ambassador,

In view of the conditions that forced these refugees out of their homes—en route to Europe—and given the limit of Israel’s capacity to absorb them, surely the sensible way to handle the problem is for Israel to take the initiative to help launch an international strategy to resettle them elsewhere in the world. I appeal to you, in the name of justice and of the founding values of democracy and humanity on which we hear Israel was created, to urge your government to do everything in their power to find ways of resettling these refugees elsewhere. In the meantime, it behooves the Israeli government to make sure that these refugees are treated humanely. I recently heard you being interviewed by a prominent American newsman, and was impressed by the eloquence with which you presented Israel’s case regarding some current security issues in the region. Whether I agree with you or not is beside the point; the point is the clarity and coherence with you which you stated your case. On the same occasion, Mr. Shimon Perez, the former President of Israel, was interviewed by the same newsman. In one of his remarks, Mr. Perez said that being Jewish (and Israeli) is synonymous with being democrat. I am paraphrasing his remark, but in essence it said categorically that Israel is a democratic and humane nation because its Jewish population is made up of men and women who embrace democratic and humane values. He seemed to say that this is in their DNA; and that was what prompted me to write this open letter.

It may also be of interest to add a couple of points. First of all, I am an American citizen of Eritrean origin who is now an academic having worked as a high-ranking government official in the administration of justice, in Ethiopia. Moreover, I have been in Israel; the first and last time I was in Israel was as a young lawyer who had the rare opportunity of attending the Eichmann trial, an experience that enabled me to gain a unique insight into the “Jewish Question” in European and world history. I heard the stories of many Holocaust survivors relate their horrendous experience; as some broke down, Gideon Hausner, the Attorney General, broke down with them, and was admonished by Judge Landau who told him to compose himself. It was a moving experience that is indelible in the mind and inevitably colors one’s view on things. Mind you, that unique experience also often raised in my mind questions concerning Israeli government policy and actions with respect to Palestinian rights. Such questions were revived in my mind as I heard President Perez speak about the democratic and humane values that he said animate Israel’s governance. Surely, those democratic and humane values should operate to govern the treatment of these unfortunate souls. Again, I appeal to you to urge your government to find a satisfactory solution to the plight of the Eritrea refugees. It is not my place to tell you as to what should exactly be done beyond what I suggested above, in general terms.

In conclusion, need I remind you of two prohibitions by international norms that must be observed with utmost care. One is that the refugees should not be subjected to any form of harsh treatment by anybody. After all, most of them left their homelands to escape harsh treatment. The second prohibition is against the forcible repatriation of refugees to their country of origin. No one should be sent back against his or her will. As you know, this is one of the most critical questions on which all civilized behavior is judged. I hope and trust that Israel will not repatriate any refugee against his or will. History and God will be your judge.


Dr. Bereket Habte Selassie
Distinguished Professor of African Studies and Professor of Law
The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill   Tel: (919)962-3538. Fax: (919)962-2694


About Dr. Bereket Habteselasse

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  • Tsige Asfaha

    No sane and fair minded Eritrean could legitimately criticize Dr. Berekhet Habteselassie in relation to this open letter. Dr. Berekhet, in this case you deserve nothing but praise. I am absolutely sold to the substance, elegance, and timing of your letter.
    Tsige Asfaha

  • The secular socialist republic

    This letter makes me laugh. How can one write to the Israeli government and only plead in favor of Eritrean refugees ? Dear Prof. Bereket, Israel must be criticized in general for its treatment of our Palestinian comrades, Ethiopian Jews, Lebanon, Syria and international law in general. You remind me of those Western intellectuals that wrote letters to Brejnev because they wanted him to free Sakharov and Soljenitsyne but never opened their mouth to oppose the liquidation of communists who opposed the USSR. One should oppose Israel PERIOD and not only for the way this fascist state treats Eritreans. Please remember we’re not alone in this world and we’re not the only ones suffering.

    • Kokhob Selam

      DearThe secular socialist republic,

      he took a step. first thing first and first is to take or you nation which most didn’t do. He managed to send his massage, what does Kokhob do? is waht I ask first. and if really everybody does what he has done I think everything could be alright. Ok, now you can do better than him and you can go a head, I am the first man to say bravo.

    • Hope

      Typical old-fashioned PFDJ character assasination tactic.
      And may I ask as to who you are?
      You are belittling an EPLF Fighter,Veteran,Scientist,distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law and African Studies by USA and International Standard.I know Ms Sofia T will write more like you did but he is who is and will remain the same Professor Bereket Habtesilassie.
      After all ,he is also a human being like me and you.
      Even if he might be considered by you et al/Ms Sofia T included,as a “Flip-flopper ” l(ike me as the Awate.Com Forum Baptized me here),or call him an “opportunist”,Quisling Group”,etc…,I will adore him second to NONE but God,as one of the BEST Eritrean Intellectuals Eritrea has produced and has to produce as of yet!.
      BTW,and with all due respect,what have you done for Eritrea,if I may ask you?

    • Abderahim

      The Secular, i would say you got a valid point there – the big picture matters far more and beyond any other consideration. But having said that, i see no problem in someone addressing the Israeli State asking for the rectification of a specific grievance – even if one may not expect it will comply with what is being requested of her, given its track record of behaving in the most unlawful ways.
      PS. The username, The Secular Socialist Republic, I must admit, has special rings to it. I fancy it.

  • A victim

    something to do or to say is better than nothing even after long time of silent from the same or worst situation of Eritrean people specially in sixties ,seventies and eighties even when prof berekhet was supporting the same idiot regime the suffer of our people was going on .I am asking Prof why you was silencing when our people was bombing in sixties seventies in Eritrean country sides by
    the criminal Ethiopian Empire and
    you know
    who was supporting him .
    Mr.Prof why you do not write about that refugees who could protest in Sudan ,Ethiopia and Yemen at least in Israel that refugees they have a chance to protest and there is an independent media .
    Do you know there is a discrimination between Eritrean refugees by the UNHCR UPON THEIR ETHNIC group .

  • Papillon


    Talking point: Do you see a potential for the beginning of Civil War in “Bologna 40”? What say you?

    • Semere Andom

      Hi Papillion:
      First what is a civil war? A war between the citizens of the same country?
      The justice seekers were peaceful, as they should be, they were very clear on their demands for justice and rule of law, articulated the inalienable dignity of Eritreans and even said that anyone who cares about the Eritreans can be honored by Eritrean citizenship, he is Eritrean, taking the citizenship to a different level, contrary to merely reducing to paying the 2%. They were very sane, hinged, deferential, becoming of the ideals of Eritreanism that my generation were taught. The justice seekers in Bologna 40 were the very anti-thesis of what PFDJ is made up, a stark difference from the hooliganism that the PFDJ supporters showed before the tables were turned and they were forced to go to their rightful place, hiding, with ever dwindling base. But as they say it takes two to tango and to avoid confrontation that may lead to bloodshed, both side must show these qualities that the justice seekers in Italy exuded. The criminals when their crimes are displayed, in a desperate attempt to protect their livelihoods, their legacy, their place in history will fight tooth and nail and here is where we will have the war with each other.
      I am sure IA would have liked to be a Noble Peace Laureate for transforming his country and himself from rebels to rule of law, an ideal the Ghedli generation died for, but he just cannot. This is where the late Mellese shined, he had the confidence to transform his nation, a complex nation to fledgling democracy, and I know some romantics disagree because the ruling party in Ethiopia won all the seats in the last election. The difference between Melles and Isiais in my opinion is the former had some fancy, brand name suits in his closet, the later has skeletons in his closet. The brand name suits was unbecoming for a “woyanay” while his fighters were dying to make fashion statement, but gave him the confidence, the skeletons, however, haunted the IA.I am impressed with and proud of what the justice seekers were made up in Bologna, but if those who were dancing behind the fences in a last minute frustration decided to slap the justice seekers, displaying their bellicose nature the demonstrators would never give the other cheek as they should and that is called Kunat Hadhid

  • berhan

    Dear Prof. Bereket this is we want from Eritrean intellec

  • Nitricc

    There are certain things that irritate me to end. On the other thread; I read the answer of Adonai to SG’s inquiry. It goes like this…

    SG ====I asked him: Who made a choice for you to become a refugee, Michael?

    (A normal responsible person would have answered it by saying…

    Ultimately I take the responsibility to leave my beloved
    country and the choice solely rests on me but to leave my country wasn’t my desired
    choice. I was forced by PFDJ this and that you know the usual rants and exaggerations
    would have done it. But, Nooooo)

    Here is what Adoni has to say=======

    “Of course I did not choose to be a refugee… the victims of Lampedusa also didn’t choose to be
    refugees. That was not my choice but I reached a stage where I faced risks and couldn’t stay in Eritrea… I didn’t choose to be a refugee, the choice was made by those who have made life in Eritrea so narrow and so tight that one has to
    flee from the suffocating environment to find a space of freedom… they made the choice for all refugees to leave their country. The oppressors made the choice for all of us.”

    My beef is when are we going to accept responsibility for our own actions? When? Everything is some once fault and never ours.

    Fine, I was going to let that fly then I faced similar things what the Dr Bereket has to say…..

    He said..

    “These young people are not economic refugees in search of work in Israel but victims of an intolerable condition of life that left them no alternative but to flee. They find themselves in Israel because Israel is, like Egypt and Libya, a gateway to their ultimate destination—Europe (andAmerica).

    reading that line I cannot help but ask the tough questions?

    What the Dr. bereket saying is; the fleeing youth are victims of intolerable conditions of life, left them no alternative but to flee.

    Very confusing statement! First of all are they in danger for their lives? What does “intolerable conditions of life” mean? Is it politically in danger?, it must be because the writer told us they are not economic refugees. But if it is politically and they are trying to save their lives why is it their final destination is precisely “Europe and America”? why? Do
    you know where I am going with this…….? right? right!

  • ghezaehagos

    Certainly one of the few bright souls from the Academia World of Eritrea…Thanks for caring, dear Dr. Bereket H. Sellasie

  • Hope

    Dear Prof Dr. Bereket Habte Selassie
    Distinguished Professor of African Studies and Professor of Law
    Finally,I feel relieved as some one has read my mind.
    Thank you for taking the initiative though belatedly, but as usual,late better than never.
    I appreciate your advice on making the case an International ONE, and reminding the State of Israel about her duties,moral,and legal responsibilities,not just as the Signatory of the Refugee Convention,but simply to respect Human Beings as Human Beings,no matter what ,and no matter who they are,what they look like and where they come from.
    But I am afraid that this advice may remain as a simple PR gimmick and we should push further in a more serious way and I would expect a sronger language and more serious letters to be sent to the USA,the EU and the UN/UNHCR urgently as this matter is an URGENT Matter since our Citizens are in between life and death situation.
    A Committe should be set up on this matter to follow up on this serious issue seriously.
    I would also ask you to forward similar letters with more strongly worded language,to Canada and Australia as these two countries have a potential for resettling our desperado brothers and sisters.