The Bicycle Thief

A new Israeli law orders asylum-seekers to be detained for an unlimited period without judicial oversight or criminal proceedings, even for misdemeanors like bicycle or cell-phone theft.

Joshua Sukoff. Via Unsplash.

Darfuri refugee and actor Babkar (Babi) Omar Ibrahim is the latest victim of the Israeli procedure allowing indefinite internment without trial of Asylum Seekers. Ibrahim, 30, was arrested on Thursday at his work on suspicions that he stole a bicycle. Ibrahim’s detainment — he was held first at Givon prison in Ramla and now at the infamous Saharonim prison — was made possible due to a change in the Anti-Infiltration Law, approved three weeks ago by the attorney general of Israel, Yehuda Weinstein. The correction determines that asylum-seekers can be detained for an unlimited period without judicial oversight and all the checks and balanced of criminal proceedings, even for misdemeanors. The procedure specifically mentions bicycle or cell-phone theft.

Ibrahim has lived in Israel for the past seven years and recently starred in a play called “One Strong Black”. The satirical play, produced by the Levinski Garden Library’s theater, criticized the Israeli government’s treatment of asylum seekers. Ibrahim portrayed a policeman who arrests an asylum seeker under false pretenses for possessing stolen property.

Dafna Lichtman, the director of the Garden Library, says that on Thursday Ibrahim didn’t even ride a bicycle to the barbershop in which he works: “Some people left their bicycles outside the barbershop. Police arrived and asked who these bicycles belong to and no one answered because they got scared. So the cops just grabbed him and accused him of stealing the bicycles.”

On Saturday, some 100 protesters gathered outside the attorney general’s house in the city of Herzliya, demanding to release Ibrahim. Weinstein (in photo below) came out of his house and told the protestors he doesn’t know the case and he will “examine it.” He didn’t respond yet.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Israel has refused to discuss the petition for Ibrahim’s release. A second petition has been filed to the regional court which announced yesterday that it will discuss the case on July 30.

An attorney with The Hotline for Migrant Workers, Asaf Weitzen, who filed the petition, says that under the procedure for “dealing with infiltrators involved in criminal proceedings” (as termed by Israeli authorities) hundreds of asylum seekers have been arrested in the past year. According to Weitzen, since Weinstein qualified the change, more massive arrest operations have taken place but the Israeli Ministry of Interior refuses to give the numbers.

Ibrahim’s theater group was scheduled to perform next Saturday, presenting “One Strong Black” in a Zofim youth movement summer camp. His friends and associates started a campaign entitled Free Babi (#FreeBai), in which they address Weinstein and ask him to release Ibrahim on time for the play.

Update: In the last few hours, the attorney general has decided to drop the charges and asked the police to release Babi Ibrahim from prison after one week in jail. The law, however, still stands.

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