Artists unite to protest gov't policy on foreign workers
Tel Aviv photographers "believe in the capability, obligation of all arts to make a statement and to stimulate conscience."
By RUTH EGLASH
A collective of Tel Aviv photographers joined forces this week to launch a visual protest campaign against what they believe is a cruel and misguided government policy to crack down and deport illegal foreign workers, The Jerusalem Post learned Wednesday.
Calling themselves Active Stills (www.activestills.com), the group describes themselves as "documentary photographers acting for social change, convinced in the power of photography as a vehicle of change through awareness.
"We believe in the capability and obligation of photography and all arts in general to make a statement and to stimulate conscience. Photography is a channel of self-expression. The camera is the mouth. The picture is the scream."
The group's latest campaign includes a graphic depiction of the National Immigration Authority's recently launched Oz unit at work detaining foreign workers and asylum-seekers in the Tel Aviv area.
"Most people in Israel are blind to what is going on," explained Keren, one of the group's members, who didn't want to be fully identified out of fear that she would be arrested for running this illegal protest - some of the visuals are posted in places without permission.
"We want to raise awareness to the plight of foreign workers and asylum-seekers. This policy is unfair, the government dealing with them outside of the law," she said.
Keren added that the government's theory that foreign workers and asylum-seekers are taking jobs that should go to unemployed Israelis is no justification for what some describe as the brutal treatment of the Oz unit.
"For all those that are deported, many more are still going to come in, so their situation has no bearing on the state of unemployment," she said, pointing out that it is time the government adopted a more concrete policy towards those who arrive here looking for a safe haven.
"As a country that is familiar with the plight of refugees it is unacceptable that these people are not being dealt with in a decent manner," said Keren.
The photography campaign is also aimed at warning migrant workers and other foreign nationals of the dangers posed by the Oz unit, she said.
According to figures released last week by the National Immigration Authority, an Interior Ministry division, more than 800 illegal migrants have left the country since the Oz unit started its activities earlier this month. Seven hundred people left the country on their own, and 100 were deported, a ministry statement said.
In addition, the unit has investigated the status of some 4,000 foreign citizens; 600 were detained and 400 were arrested.
Nongovernmental organizations working on behalf of migrants and refugees have criticized the unit's work, claiming that more than 60 percent of those being detained were African asylum-seekers who cannot be expelled.
Under a recently implemented Interior Ministry policy, however, African asylum-seekers are forced to live and work north of Hadera and south of Gedera. Those found in Tel Aviv are automatically taken in for questioning.
A spokeswoman for the Oz unit said that no specific groups were being targeted but that they were just making sure people were staying out of the Gedera-Hadera zone.
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