An African asylum seeker holding matzoh and an alternative Passover haggadah outside the Holot detention center. (Photo by the author)

Israeli activists and African asylum seekers living in Tel Aviv held an alternative Passover seder event Friday outside the Holot detention center in the Negev desert, where 1,800 African migrants are currently being held. Hundreds of African asylum seekers from the detention center attended the event, during which activists highlighted the connection between the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt and that of the asylum seekers, who fled Eritrea and Sudan through the Sinai desert to seek refuge in Israel.

The event was part of a campaign to close down the controversial detention center, which opened at the end of 2013. Israeli courts recently slammed the detention process, and the legality of the detention centers is currently before the Israeli Supreme Court.

Those jailed at Holot are officially allowed leave the desert detention complex, but must sign back in three times a day.

Rabbi Susan Silverman, who helped organized the event, addressed the crowd, saying: “We organized this seder because god tells us dozens of times in the Tanakh that we need to take care of the stranger, and that we know the soul of the stranger, because we were strangers in the land of Egypt. And here we are with a Jewish state, and we are not doing that.”

Muatasim Ali, an asylum-seeker from Darfur who organizes protests against the detention process, also spoke. “When we talk about Passover we talk about freedom, Jewish people that fled Egypt and arrived to Israel,” he said. “And we have a really similar situation, we came from Sudan and other countries, throught Egypt and then to Israel”

Oren Ziv is a co-founder of Activestills, a collective of Israeli, Palestinian, and international photographers established in 2005. He works as a freelance photographer for Haaretz, AFP and Getty Images, and as a staff photographer for +972 Magazine. His work is frequently published on mainstream and alternative media outlets.

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Passover at Holot
Photographs by Activestills’ Oren Ziv