The Saharonim detention facility in the Negev desert, where African refugees are being detained. Photo courtesy of Karin Keil from the Hotline for Migrant Workers.
In unanimous decision, judges say amendment to anti-infiltration law violates human rights; Netanyahu vows to respect decision and take it into consideration while continuing to ‘put the brakes on infiltration’.
By Barak Ravid and Ilan Lior, Ha’aretz
September 16, 2013
The High Court of Justice unanimously on Monday invalidated the amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law that allows the incarceration of asylum seekers from Africa for up to three years.
In its dramatic decision, an expanded panel of nine judges ruled that the law was unconstitutional and disproportionately impinged on a person’s right to liberty, as well as being in conflict with Israel’s Basic Law regarding human freedom and dignity. The court instructed the state to examine the cases of all those incarcerated under the provisions of this law within 90 days.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had been a proponent of the law, said he respected the High Court’s decision and would consider it accordingly while searching for a solution that would “enable the implementation of our firm policy to put the brakes on infiltration and return thousands of infiltrators” to their native lands.
“As many other countries in the world contend with the phenomena of infiltrations, we have halted it, and last month not a single infiltrator crossed over our southern border,” Netanyahu said. “This result was achieved thanks the complex steps that have been taken, including the construction of a fence on our southern border. I am determined to continue to lead the government’s activities in dealing with the phenomena of infiltration.”
There are currently 1,750 incarcerated people out of a total of 55,000 illegal migrants. Most of them are citizens of Sudan and Eritrea.
Supreme Court President Asher Grunis wrote in his ruling that “in the present circumstances, keeping people incarcerated for up to three years, as allowed by the law, is unconstitutional. Furthermore, the state intends to keep these migrants locked up for the entire period of three years permitted by the law. Some of these people have been imprisoned for over a year.”
Supreme Court President.Asher Grunis: the practice of imprisoning African migrants for long periods is unconstitutional, but “there is nothing to stop the legislation of a new law that would allow for imprisonment for a significantly shorter period.”
Grunis added that “if, God forbid, the phenomenon re-appears and massive infiltration resumes, the problem will have to be re-evaluated.” He added that the present ruling rescinds the law under the existing circumstances. “Our ruling relates to the law that allows incarceration for up to three years. Even under the present circumstances, there is nothing to stop the legislation of a new law that would allow for imprisonment for a significantly shorter period.”
Justice Edna Arbel referred to the implications of this decision for the Israeli public. “I can assume that this decision will not sit well with Israeli citizens and will be particularly hard for those living in the southern sections of Tel Aviv, whose distress sounds genuine, evoking empathy and a desire to help,” she wrote. “I would like to believe that the state will find a way to deal with the situation with the means at its disposal, so as to relieve the stress of local residents.”
Arbel said that prolonged incarceration was the easy solution, but not the correct one. This solution is “the most harmful for anyone, but particularly for these migrants who are locked up for such extended periods. Depriving these migrants of their freedom for a prolonged duration is a critical and disproportionate infringement of their rights, impacting their bodies and souls. Let us not solve one wrong by creating another.”
“We cannot deprive people of basic rights, using a heavy hand to impact their freedom and dignity, as part of a solution to a problem that demands a suitable, systemic and national solution,” Arbel added. “We cannot forget our basic values, drawn from the Declaration of Independence, as well as our moral duty towards every human being, as inscribed in the country’s basic principles as a Jewish and democratic state.” The judge commented that Israeli reality will not change as a result of this ruling, but it will change for those 1,750 migrants, who will move out of an unresolved impasse involving incarceration to a life of freedom and hope for the future.”
Arbel emphasized that “this issue does not involve a group of terrorists wishing us harm, but hard-pressed migrants arriving from an afflicted region, who live a life of destitution here as well. We are not oblivious to the public interest of local residents and to their claims of a loss of a feeling of personal security, as we are aware of the migrants’ impact on the economy. With that, we are convinced that the state cannot protect its citizens and its basic values while brutally harming the freedom and dignity of foreigners living in our midst. Other ways must be considered, even if they are more complex and require more patience.”
Likud MKs slam decision as ‘sad’ and ‘insane’
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar denounced the decision, saying it would hurt Israel’s ability to address illegal infiltration into its territory. He added that the decision would be studied with an eye to formulating “ways to protect the national interests of Israel and its citizens, including a new alternative legislative arrangement.
MK Miri Regev (Likud) responded that “there are judges making decisions in Jerusalem, but the pain is felt in southern Tel Aviv. This decision is disconnected from events on the ground. This is a sad day for the residents of southern Tel Aviv. The Supreme Court has condemned them to a life of fear and anxiety. The decision has legitimized the phenomenon of infiltration. All the state’s efforts to reduce infiltration have been negated by this decision. The Supreme Court justices expressed empathy towards the residents of southern Tel Aviv, but these words, although coming from their hearts, are empty. These words will not change reality, but will only exacerbate it.” Regev heads the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee and spearheaded the amendment to the Anti-Infiltration law, as well as initiating other laws designed to combat the impact of illegal migrants.
Coalition whip MK Yariv Levin (Likud) termed the decision “insane, breaking all records for anarchy, and will turn Israel from a Jewish state into a state belonging to its migrants. The Knesset must bring this law forward again, putting an end to the Supreme Court’s activism, which is carried out without any authority.”
The whip of Habayit Hayehudi in the Knesset, MK Ayelet Shaked, also criticized the justices and said her party would use “all legal means available to restrain the court and strengthen the status of the Knesset, including the necessary changes in the basic laws including the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom.”
The Prison Service is studying the court’s decision regarding the close to 1,800 inmates held under the anti-infiltration law, 1,400 of them in the Saharonim detention center and 400 in Ketziot, and waiting for a decision by the Interior Ministry. The assessment is that their release is not imminent, since the Ministry was given 90 days to examine the inmates’ status. The legal counsel for the Minister for Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who was among the law’s initiators, is also studying the issue and examining other ways of keeping the migrants under detention. The police, particularly those in the Tel Aviv district, believe that the law’s existence was a deterrent against criminal activity by the migrants, which has now been removed.
Netanyahu, as previously mentioned, was also among the proponents of the law. A week after it was adopted by the Knesset, he gave it his blessing at the weekly cabinet meeting: “Last week, a law was passed that allows us to arrest illegal migrants for up to three years. This changes the present reality in which they are arrested and then released within weeks, free to go wherever they please. This is an important and welcome change. It is vital for maintaining the character of Israel and for ensuring its future as a Jewish and democratic country.”
On the eve of the Knesset vote, Netanyahu decided to remove a clause specifying the government’s reservations over the intention to jail only those who assisted migrants who had committed other crimes. The government wanted to prosecute those helping any migrant.
Labor MKs praise ruling as respect for human rights
MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor,) head of the opposition, said that the High Court had “reinstated a clear and precise national moral yardstick. The anti-infiltration law deeply contradicted Israel’s character as a democratic country. An administrative decision to detain anyone for three years conflicts with basic human rights.”
MK Nachman Shai (Labor) said that “the court’s decision returns some color to the country’s cheeks. Its decision to rescind the law forces the country to respect human rights. Infiltration to Israel must be prevented and dealt with, but this must be done while maximally maintaining the rights of those who arrive here, until they leave.” Shai added that the Justice Ministry should investigate how such a law reached Israel’s law books in the first place.
Human rights organizations and leftist circles welcomed the court’s decision.
Residents of southern Tel Aviv and commentators on the right-wing of the spectrum were very critical, however, saying that the judges had abandoned the citizens of Israel.
An Israeli woman shouts at an African immigrant during an anti-immigrant demonstration organized by right-wing activists in south Tel Aviv on December 31, 2012. Photo by Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org
South Tel Aviv in Angry Protest Over Illegal African Influx
Dozens of residents of south Tel Aviv demonstrated over the likely influx of thousands of illegal Africans into their neighborhood
By David Lev, Arutz Sheva
September 17, 2013
Dozens of residents of south Tel Aviv on Tuesday demonstrated, after the High Court on Monday declared the government’s policy on detaining illegal immigrants – under which illegals could be detained for up to three years – violated several Basic Laws. Some 2,000 illegal Africans are to be freed from an encampment in the Negev in the next 90 days, most likely heading to Tel Aviv, where there is already a large illegal African community. The government has the option to attempt to deport the illegals, but many of them claim that they are genuine refugees from political repression, so deporting them would likely be a long and costly process.
While there are groups of illegals throughout the country, many of them have taken up residence in south Tel Aviv. Sometimes living dozens to an apartment, the illegals have proven themselves to be a violent and often criminal population. Jewish residents of the area complain of being assaulted, attacked, robbed, intimidated, and worse by the illegals, who, many long-time residents say, seem to have made it their objective to turn south Tel Aviv into an “Africans only” zone.
In protest over the court decision, and the likely influx of thousands of illegals into their neighborhood, residents stage a march Tuesday night decrying the 9-0 court decision canceling the law. The protesters blocked roads and loudly marched through the neighborhood shouting slogans about how, once again, they were being “shafted” by the powers that be. “We are the backyard of Tel Aviv,” said one protester. “We are refugees in this neighborhood. We chose to listen to and uphold the law, and look where it got us.”
Earlier, the Knesset Interior Committee held an angry discussion on the matter, focusing on the suffering of residents of south Tel Aviv. One resident, Oved Hugi, said that over Yom Kippur illegal Africans “made barbecues, played loud music, and threw bottles at each other.” Similar behavior was was displayed on Memorial Day and Independence Day, he said.
In a demonstration of his frustration, Hugi demanded that he be issued a certificate attesting to his being an illegal alien as well. “I’m not kidding. I would have 40 non-profits taking care of us, the High Court would protect us. We Israelis are the ones with something to worry about,” he said.
Phoebe Grenwood, Daily Telegraph, 24th May 2012:The predominately black neighbourhood of Hatikva, Tel Aviv, was ransacked by groups of nationalist protesters who had attended a demonstration on Wednesday night against illegal African migrants.
The protesters claim the Africans are responsible for a rise in crime, bearing signs saying “This is not Africa” and “Stop talking, start expelling”.
“Blacks out!” shouted demonstrators in the crowd, while others yelled “Send the Sudanese back to Sudan”, as other protesters derided the “bleeding-heart leftists” working to help them.
The mob set cans of rubbish on fire, smashed the windows of shops owned by Eritrean migrants and beat up Africans walking through the streets.The predominately black neighbourhood of Hatikva was ransacked by groups of nationalist protesters who had attended a demonstration on Wednesday night against illegal African migrants.
The protesters claim the Africans are responsible for a rise in crime, bearing signs saying “This is not Africa” and “Stop talking, start expelling”.
South Tel Aviv residents rage as migrants welcome High Court rulings
South Tel Aviv residents outraged as the High Court strikes down anti-infiltration law amendment that allowed imprisonment of infiltrators: “Life here has become hellish” • Migrants welcome ruling, but have doubts over their future.
By Edna Adato, Shlomo Cesana and Gideon Allon, Israel Hayom
September 17, 2013
Veteran residents of south Tel Aviv were outraged at the unanimous High Court of Justice ruling on Sunday — which struck down an amendment to the anti-infiltration law — and were planning to hold a protest against the court ruling Tuesday evening in the Hatikva neighborhood.
Locals of south Tel Aviv’s neighborhoods — inundated with African migrants from several countries over the past decade — and right-wing politicians alike accused the High Court of being “detached from the populace” and facilitating the “loss of Jewish identity” in Israel.
“When they say that ‘there are judges in Jerusalem’ what they really mean is that they’re out there far away, sitting on their leather chairs. They have no idea what we’ve gone through here,” Aliza Haimov, a 42-year-old resident of the south Tel Aviv Hatikva neighborhood, told Israel Hayom. She said residents have become fearful of theft, mugging, rape and even murder, crimes which she claimed have become routine in south Tel Aviv.
“And it’s not just that no one is doing anything, the judges have blocked any measure that could have made things easier for us. This is unbelievable,” she said.
Asher Haviv, a 62-year-old resident of south Tel Aviv, accused the High Court justices of being unsympathetic to southern Tel Avivians.
“Whoever made this decision deserves to be punished by living at the central bus station for a month. I have a feeling he would change his mind. Life here has become hellish,” he said. “At one time, these neighborhoods were ‘of the people.’ Today, there’s not a mother out there who lets her daughter walk around outside. Drunkards are wandering around, girls aren’t leaving their homes. [The High Court justices] have no idea what we’ve gone through, and it looks like they don’t really care”
Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv and Likud city faction Chairman Arnon Giladi accused the High Court of being “detached” from the nation.
“The High Court judges proved they don’t understand the depressing, frightening reality in south Tel Aviv neighborhoods,” he said. “The High Court abandoned the residents of south Tel Aviv in favor of the infiltrators. A High Court that doesn’t allow the incarceration of infiltrators and individuals staying illegally [in Israel] is an institution that has become detached from the nation.”
The Drom Ha’ir faction, which is competing in October’s municipal elections, made similarly pointed statements.
“The High Court of Justice abandoned Tel Aviv and opened the floodgates to a flow of migrants, which is going to drown the southern neighborhoods,” according to a faction statement.
Former Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who in his term spearheaded measures against economic migrants and infiltrators, went a step further and warned that the court decision jeopardized Israel’s Jewish character.
The ruling “will be responsible for losing the Jewish majority and the Jewish identity” in Israel, he said.
Meretz MK and candidate for Tel Aviv mayor Nitzan Horowitz offered a more moderate response.
“What’s clear now is that no one — neither [Tel Aviv Mayor Ron] Huldai nor [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu — can still say: ‘this isn’t my problem.’ This is Tel Aviv’s most serious issue at the moment, and it must remain a top priority for decision makers.”
Asylum-seekers meanwhile welcomed the High Court ruling. But along with the expected release of some of migrants, several also expressed grievances over the ongoing legal restrictions placed on migrants in Israel.
“We are living here without basic rights,” said Moatasem Ali, an asylum-seeker from the Darfur region in Sudan. “They don’t check our personal background to see if we’re eligible for asylum. I have friends who are locked up because of the [infiltration] law. They feel great that they’re getting out of prison, but they still don’t know what’s going to happen after they get out.”
Ali claimed he had been released from prison, but said he could neither seek legal employment nor receive refugee status.
“It’s forbidden for me to work and I’m called an infiltrator, a work migrant and a criminal. I am asking for asylum. I don’t want to be a refugee, but I have no choice. There’s still a war in Darfur and I fled because I was in danger there,” he said.
Dawit Damus, an Eritrean asylum-seeker, said the situation in his country also drove him to seek refugee status in Israel.
“We fled a dictatorship to live freely and securely. There’s no way that the only possibilities left for refugees are living on the streets or behind bars,” said Damus.