Today, like every day of the week, 40 infiltrators entered Israel through the porous border with Egypt. That's the daily rate, or 1,200 per month, 14,000 per year.
Ehud Olmert, who this week talked about his negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when he was prime minister, revealed that he had agreed for Israel to take in 20,000 Palestinian refugees in a final-status deal. He didn't agree to absorb a larger number because he didn't want to endanger Israel's Jewish character.
But at the same time, Olmert did nothing to halt the influx of illegal infiltrators - migrants from countries like Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Chad and Ivory Coast. The Egyptian border, through which traffickers would smuggle women (to be employed as prostitutes ), drugs, goods and terrorists, has since 2006 become an open door for would-be immigrants from Africa. Today the number of migrants in Israel has reached 30,000 - more than the "gesture" Olmert agreed to.
Seven months ago, the Netanyahu government resolved to build a fence along the border, but the Defense Ministry hasn't yet put up even a one-meter stretch. This week the Knesset Finance Committee approved a supplementary budget of NIS 50 million for the project, but the overall cost is NIS 1.3 billion. Once again, they are making a mockery of serious business.
Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry is preoccupied with the planning phase, which was scheduled to be completed in July, so the work will not begin before the end of the year. One can easily envision the project dragging on for at least another four years, which befits our tradition.
Even those who think this will be an effective fence that seals the entire border are mistaken. The barrier will run along the border's northern and southern sections. In between sits a mountainous region where an electronic warning system will be installed.
But this apparently won't suffice because Israel's laws don't let the authorities expel an infiltrator who crosses the border by even one centimeter. So they cross the border and sit and wait for an army patrol to come by and take them for a security check. Then they are sent to Saharonim Prison. Very few are recognized as refugees (and are thus entitled to rights and privileges ), but 99 percent of all infiltrators are illegal migrants.
After two or three months at Saharonim, the migrants are released. The prison service then takes them to Be'er Sheva's Central Bus Station, effectively making them residents without any legal status. This is because our government has decided not to decide.
A large demonstration against the government's passivity was staged recently in Eilat, a city that boasts 5,000 migrants, or 10 percent of the population. The people there say they can't roam around freely at night in certain neighborhoods because they are afraid of the migrants who flood the sidewalks and sleep in the gardens. The situation is similar in Arad. The same goes for Ashdod's Bet quarter and South Tel Aviv, which has the largest concentration of African migrants.
Boaz Lifshitz, an attorney who has taken an interest in the issue, describes the state of the areas next to Tel Aviv's New Central Bus Station, Salameh Street, the Shapira neighborhood and the Hatikva quarter as "an environmental disaster." He says South Tel Aviv has come to resemble "a poor neighborhood in Africa, where you pass by immigrants without means who walk around with beer bottles, and in groups, yelling and intimidating."
Of course, not everyone is like this, but still we are dealing with a phenomenon that harms weaker neighborhoods and poorer sectors of society. These same migrant workers (who are here illegally ) take the jobs of people who struggle to earn money. Anyone who is not laid off must take a pay cut because there is always a cheaper alternative.
The illegal migrants, not the government or the Knesset, determine Israel's immigration policy. They are straining the resources of the health services, welfare agencies and educational institutions in a way that will forever prevent us from raising the standard of living for the poor. We won't be able to narrow the socioeconomic gaps, especially if we continue to allow in a constant flow of poverty-stricken migrants.
The infiltrators are part of a much larger problem - the 130,000 legal migrant workers and the 170,000 illegal migrant workers who live in Israel. So we must act now - by employing the security forces - to stop the infiltration. An effective fence must be built within one year. A situation whereby 40 new infiltrators from Africa enter the country per day is impossible.
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