Editorial

Three Years of Holot

Israel cannot take in an unlimited number of asylum-seekers, but Israel can and must accept the 40,000 Africans living here today | Editorial

The Holot detention facility for African asylum seekers in southern Israel, in 2015.
The Holot detention facility for African asylum seekers in southern Israel, in 2015. Eliyahu Hershkovitz

It’s hard to decide who gives Israel and Judaism a worse name: former Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who boasted that he managed to deport all the asylum-seekers from South Sudan in a lightening operation immediately after that country gained independence, or the present interior minister, Arye Dery, who continues the policy of abusing asylum-seekers, but calls for a UN Security Council session over the atrocities in Syria. “As Jews we must not remain silent in light of the horrors,” he wrote.

Shortly after the South Sudanese asylum-seekers, including children who knew no country other than Israel, returned to their country, a bloody war broke out there. That is what Yishai is proud of. Dery is continuing the policy of confinement in the Holot detention center ("Three years on, asylum-seekers feel despair in Holot," Ilan Lior, Haaretz, December 12) to lead the asylum-seekers to desperation and voluntarily agree to return to their dangerous countries, Eritrea and Sudan, to which Israel is prohibited from sending them.

Many Israeli citizens and politicians have adopted two lies, including those who send their children on Holocaust tours to Poland, where Jews who had nowhere else to go were annihilated. One is that asylum-seekers are labor migrants and there is no need to take an interest in their fate; rather, they should be deported. The other is that the only way to resolve the distress of south Tel Aviv residents is to deport the asylum-seekers. To strengthen the first lie, Israel has stopped evaluating asylum requests. The state is prohibited from sending asylum-seekers back to their countries, and so it abuses them until they agree to go back despite the dangers, or to go to Rwanda or Uganda, where their safety and rights are not assured. Dubbing asylum-seekers “infiltrators” is part of their dehumanization by the state. And although it is clear that they must work in order to survive, the state makes even this difficult for them.

The second lie is a manifestation of the state's refusal to take steps to ease the situation in south Tel Aviv, in order to create support for deportation. The state prefers to pit the Israelis against the Africans. A country of asylum-seekers, after becoming well-established, has turned its back on other asylum-seekers.

Interior Ministers Yishai, Gideon Sa’ar, Gilad Erdan and Dery, not one of whom said that Israel is responsible for these people, should be ashamed. MK Miri Regev, who misses no opportunity to incite, should be ashamed. MKs Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, who supported the law to incarcerate asylum-seekers after already being dismissed from the cabinet, should be ashamed. MK Ayelet Shaked, to whom the apex of Israel’s democracy – the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty – is intolerable, should be ashamed. And first and foremost, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be ashamed.

Israel cannot take in an unlimited number of asylum-seekers, and Netanyahu was right to construct the fence. But Israel can and must accept the 40,000 Africans living here today, along with the 6,000 children who were born here.