African migrants looking through the fence at the Egyptian-Israeli border on August 4, 2012.
African migrants looking through the fence at the Egyptian-Israeli border on August 4, 2012. Photo by AP
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"The hunger and thirst were terrible. The Israelis shot [tear] gas at us twice, stuck an iron bar through the fence and tried to push us away. ... The men pleaded for eight days, and on the eighth day, they no longer had the strength to resist. They were faint and screamed, 'Kill us here.'"

That is how W., a boy from Eritrea, described this week what he and 20 other migrants underwent at the hands of Israel Defense Forces soldiers along the border fence with Egypt.

This shocking description, along with similar testimony given as affidavits at the Saharonim Prison to attorneys from the We Are Refugees organization, hasn't elicited any response from the IDF Spokesman, or from any other governmental body. Yet this description ought to have shocked every Israeli.

The story of the 21 migrants caught between the fences along the Israeli border, on sovereign Israeli territory, ended in inhumane fashion. The Prime Minister's Office decided to permit entry only to two women and one teenage boy, who were promptly imprisoned, while expelling the 18 men. State agencies didn't even bother to find out what became of those who were expelled.

Now it also turns out that they were banished forcibly and cruelly, with tear gas and iron bars, and not as the Prime Minister's Bureau said, in its deceptive phraseology: "The infiltrators went back the way they came."

This shameful incident cannot be allowed to pass quietly. The authorities must immediately launch a probe into who gave the order to treat the migrants this way - in violation of international refugee law and the international conventions Israel has signed - and punish the guilty parties. The way the High Court of Justice evaded hearing the case - first by postponing the hearing for three days, then by deciding that the issue had become moot - is also very disturbing.

In its treatment of migrants from Africa, Israel is gradually degenerating toward committing crimes against humanity. According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, such crimes include broad or systematic assaults on a civilian population. The brutal expulsion of 18 Eritreans doesn't meet this definition, but the interior minister's plan to jail tens of thousands of migrants without trial for three years or more might very well be such a crime. The state must stop this degeneration immediately.