partridge - Yaron Kaminsky - 18072011
A partridge being released. Photo by Archive: Yaron Kaminsky
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Foreign workers who are suspected of poaching can be deported, according to a Supreme Court ruling handed down last week. The decision gives the force of law to a long-standing policy of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority aimed in particular at deterring Thai nationals, whose systematic hunting of wild animals has become one of the greatest dangers facing these populations.

A three-justice panel headed by Justice Eliezer Rivlin upheld a lower court's ruling and rejected an appeal by four Thai citizens against the legality of the regulation on which their deportation was based. INPA rangers suspected the appellants, who had lived in the southern Coastal Plain, of hunting partridges, a protected bird. Partridge feathers were found in the men's homes and after questioning by INPA officials they admitted to hunting and killing five of the birds.

The Interior Ministry revoked the men's visas and deported them after receiving a request from the INPA, and after the Tel Aviv District Court turned down their appeal of the decision. They appealed to the Supreme Court after their return to Thailand.

The Supreme Court rejected the appellants' argument, according to which the procedure used against them was discriminatory and violated their constitutional right to freedom of occupation.

"The sanction against the appellants was not light, but neither was the crime that they knowingly committed," the justices wrote in their decision.

The issue of workers from Thailand hunting wild animals in Israel first surfaced more than a decade ago. The Nature and Parks Authority initially tackled the problem by trying to explain Israel's laws on hunting, but a number of years ago it also began deporting culprits against whom it had sufficient evidence.

When the repatriation policy was first introduced, dozens of migrant workers were deported every year, but for the past few years that number has dropped below five per year. Some INPA officials claim the numbers point to the difficulty of enforcing the anti-poaching regulations rather than any genuine decline in the extent of illegal hunting on the part of Thai workers.

Officials from the Interior Ministry's Population Registry said yesterday that the state revoked visas and deported foreign workers for a wide variety of infractions that were not serious crimes because it prefered employing administrative procedures rather than taking the more expensive and slower approach of pursuing criminal charges.