cartoon - Amos Biderman - November 29 2010
Illustration. Photo by Amos Biderman
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing off against African labor migrants who cross into Israel via the Egyptian border. He sees them as a great danger to "the character and future of the State of Israel" and a threat to the employment of Israelis.

Yesterday, the cabinet approved the construction of a huge detention facility in the Negev to which the illegals will be sent en masse and where they will remain until a country is found that is willing to take them in.

The new detention facility, the fence to be built along the Egyptian border, and the heavy fines to be levied on employers of illegal laborers are supposed to make others consider whether it is worth their while to flee their poor and war-stricken countries for flourishing and abundant Israel.

But the initiatives Netanyahu has presented, with the energetic support of Interior Minister Eli Yishai, appear to be shooting from the hip to show that the government is doing something, rather than long-term solutions to the problem.

Israel, like any other country, has the right to decide who comes in and who settles here.

All the developed countries are dealing with desperate labor migrants from poor countries, and are having trouble stemming the tide.

As justification for his plan, Netanyahu has cited similar facilities built by various European countries.

But aggressive administrative solutions are not enough: Israel must ensure that the treatment the illegal migrants receive is in accordance with humanitarian standards.

In that, there is cause for deep concern: The government has heavily shielded its treatment of illegal migrants.

The current detention center, Saharonim, does not usually admit journalists or human rights groups. Hearings for asylum-seekers are held behind closed doors.

The detention of thousands of people for extended periods in the desert, with a vague pledge to seek other countries who will take them in, will raise difficult questions over Israel's treatment of refugees from hunger- and war-ravaged countries.

The government must insure that the human rights of illegal migrants are protected, transparent and subject to judicial review, as behoves a democratic country.