The new border fence going up on Israel's border with Sinai.
The new border fence going up on Israel's border with Sinai. Photo by Eli Hershkowitz
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“This is the law that stopped the wave of infiltration. People think it’s because of the fence, but it’s not because of the fence. It’s the fence and the law together.”

MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), on “The World This Morning” TV show

“If we hadn’t legislated the amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, Israel would now find itself with 80,000 infiltrators, 100,000 next year, 120,000 the year after that, and − in my estimate − a geometric increase, with many more the year after that.”

Attorney Yochi Gnessin of the State Prosecutor’s Office, at a High Court hearing on the Prevention of Infiltration Law

Earlier this month, the High Court heard a petition from human rights organizations against the amendment in the Prevention of Infiltration Law that makes it possible to detain a person who enters Israel for up to three years without trial. There are currently about 60,000 migrants from Eritrea and Sudan living in Israel, a majority of whom entered the country before a fence was built on the Israel-Egypt border. The barrier has almost completely halted the influx of asylum seekers and migrant laborers from Africa to Israel via the Sinai Peninsula.

The statements by Ayelet Shaked and Yossi Gnessin, arguing in favor of the law, are more or less the official explanation for the legislation: The more hostile Israel is to migrants and refugees, and prevents them from obtaining economic and human rights, the less attractive it will seem as a destination, and so they will choose to go elsewhere.

But the facts say otherwise: The so-called “infiltrators” amendment was passed by the Knesset in January 2012. Since then, approximately 2,000 people have been imprisoned without trial and are being held in detention camps in southern Israel. In the first half of 2012, after the amendment was passed but before the border fence was built, government data show that 9,071 migrants from Africa entered Israel. By the end of the year, construction of the fence was completed and, in the first part of this year (through the end of March), just 18 illegal migrants entered Israel.

Israel is choosing to ignore the moral arguments against the law, the conduct of other states, the UN Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights and international law. It boasts about how quickly the border fence was built and proudly brandishes the monthly statistics showing a decline in the number of African migrants who have succeeded in entering, thanks to the fence.

Perhaps the harsh legislation is causing some refugees to think twice about whether to aim to get to Israel rather than another country, where they would not be immediately detained without trial. But as long as a wall is preventing new migrants from entering Israel, a law preventing those who are already here from working and being free is not deterrence. It’s maliciousness. -