Spike in Indictments Against African Migrants for Driving Without a License

State Prosecutor's office calls the problem a 'national calamity,' seeks remand and jail time.

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There has been a sharp increase in arrests and indictments for driving without a license among the African migrant community in Israel. The Tel Aviv Traffic Court has seen a drastic increase in cases filed against African migrants, and in many cases, the Israel Police have requested that the suspects be held in custody throughout the duration of legal proceedings, which is a rare move for cases of this kind.

In some of the cases, the courts have granted the police requests, and in one case, police requested that a jail sentence be handed down. Israeli lawyers specializing in traffic law have noted that holding suspects in custody or sentencing offenders to jail time for driving without a license is extremely rare, especially for individuals with no prior offenses.

In one case, an African migrant was arrested in early November, while in possession of a counterfeit driver’s license. He told police that he purchased the fake license from a South Sudanese citizen for NIS 1,500. A state prosecutor, attorney Lior Klein claimed in court that these events represent a “serious national calamity,” and that in addition to the seriousness of the offenses and the danger these suspects pose, there is a real danger that they could evade the judicial process if they aren’t held in custody for the duration of legal proceedings.

Citing the increase in such cases in recent weeks, and numerous traffic accidents caused by such drivers, one judge at the Tel Aviv Traffic Court wrote that “under the circumstances, the counsel’s remarks that the phenomenon has become a ‘national calamity’ are acceptable, and law enforcement authorities must do everything in their power to combat this phenomenon.”

Attorney Tomer Warshaw, who represented an African migrant arrested for driving without a license, was surprised by the government’s conduct. According to Warshaw, the request to hold his client in custody for the duration of legal proceedings, or the asking for a prison sentence represents a new, invalid policy. “No one is debating the fact that Israeli citizens are expected to drive their vehicles only if they have a license and are insured. The same expectations are held for foreigners, and driving without insurance can have terrible consequences. At the same time, it cannot be the case that at worst, an Israeli citizen would be stripped of his license for driving without insurance, while an Eritrean could see jail time after being held in custody for the duration of proceedings. The High Court of Justice decided years ago that a ‘national calamity’ is not grounds for remand during legal proceedings, and each case must be examined separately.”

According to the law, foreign nationals in Israel are allowed to drive with a foreign license for up to one year from their entry date into Israel. Those with various types of residency permits can convert their license into a temporary Israeli license after a short driving test.

African migrants in southern Tel Aviv.Credit: Moti Milrod

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