Israel Creates Legal Department to Deal With Illegal Immigrants

Move comes after three years in which the state has seen hundreds of legal cases involving illegal immigrants, mostly from Africa. Attorney Yochi Gnessin appointed to head new department without a tender.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

The State Prosecutor's Office is creating a new department to deal with issues related to illegal immigrants.

The move comes after three years in which the state has seen hundreds of legal cases involving illegal immigrants, mostly from Africa. Attorney Yochi Gnessin is being appointed to head the new department without a tender.

Although it has yet to be set up, the department has already ruffled feathers in the State Prosecutor's Office and the Justice Ministry. Haaretz has learned Gnessin's boss, Osnat Mandel, the head of the High Court of Justice petitions department, was not informed about the plan. Mandel has been in her position for 12 years and enjoys tenure, leaving Gnessin with limited opportunities for advancement.

State Prosecutor Moshe Lador and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein recently asked the Civil Service Commission to approve the establishment of the new department and the additional positions to staff it. It is yet unclear how many prosecutors will be assigned to the department or where they will come from.

Gnessin, 54, has worked in the State Prosecutor's Office for 29 years. She has focused on immigration for much of her career and is considered the most senior official in the office on the issue. For the past three years, she has mostly dealt with petitions to the High Court by and on behalf of immigrants, asylum seekers and African refugees. She also advises regional state attorneys on handling such petitions in lower courts – something they do almost daily.

Other matters she has handled for the state include conversion in the Israel Defense Forces, the private prison that was disallowed by the High Court and the Citizenship Law, which prevents Palestinians married to Israelis from receiving Israeli citizenship.

The Justice Ministry said, "In light of the position and duties of Gnessin, who coordinates nationally the handling of legal matters in government ministries in the area of illegal immigration and infiltration into Israel, the Justice Ministry is examining in cooperation with the Civil Service Commissioner, the possibility of making the level of the position she has appropriate to the job and the scope of the legal matters involved in this area."

Gnessin has taken a vacation until the department is up and running.

African migrants behind barbed wire at the Saharonim detention facility in the Negev, 2012.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
State Prosecutor Moshe Lador at the Supreme Court, June 2, 2010.Credit: Emil Salman

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