A State That Makes Illegal Aliens

The illegal aliens bill, which has been submitted to the Knesset by the cabinet and was debated in the House Committee, is tainted by considerable hypocrisy, sanctimoniousness and self-righteousness. The aliens law purports to target felons staying illegally in Israel. But this contention contains more than a fair share of deception and falsehood.

Israel is a state that produces its illegal aliens in order to prevent non-Jews from obtaining the status they are entitled to here. The state produces them by a policy of endless bureaucracy - covert, meaningless procedures - and by refusing to grant people the rights they are entitled to by law.

Many of the illegal aliens are not felons but victims of a callow, sometimes cruel policy, intended to prevent the entrance of non-Jewish aliens at almost any cost. The argument of upholding the law is nothing more than a guise for another demographic barrier.

Most absurd of all are the claims against the spouses of Israeli Arabs, who are staying here illegally. They have no possibility of being granted family reunion in Israel, unless they prove that the center of their life is here. But there is no way of transferring the center of their life to Israel without staying here illegally for a few years. Therefore, the practical meaning of the aliens law is, in fact, complete prohibition of Israeli Arabs to marry Palestinian partners.

And no, they cannot send their partners to live in Nablus because it's dangerous there, and because the West Bank towns are tantamount to huge prisons, mainly due to the actions of the Israeli army. Just as one cannot expect an Israeli citizen who marries a partner from Colombia to move to a Third World country in which personal safety is so precarious.

The migrant laborers have also become illegal aliens against their will. It is reasonable to assume that most of them would have preferred to keep Israeli law intact and not to violate it. The High Court of Justice has already ruled that the arrangement binding foreign workers to their employers is tantamount to modern slavery. Because of the binding arrangement, the moment a worker leaves an abusive, exploitative employer, or an employer who refuses to pay his wages, he loses his work and residence permit and becomes an illegal alien. The procedure regulating the transfer from one employer to another is far from adequate.

Here's a simple way to reduce the number of illegal aliens by tens of thousands: Cancel the binding arrangement and turn the foreign workers into their own masters and the masters of their work permits. It will then transpire that the illegal aliens are not the main problem, but the illegal procedure that produced them.

The Law of Return grants citizenship to the non-Jewish spouses of Jews, to sons of Jews and even to Jews' grandchildren. But Israel makes it very difficult for these spouses to bring their children from previous marriages and their elderly parents to this country. As a result, the family members come to Israel as tourists and remain as illegal aliens. They do what any reasonable person would do in their place. So the problem lies not with the new immigrants' families, but with the state that turned breaking up families into shameless official policy.

Last week the Knesset House Committee began preparing the aliens bill, which was written by a Justice Ministry team headed by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. The bill was widely supported in the cabinet, passed its first reading easily and was expected to be approved swiftly and without any problems by the committee as well. However, it is here where it encountered unexpected opposition. Seven of the eight committee members criticized the bill harshly, even calling it half-crazy.

The Knesset should return the aliens law to Mazuz and the cabinet. In so doing it would signal to the government that it cannot turn xenophobia into an immigration policy; that before starting an all-out war against illegal aliens, it must first set up a proper, civilized immigration authority; and mainly - if Israel wants to fight the illegal aliens problem, it must stop producing them.

However, the great fear is that the coalition will easily muster a Knesset majority and pass the aliens law, thus legally enshrining the country's separatism and demographic phobia.