Israel Must Carry Out Fair Judgment for Foreigners

The custody tribunal decides the fate of thousands of foreigners in Israel and is responsible for the illegal detention of hundreds of them.

A Georgian citizen married to an Israeli woman was surprised to discover last week that a decision made by a judge overseeing his custody tribunal appeared in his file before his case was even heard. The file on Besik Kajaia also contained statements he had supposedly made in Hebrew, a language he does not know.

Yesterday's report in Haaretz, written by Dana Weiler-Pollak, is the most recent of many disturbing reports published on this particular tribunal in the last several months.

The custody tribunal was established in 2001 by the Interior Ministry and has since come under the aegis of the Justice Ministry. It decides the fate of thousands of foreigners in Israel and - based on an extensive investigative report by Lital Levin, published in Haaretz (Hebrew edition ) several months ago - is responsible for the illegal detention of hundreds of foreigners.

Levin's report drew a harsh picture of a tribunal whose administration is faltering, whose decisions raise eyebrows and many of whose judges are not doing their jobs. In the past few months alone, some 17 foreigners who had been detained illegally for more than a year (and some even more than two years ) were released after the District Court intervened in their cases.

The impression is that the tribunal serves as a rubber stamp for custody orders issued by the Interior Ministry, which it approves almost blindly, without any supervision or oversight, and without detainees being able to defend their freedoms.

To site a few examples: the tribunal sent a 4-year-old girl to detention because her mother's visa had expired; a Sudanese refugee, whose release the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had demanded, was jailed by the tribunal and deported; the tribunal judge, attorney Yossi Maimon, released two labor migrants and sent them to work in his brother's car repair shop.

This is an intolerable situation. The rule of law in Israel must encompass the state's attitude toward foreigners and the custody tribunal. The country's justice system and the leadership of the Justice Ministry must not hesitate to enter the fray, investigate what is going on in the custody tribunal and transform it into what it should be: a fair judicial institution and not a rubber stamp for the Interior Ministry's shenanigans.