Israel's Top Court Delays Planned Expulsion of Asylum Seekers

Author and Israel Prize winner David Grossman asks court to join petitions behind delay: 'Israel was created as a home for refugees'

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Eritrean migrants protest Israel's plan to deport African asylum seekers, Jerusalem, January 17, 2018. Hebrew signs read 'no to deportation, Rwanda = death' and 'slaves for sale.'
Eritrean migrants protest Israel's plan to deport African asylum seekers, Jerusalem, January 17, 2018. Hebrew signs read 'no to deportation, Rwanda = death' and 'slaves for sale.'Credit: Oded Balilty / אי־פי
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The state asked the High Court of Justice on Monday for another two weeks to formulate its response to two petitions against the planned deportations of African asylum seekers.

The state plans to send the Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda. The expulsions were to begin April 1, but the court has temporarily frozen them until it rules on the petitions, filed by attorneys Avigdor Feldman and Eitay Mack, which note that both Rwanda and Uganda have refused to accept asylum seekers deported from Israel against their will. The state’s request for more time is expected to delay the deportations by at least nine days.

>> Everything you need to know about Israel's mass deportation of asylum seekers >>

Also in the High Court on Monday, two Israel Prize winners, author David Grossman and philosophy professor Asa Kasher, asked the justices to let them join the petitions against the planned deportations. Grossman is a noted critic of the government’s right-wing agenda, while Kasher is at times its high-profile defender.

“The State of Israel was created to be a home for a nation of refugees and persecuted people,” Grossman wrote in his request. “Almost every person who lives here carries in his memory, or in his heritage, some experience of refugeehood and persecution that he himself or his ancestors experienced.

“The thought that among the people whom Israel is about to deport are those whose lives will be in danger if they are deported gives me no rest,” he continued. “Israel is big and strong enough to absorb these displaced people.

>> Eritrean grandfather faces deportation because Israel claims he's 32 >>

“Even if they snuck into Israel illegally, and even if they came ‘only’ out of economic distress, the fact is that now they’re here. The very fact of their coming here is in itself liable to ‘stigmatize’ them in their own countries, and deporting them is liable to endanger them.”

“In a sense, Israel is about to throw thousands of people to the sharks,” Grossman added. “If we turn our backs on them now, if we close our hearts to their suffering, to their humanity, we will be no better than those who closed their hearts to the distress and suffering of our parents and grandparents. But if Israel decides to behave differently – to steer this turn of the wheel in the direction of generosity and compassion – this will also be a new stance against in the face of the tragic history of our people, and in effect, in the face of the entire international community; an act of real compassion and rectification in a world of cynicism and narrow interests.”

Grossman also addressed the distress of residents of south Tel Aviv, where by far the largest concentration of asylum seekers live, terming it “unbearable.”

“The pressure cooker into which successive Israeli governments have squeezed those who fled Sudan and Eritrea, along with the residents of these neighborhoods, is a cynical crime in and of itself, which sentences both sides to act with enmity and violence toward each other,” he wrote. But if the asylum seekers are made “legitimate,” he argued, they will “disperse throughout the country integrally and naturally, based on demand for their labor, and the inhumane pressure on residents of south Tel Aviv will ease immediately.

“The day will come, perhaps in another year, perhaps in another decade, when out of the faceless, anonymous mass of people Israel is deporting, faces will begin to emerge – the faces of human beings, the faces of men and women who have personalities and uniqueness and desires and stories,” he added. “In their fate, we will be able to see the faces we showed them.”

Kasher, who said he sought to raise “moral arguments” against the deportations, wrote that most of the asylum seekers have adopted Israeli lifestyles, and this attests to their integration into Israeli society. Therefore, he said, responsibility for their current situation falls to a large extent on the state, “which provided room for this natural integration” to occur.

He also argued that Israel must protect the asylum seekers’ human dignity even if it sends them elsewhere. Numerous asylum seekers who were coerced into leaving Israel say they received acutely hostile receptions in Rwanda and Uganda, with masses of them compelled to move on from those countries despite the danger.

Sending someone out from Israel, “where the obligation to preserve his human dignity is honored, to somewhere beyond the country’s borders requires thorough, responsible and credible scrutiny of the situation the deportee will encounter in the place to which he is deported,” Kasher wrote. The state must “be certain that this place will honor its obligation to protect his human dignity, according to the state’s own standards for protecting human dignity, and must not accept a lower level of protection of the deportee’s human dignity or even an absence of protection of the deportee’s human dignity.”

In Monday’s request for the delay, the state promised not to resume deportations during the period of the extension. It also promised not to jail any additional asylum seekers who refuse to agree to be deported. But it will not release the asylum seekers who have already been sent to Saharonim Prison for refusing to leave the country.

Attorney Avigdor Feldman, who is one of the two petitioners, told the court on Monday that he agrees to the extension but opposes submission of the classified document.

“In the future, any request by the respondents to submit any classified documents should be accompanied by a detailed certificate of confidentiality along with an appropriate paraphrase and a detailed explanation, so that it will be possible for the petitioners to ask that it be declassified and to consider whether the classification is necessary, as in the current case,” he wrote. “The suspicion arises that the respondents didn’t give the honored court full information.”

Attorney Eitay Mack, the other petitioner, said the new classified document presumably contains additional information “which the respondents were forced to obtain from the dictatorship in Rwanda before submitting their position.”

He also argued that it is unreasonable for the asylum seekers jailed in Saharonim to remain in detention.

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