Despite New Deportation Ruling, Israel Opts to Keep Ignoring Reality

The Supreme Court offered the state what aid groups have proposed for years: to disperse asylum seekers around the country. But ministers apparently prefer another round of sparring with the judiciary

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In the wake of an Israeli Supreme Court decision regarding deportation, asylum seekers face off against Israelis at a demonstration in Tel Aviv, Aug. 28, 2017.
Asylum seekers face off against Israelis in south Tel Aviv on Monday, following the Supreme Court's new ruling on deportation.
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The Supreme Court ruling on Monday regarding African asylum seekers leaves the government only two choices. The decision allows the state to send these individuals to third-party African nations, such as Rwanda and Uganda, but does not allow anyone who refuses to leave to be jailed for more than two months.

The first possibility is to find another country that will accept the asylum seekers (whom the court refers to as “infiltrators” – a technical, legal definition for people who have entered Israel illegally), against their will. In such a case, the Supreme Court says, there is no problem with deporting them and those who refuse to go can be incarcerated for an extended period.

Of course, this would only apply if the government meets all the requisite conditions – chief among them to protect the lives and the freedom of the deportees. But even if Israel manages to find such an African country, this does not seem like a solution in the short run. It will take a long time until an agreement can be signed with the authorities involved, and then the deal will face judicial review. In short, not a very promising plan.

The second option is the more practical one, but it's very unlikely that the present government will choose it. In this case, Israel will finally recognize – extremely belatedly – that a few tens of thousands of African asylum seekers will continue to live here for the next few years.

Maybe instead of looking for any way possible to make these people's lives miserable and to pressure them to leave, the government will finally grasp that it must grant them reasonable living conditions and basic rights. Not just because this is Israel’s obligation, but also because it is the only way to reduce the friction between the asylum seekers and the Israelis living near them in south Tel Aviv and other cities. It might not be a popular move at first, but public opinion could change if it succeeds.

The justices proposed to the government, and not for the first time, that it consider a geographical dispersal of asylum seekers to different places around the country. Justice Hanan Melcer mentioned in Monday’s ruling by the Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, that he had made such a recommendation two years ago, saying at the time that the solution provided a reasonable balance between the needs of all concerned, given the difficult circumstances, and was the “lesser of all evils, because no possibility exists in this case of reaching the best of all [solutions].”

This could be a quick, effective and humane solution. Human rights organizations have been proposing it for years, but the government has ignored them, refused to listen to them. After all, they are the ones ruining the government’s plans with their petitions to the High Court. Maybe this time around the government will listen to the judges and adopt their proposal?

But based on the responses from ministers to the ruling on Monday, it seems that a third option also exists: to ignore reality and continue with the old policy.

“I spoke to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked after the High Court ruling and told her I intend to consider amending the law to allow the state to remove infiltrators from the country involuntarily,” said Interior Minister Arye Dery shortly after the decision was publicized.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who initiated the deportations to Uganda and Rwanda when he was interior minister, rushed to respond: “In the legal situation created [by the ruling], we must urgently promote amending the law to provide tools for the state to continue with the process of removing the infiltrators, otherwise a new incentive will be created to come and illegally enter Israel.”

The ministers seem not to have understood that the court did not did not ban involuntary deportations. In fact it allowed it. Supreme Court President Miriam Naor made it clear that this was a possibility. But both Uganda and Rwanda refuse to accept people who are forcibly put on a plane and deported against their will.

So the Knesset will now legislate and bypass the courts, and ignore the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty. This will lead to yet another round in the continuing conflict between the legislative and judicial branches, and will most likely give the ministers involved a number of headlines, and even upgrade their status within their own parties. But it will not help the asylum seekers or residents of south Tel Aviv.

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