High Court Exhibits New Commitment to Defending Human Rights

The best way to protect Israel's national interests would be to adopt the court's ruling, both judicially and as the state's moral stance.

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“With regard to those asylum seekers who have already reached our abode, after having crossed other countries and thousands of kilometers of wilderness by tortuous routes, and traversed hundreds of kilometers of the Sinai Desert, where some fell victim to evildoers who tortured them, abused them, raped their wives and daughters, and sometimes even killed some of them in various ways ... Once they reached our borders, wounded in body and soul, we should have welcomed them ... bound up their wounds of body and soul and treated them with generosity and compassion with respect to work, welfare, health and education.”

These laden words were written by Justice Isaac Amit as part of Monday’s High Court of Justice ruling, which overturned an amendment to the Infiltration Law that enabled asylum seekers to be jailed for three years without trial. The court has overturned about a dozen laws since the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom was enacted in 1992. The amendment overturned this week was the most violent and injurious of them all.

Not only did the overturned amendment violate both international and Israeli law, but, even more importantly, it violated the basic, universal values of justice and morality. That the cabinet and Knesset proved impervious to this fact is troubling evidence of moral degeneration. The manner in which a distorted picture was deliberately painted, in which the distress of residents of south Tel Aviv necessitated the imprisonment of thousands of people for such a long time and without trial, shows that cynicism and incitement were used to create what Justice Uzi Vogelman termed a “binary presentation” of the issue, which “is problematic, in my view, coming from the state.”

From this perspective, it seems the judiciary remains our last defense against complete moral collapse. We must laud the fact that the High Court prevented this disgrace and insisted on the unacceptability of punishing someone simply because he is an asylum seeker. After several severe disappointments in the field of human rights in recent years – such as the ruling that upheld the discriminatory Citizenship Law and the ruling that the Hours of Work and Rest Law doesn’t apply to home caregivers – it must be hoped that the current ruling, whose main conclusions were handed down unanimously, heralds a renewed commitment on the court’s part to defending human rights.

It’s regrettable that the interior minister, Gideon Sa’ar, spoke out against the decision and even hinted that an alternative legislative way would be found “to protect our national interests.” Sa’ar, like those of his colleagues who voted for the amendment, first and foremost the prime minister, has not yet understood that the best protection of our national interests would be to adopt the spirit of this ruling – not merely as a legal position, but also as the state’s moral stance toward weak and silenced population groups.

African migrant workers at Ichilov Hospital, Tel Aviv.Credit: Nir Kafri

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