Path Cleared to Treat Asylum Seekers Humanely

Backed by High Court rulings and the interior minister’s departure, Benjamin Netanyahu has a chance to turn his government’s policy around.

Haaretz Editorial
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African asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility protest the expulsion from Israel of others, February 17, 2014.
African asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility protest the expulsion from Israel of others, February 17, 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Haaretz Editorial

What can’t be achieved by force can be achieved by more force, believes outgoing Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who wants to amend the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom and curb the High Court of Justice’s authority.

On Monday, the High Court ordered the state to close the Holot detention facility for asylum seekers within 90 days. It also overturned a provision that allowed asylum seekers who entered Israel illegally to be incarcerated without trial for up to a year.

Sa’ar says the responsibility to protect the state’s borders is the government’s, not the court’s. If the High Court’s ruling is implemented, he argues, Israel will no longer be a Jewish and democratic state. But we haven’t heard Sa’ar voice concerns about the threat to the Jewish and democratic state stemming from the settlements and the dispossession and apartheid derived from them in the absence of an eastern border, which Israel refuses to set.

It’s hard to believe that even after the High Court’s decision, Sa’ar can say the amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law “made a considerable contribution to the voluntary departure process.” The High Court described the law’s harsh impact on the asylum seekers’ lives. The only refuge the state left them was “voluntary” return to the countries where their lives were in danger. Clearly there was no free will in the process.

In the court’s ruling, Justice Edna Arbel was right when she said the amendment was merely a rehash of an earlier amendment that the court had annulled a year ago.

The prime minister, interior minister and attorney general must now do some soul-searching after thinking they could cheat the High Court and enact a law identical to one that had been annulled. They blatantly violated the asylum seekers’ rights and caused an injustice whose full scope will only be clear in the future. The attorney general is particularly responsible because he did not prevent the cabinet from this failure and disgrace.

Sa’ar’s new ideas must be rejected. The Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom is a vital component of Israel’s essence as a democracy, which places the individual at its center. A change to the law must not even be considered and certainly not an amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law that deviates from the spirit and clear wording of the High Court’s rulings.

Israel must grant the asylum seekers the freedom and ability to run their lives. The burden on south Tel Aviv’s residents will ease if the refugees are allowed to take part in the labor market and gradually resume a normal life.

Sa’ar, with the prime minister’s backing, led Israel on an illegal and immoral path. His decision to resign from politics must therefore be seen as a positive development. It lets the prime minister consider a new way to take care of the asylum seekers.

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