Free the Holot Prisoners

Instead of giving refuge to asylum seekers, Israel is tormenting them. New legislation planned for this week will only make the injustice more acute.

Haaretz Editorial
African migrants at the Holot detention center in the Negev Desert, southern Israel, Sept. 23, 2014.
African migrants at the Holot detention center in the Negev Desert, southern Israel, Sept. 23, 2014.Credit: AP
Haaretz Editorial

It would be difficult to imagine a greater blow to Judaism than the shameless remark by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the protection of the human rights of asylum seekers is harmful to the rights of the Jewish people (Netanyahu used the made-up word le’om – “nation”). Jews, a people who sought and were denied asylum, who knew how to hold fast to Zionism and establish an asylum for themselves, do not need the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, or High Court rulings, to understand that it is their human and moral obligation to grant asylum to those who cannot be repatriated.

But instead of giving refuge to these asylum seekers, Israel is tormenting them. Instead of immediately releasing all the asylum seekers being held at the Holot detention center, Israel released only 180 – those who have detained for two years or more. Even those released were only given visas for two weeks and sent to renew their visas at the Population, Immigration and Border Authority in Bnei Brak. When they showed up there, they were directed to the authority’s facility at Ben-Gurion Airport.

However, that facility refused to take them and they were told that they must coordinate their arrival ahead of time. As expected, the Population Authority announced that, at this time, there are no open dates at the Ben-Gurion facility. Without a visa, asylum seekers are in danger of being arrested; also, they have trouble finding work or keeping an existing job.

Now the state is planning to make it more expensive to employ asylum seekers. Employers will have to pay a levy of 30 percent of the wage, in addition to other employer payments of 20 percent. The impact of this additional burden on the ability of asylum seekers to earn a living is clear.

From the beginning of 2013, 64 asylum seekers were discovered on the Egyptian border. There are less than 43,000 Eritreans and Sudanese nationals in the country, to whom Israel must grant collective protection, not deport them. There are 2,230 people held at Holot. This imprisonment is needless, and the High Court has already ruled that it must not continue.

Now the government is planning to push through legislation within a week: a new amendment to the law on illegal entry into Israel, the purpose of which is to keep people imprisoned and send additional asylum seekers to Holot. The principles of this third amendment are identical to the ones that were previously struck down in court.

The attorney general must stop this degradation and abuse, reject the latest amendment for being as unconstitutional as its two predecessors, and announce the immediate release of all the prisoners at Holot.

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