The gladdening announcement from the Prime Minister’s Office about the cancellation of the deportation campaign to Rwanda and Uganda, the absorption of 16,000 asylum seekers in Western countries, and the granting of residency status to the rest who will remain in Israel is a victory for the civil society NGOs and the Israeli public that fought against the expulsions.
The decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proves that the combination of an organized, persistent struggle alongside widespread public protest in the form of petitions and demonstrations succeeds in bearing fruit even in the foul political climate that exists in Israel under Netanyahu’s rule.
Deportation of the asylum seekers to Rwanda and probably Uganda was meant to be put into practice at the beginning of this month, but three weeks ago the High Court of Justice froze the plan temporarily. “It turns out the third country is not meeting the conditions,” Netanyahu said on Monday. But the real reason that motivated Israel to accept the compromise agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is the retreat by Rwanda and Uganda from the agreements with them, in the wake of the publication of reports that the deportations to those countries would be carried out by force. Here it is appropriate to note the pressure applied by the activists in the field on Rwanda because of those reports, through demonstrations at its embassies in Israel and overseas.
Netanyahu’s announcement said he acted to implement the previous plan to deport asylum seekers, but were forced to cancel it “because of legal constraints and diplomatic difficulties on the part of the third countries.” The reference is to the legal loophole discovered thanks to the petition to the High Court of Justice initiated by Sigal Cook Avivi and filed by attorney Eitay Mack in the name of 118 other activists, and another petition from attorney Avigdor Feldman.
These petitions shook the legitimacy of the forced deportations to third countries and required the government to present the new agreement between Israel and these countries. The High Court was convinced that without written agreements with a third country on forced deportations, Israel could not guarantee the safe absorption of asylum seekers being deported. The petition to the High Court, with the voices of the protests reverberating in the background, is what forced the government to cancel the deportation and admit there was no agreement, or, in Netanyahu’s words: “The third country as an option does not exist.”
- It Took One Press Conference to Expose All of Netanyahu's Asylum Seeker Fables
- Israel's Asylum Seeker Crisis: Quick Fix Can’t Mask Racism Problem
- German Officials to Haaretz: Contrary to Netanyahu's Remark, We Weren’t Asked to Receive Asylum Seekers From Israel
The battle by the residents of south Tel Aviv also bore fruit: The new plan includes the establishment of an administration for rehabilitating and developing south Tel Aviv, and the government promised to encourage a more balanced geographical distribution of the asylum seekers who will remain.
Along with this it should be remembered that the decision was forced on the government. Netanyahu himself said, “The expectation was – for me too – that we could remove everyone.” Embarrassingly, Israel under Netanyahu’s leadership refuses to participate, even in a minimal way, in the responsibility and effort to foster a solution to the global refugee crisis. In light of this, it is important from now on to monitor the way in which Israel keeps the commitments it made to legalize their status.
Netanyahu's cowardly announcement Monday night of freezing the deal's execution in response to criticism from his right-wing coalition ministers is proof that the struggle is far from over.