Remove the Stain of Migrant Detention

A country that seeks to imprison people without trial cannot boast that it is just and humane.  

The new amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law will be submitted for its second and third readings on Monday. At issue is an attempt to circumvent the High Court of Justice, which in September struck down the original amendment to the law, allowing for the incarceration of African migrants without trial for up to three years. The alternative that the government seeks to enact shows contempt for the court ruling and degrades the government of Israel.

The new amendment states that it will be possible to imprison a person for a year without trial for entering Israel illegally. It also regulates the operation of a detention facility for those African migrants already here, which will be open during the day and closed at night. Those staying in the facility, which can accommodate 3,300 people, will be prohibited from working, and the state will provide them with a place to sleep, food and health and welfare services.

The new amendment does a serious injustice to the African migrants and casts a pall over Israel as a democracy and proponent of human rights. Even if there is inherent logic to the state’s position that there is a need to reduce the number of illegal migrants, this cannot be done using unconstitutional means.

A country that seeks to imprison people without trial cannot boast that it is just and humane. That the prison option is aimed at future migrants who have not yet crossed into Israel’s borders is immaterial. Everyone is entitled to a personal evaluation, which includes checking his status and an opportunity to state his case in court, and any generalization that concludes in mass incarceration cannot be accepted in a country governed by law.

The new amendment also broadens the option to detain those already in Israel in a detention facility. While this facility is euphemistically referred to as a “lodging facility,” in practical terms it will be a prison: it is to be run by the Prison Service and the migrants will be obliged to spend the night there and to report there three times a day. Worst of all, there is no limit set on the length of time they can be detained there.

The previous Netanyahu government erected a fence along the Egyptian border, which led to a sharp drop in the number of migrants trying to enter Israel. Now Israel must totally change its approach and deal with those who are already here in accordance with its values as a democratic state. It must allow these people to work, accord them basic rights and permit them to live and function here like human beings.

Instead of waiting for another embarrassing rejection by the High Court of Justice, it would behoove the government to remove this bill from the agenda. Passing this new amendment would be a heavy moral stain on the 19th Knesset.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz