Squealing on Society's Weakest Link

This year, some 3,000 good citizens have already contacted the police to squeal on a cleaner hiding out at a neighbor's or a laborer sleeping on a building site. On the face of it, it's an expression of good citizenship; in practice, it's ugly and repulsive.

It appears there is one issue that manages to shake Israelis out of their apathy: Last year saw a marked rise in the number of reports to the police on foreign workers who are here without permits. This year, some 3,000 good citizens (around the same number for the whole of last year) have already contacted the police to squeal on a cleaner hiding out at a neighbor's or a laborer sleeping on a building site.

Injustices - crimes committed in the territories, corruption in government, the withholding of wages at the local authorities - don't stir the public from its slumber; and few and far between are the citizens who would take the trouble to file a report on a violent policeman or rude soldier. But against society's weakest link - 6,000 squealers in less than two years.

On the face of it, it's an expression of good citizenship; in practice, it's ugly and repulsive. Instead of rewarding the foreign workers for the hard, dedicated work that many of them do, instead of protecting them from the Immigration Police soldiers, the Israelis are turning them in. Those who until yesterday took care of our elderly, worked our fields and washed our dishes have been condemned to incarceration and deportation as if they were criminals.

Good citizens would come out against the Immigration Police's brutal treatment of the foreign workers. A good citizen would have squealed on the police who beat foreign workers with plastic pipes - as related at the end of last week to Maariv by Assaf Gerty, a former official at the Interior Ministry's enforcement unit on foreign workers. A good citizen would squeal on employers who mistreat their workers.

But even if there are a few citizens who have filed complaints concerning such incidents, what has been done about them? The Immigration Police, which is exhibiting an efficiency uncharacteristic of the Israel Police (try reporting a burglary, and try reporting a foreign worker), translates such reports into acts of cruelty, even if they are carried out under the guise of preserving the law.

To get an idea of the manner in which the foreign workers are perceived, all you need do is listen to the infomercials broadcast by the Immigration Administration that portray them as a dangerous enemy that has to be eradicated - instead of as people who have come here from wretched countries and just want to earn a living.

The vast majority have not messed with the law. They live like shadows on the margins of the big city, maintaining an independent community life, bothering no one. Their children have become Israelis for all intents and purposes, as can clearly be seen from a visit to the Bialik School or the Eitan Boy Scouts troop in south Tel Aviv. Some of them have died in terror attacks. But even this common fate has done nothing to change the attitude toward them.

The Immigration Police wallows in its success: Around 115,000 foreign workers have been deported in the past two years. Some 60,000-100,000 workers without permits are still among us. The state has the right to decide that it doesn't want them to remain here; but this must be done in a humane manner. They shouldn't be hunted down in the dead of night like prey; they shouldn't be attacked violently and intimidated to the point that many are afraid to leave their homes; and families should not be torn apart and children separated from their parents.

Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, who represents the enlightened Shinui party, and is behind this cruel policy, must be reminded that Israeli society owes the foreign workers a large debt. There is no demand on the part of Israelis for most of the jobs they do. Try to find an agricultural laborer, a caregiver for an elderly individual or a domestic worker in the local market.

Entire sectors depend on their graces. Do the Filipino workers who look after the elderly with such dedication, the Chinese workers who toil diligently for long hours on building sites get evenings held in their honor, or worker-of-the-month prizes? Their reward is exploitation, squealings, brutal treatment and deportation.

And while they are being deported, a fresh batch of workers are being brought in, with the purpose of boosting the coffers of the various middlemen.