Forward Thinking

Israel's New Push To Keep Africans Behind Bars

By Yael Even Or

Asylum-seekers Detained in Israel’s Desert from Jewish Daily Forward on Vimeo.

Israel’s Parliament has passed a new law aimed at keeping African immigrants behind bars — and a controversial jail to house them open — beyond a deadline set by the country’s highest court.

The Knesset by a 43-20 vote approved an initial legislative step for a new law that mandates three months in prison for African asylum-seekers who enter Israel without documentation and a year and eight months more in the spartan Holot detention center, which Israel euphemistically refers to as an “open facility.”

If it passes two more hurdles, the new law will permit Israel to keep more than 2,000 African detainees imprisoned in Holot — and likely to jail many more.

It is the third time lawmakers have sought to amend to the nation’s so-called anti-infiltration law. Earlier amendments were twice struck down by Israel’s High Court of Justice on the grounds they were unconstitutional.

Advocates say Israel should offer a haven to the refugees, most of whom are fleeing authoritarian regimes in the Sudan (many hail from the genocide-ravaged Darfur province) and Eritrea, considered one of the world’s most repressive regimes.

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Anti-African Crackdown Ruled Illegal

By Nathan Jeffay

getty images

Fear spread across Israel’s illegal immigrants from Sudan last summer. As the Forward reported, it has seemed in recent days like the Interior Ministry’s deadline was looming and they would soon be imprisoned. In August he announced plans to jail all Sudanese illegals without trial starting on October 15 and was expected to get underway any time now.

But today, it emerged that his threat had received no authorization from the government, and is therefore illegal. Today, in response to advocacy groups representing the illegals with a petition in the Jerusalem District Court, the state revealed that no official decision was taken on the arrest of Sudanese citizens in Israel.

“At this time, the Immigration Authority has yet to receive any order pertaining to the incarceration of Sudanese infiltrators,” the State Attorney wrote. “Should such a decision be made in the future it will be stated publically by the authority, 30 days before going into effect.”

So what was going on here? Did the Interior Ministry carelessly overlook the need to get authorization for his planned round up? Unlikely. At the Forward we suggested as early as June, even before Yishai’s imprisonment promise, that he was bluffing with his tough talk on illegals, making threats that he knew Israel couldn’t keep. And it would appear that for the populist value of the statements and/or to deter other illegals from coming to Israel, he made such unfulfillable threats.

One question which remains: Why didn’t others in government, some of whom where deeply unhappy about his threats as the Forward reported in June, pull the rug from under him and save Sudanese in Israel several months of panic?

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The Devil You Know

By Nathan Jeffay

getty images

The Israeli government has approved 5,000 new work permits for Palestinians to work in Israel.

The decision comes just a few days after the government released a report stating that permit allocation has increased by 40% over the last year-and-a-half, meaning that today 32,000 Palestinians earn their living in Israel.

The ability of Palestinians to work in Israel has been deeply impacted by the ups and downs in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Before the first intifada, access to Israel from the territories was pretty free and easy, and the Israeli economy was heavily reliant on Palestinian labor.

But for the duration of the first intifada, Israel drastically reduced the number of Palestinians from entering Israel. Again, during the second intifada permits became scarcer — and remained hard to come by afterwards.

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