Israel’s War on Asylum Seekers

Israeli policy reflects the worst of Zionism’s dark side. Separate and unequal defines longstanding policy.

Non-Jewish asylum seekers and refugees fleeing persecution aren’t wanted. Arabs and black African ones are deplored most of all.

Israel treats them like criminals. Discriminatory laws target them. Fundamental rights are denied.

Torture victims fleeing repression face enormous hurdles to gain entry. Israel spurns international law with impunity. It does what it wants unaccountably. Protecting refugees and asylum seekers doesn’t matter.

Article I of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees calls them:

“A person who owning to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country.”

Post-WW II, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established to help them.

To gain legal protection, they must:

be outside their country of origin;

fear persecution;

be harmed or fear harm by their government or others;

fear persecution for at least one of the above cited reasons; and

pose no danger to others.

Israel signed the 1951 Convention. Interior Ministry procedures and secret inter-ministerial determinations decide individual cases.

Compared to Western states, Israel accepts the fewest number of temporary or permanent refugees. It ignores its legal and moral responsibility to help.

In January 2012, Israel’s Knesset enacted a draconian Anti-Infiltration Law. It amended the 1954 Law to Prevent Infiltration.

The new measure targets refugees, asylum seekers, and their families. Minimally, they face three years imprisonment. Detentions may be indefinitely extended.

A previous version mandated life sentences for refugees and asylum seekers convicted of property damage.

Minor offenses like graffiti were included. Persons providing aid face five to 15 year sentences.

The Association for Civil Rights (ACRI) in Israel called the 2010 measure “one of the most dangerous bills ever presented in the Knesset.” Its softened version remains brazenly undemocratic and shameful.

ACRI calls it “draconian and immoral, and its entire purpose is to deter refugees from entering Israel. The law blatantly disregards Israel’s most basic commitments as a member of the community of nations and as a signatory to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.”

“The State of Israel has the right to protect its borders, but not by trampling human rights and ignoring democratic values.”

The measure’s sole purpose is to exclude non-Jews from entering Israel any reason. Imagine imprisoning a legitimate asylum-seeking refugee seeking help.

Israel’s inhospitable history is longstanding. It’s appalling. Jews alone are welcome. Others are systematically denied.

Last September, ACRI reported good news. Israel’s High Court ruled imprisoning asylum seekers longterm is illegal.

It did so unanimously. Its ruling following ACRI’s petition. It sought to overturn a blatantly discriminatory law. The Court gave state authorities 90 days to examine each case individually.

Detainees eligible under longstanding Entry to Israel Law must be released. Holding them longterm is prohibited.

Around 2,000 men, women and children are held under harsh conditions without trial. Most are Sudanese and Eritreans. They fled severe persecution. Returning them risks brutal treatment and/or death.

ACRI warned: “(T)he struggle is not over.” Indeed not. On November 28, Haaretz headlined “Knesset advancing bill to detain migrants without trial, despite legal warnings.”

On November 27, Knesset members “gave preliminary approval to an amendment allowing detention without trial for up to a year for African asylum-seekers who entered Israel illegally,” said Haaretz.

Knesset legal advisor Eyal Yinon called detention without trial legally objectionable. Extremist MKs ignored him.

On December 10, legislation permitting detention of unwanted asylum seekers and refugees for one year was enacted.

It did so as an amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law. Doing so followed a tumultuous late night session.

Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar defended the measure. He disgracefully said:

“Not only are we not embarrassed by this law, but we would have been deeply ashamed had we stood helpless in the face of this aspect of Israeli defense.”

He lied adding:

“Israel is the only country in the West that is exposed to this danger because it shares a land border with Africa. We cannot burden ourselves with all the ills and problems of the African continent.”

“This isn’t a passing danger, but a lurking danger,” he added. He left unexplained that Israel wants all non-Jews excluded.

On December 9, Israel’s High Court refused a request by human rights groups to hold state authorities in contempt. It’s warranted for racist laws and numerous other disturbing practices.

On January 5, tens of thousands of African migrants protested. They did so in central Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. They rallied against efforts to lawlessly detain them. Dozens of Israelis joined them.

“Yes to freedom. No to jail,” they chanted. Separately, hundreds of African migrants rallied in Eilat. It’s a seaside resort town. African migrants work in Israel’s tourist industry.

One protester spoke for others, saying:

“We want the government to pay attention to people. All the doors have closed. People have nowhere to go, nothing to do.”

“The immigration police are working all the time, catching people. You go to the Interior Ministry to get a visa. There are long lines. In the end you don’t get a visa.”

“You’re on the street. They catch you without a visa. You go to jail. A large portion of the people are in jail now. We want to say that we deserve to live. We deserve human rights.”

“We fled here because of the danger to our lives in our countries of origin. We are seeking political asylum. Like every person, we also want to earn an income so we can live in dignity – but work is not the reason we came to Israel.”

Up to 50,000 African migrants live in Israel. Those able to find work hold menial, low pay jobs. They’re ones most Israelis shun.

Protest organizers called for authorization to open Holot detention center overturned. They want Israel prevented from rounding up asylum-seeking refugees.

They want those detained released. They want international law observed. They want UN officials to pressure Israel “to take on its share of the responsibility for asylum seekers.”

A flyer announcing protest action said:

“Our only sin is that we ran away from political persecution, forcible military service, dictatorship, civil war and genocide.”

On January 8, African asylum-seeking refugees protested in Jerusalem’s Wohl Rose Park. It’s directly across from the Knesset.

Their representatives sought entry. They were denied. Speaker Yuli Edelstein lied, saying “the entrance of infiltrators into the Knesset would cause a provocation and could lead to violence and disturbances.”

His comment came after extremist MK Miri Regev said admitting them would “damage the honor of the Knesset and the rule of law.”

She, Netanyahu, most ministers, and the great majority of MKs spurn rule of law principles. They do it consistently. They operate extrajudicially. They do it unaccountably.

Israeli author David Grossman joined protesters. He did so in solidarity, saying:

“I look at you now all the tens of thousands of people, and I feel embarrassed and ashamed that we have reached this situation.”

“Israel has not created this problem, but there is a problem now and we have to struggle with it and to solve it in the most humane way.”

“You are normal ordinary people who are trapped in an abnormal and very extreme situation.”

African migrants aren”t criminals, he added. Israel should willingly give them shelter.

MK Michal Rozin chairs the Knesset Committee on the Problem of Foreign Workers. She strongly opposes migrant detentions. Asylum seekers want their voices heard, she said.

“A government at peace with its policies would respond in kind, but since this is not the case, we have called on Knesset Members to come to a meeting and talk with these representatives, listen to their problems, ask questions and get answers,” she stressed.

“They are human beings, and it is high time the government treats them that way.”

On January 8, Haaretz explained another cross African asylum-seeking refugees bear. It headlined “Israel has examined only 250 out of 1,800 asylum requests – and approved none.”

Not a single Sudanese, Eritrean, or other African migrant got due consideration. Failure is more evidence of Israeli racism.

European nations approve similar requests over 70% of the time. Israel wants no non-Jews. It goes all out to deny legitimate requests.

“Until about a year ago, Israel did not allow Eritrean or Sudanese nationals to request asylum,” said Haaretz. Many migrants were imprisoned. Israel is the only developed country to do so.

“In late May 2013, the Interior Ministry began denying the first requests from Eritrean national nine months after they” requested asylum, Haaretz explained.

It did so “on the grounds that draft evasion or desertion from military service did not provide enough basis to claim political persecution.”

Asylum seekers seek refuge for legitimate reasons. It’s to avoid persecution and/or death. According to Hotline for Refugees and Migrants public policy coordinator Sigal Rozen:

“For many years, the Interior Ministry refused to examine the asylum requests of Sudanese and Eritrean nationals, and barred them access to the asylum system on the grounds that they were not being deported from Israel.”

“Even according to the draconian Prevention of Infiltration Law, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants fought for months until it compelled the state to examine, at the very least, the applications of the Eritreans and Sudanese who were imprisoned.”

“Eritreans and Sudanese people tried for years to apply for asylum, but even though they had assistance from human-rights organizations and even an attorney, the door was closed to them until recently.”

“As long as the Population, Immigration and Border Authority concentrates on examining the asylum requests of work migrants from the Philippines and Thailand and takes care to avoid examining such requests from Eritrean and Sudanese refugees, it is likely that we will keep seeing the same tiny percentage of recognition of refugees in Israel.”

Israeli racism is institutionalized. It’s part of the national culture. Non-Jews aren’t wanted. Arabs and black Africans are hated. They’re treated accordingly.

They’re denied fundamental human and civil rights. Rogue states operate this way. Israel is one of the worst.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at

His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”

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