The Knesset approved a law that is supposed to solve the problem of the
“infiltrators” and the distress that this causes to the residents of south Tel
Aviv. This is a lie, of course. This is a shameful law that was passed in
contradiction to the opinion of the legal counsel to the Knesset. See you in
court! It’s too late to convince the members of Knesset to vote against this
humiliating law, but you can at least understand what the Knesset approved this
Here is a list of the lies that the State of Israel is telling us about
asylum-seekers, the situation in south Tel Aviv, life in Eritrea, and the law
that was passed two days ago, in opposition to the opinion of the legal counsel
of the Knesset.
Lie number one: This law will solve the distress in south
It is very easy to disprove this lie. It has nothing to do with
human rights – it’s just a matter of math.
Today, around 53,000 asylum
seekers live in Israel.
In the “open” prison that the state is
establishing, there are 3,300 places. Let’s assume that Saharonim is also at
full capacity – another almost 2,000 places.
We are left with 47,700
asylum seekers in South Tel Aviv. For this we have a budget of at least half a
billion shekels? For this, the trampling of human rights, disgrace of the court,
a mockery of the mechanisms of the Knesset and all of the international
protocols? So in South Tel Aviv there are 47,700 unemployed people, without
access to healthcare, lacking protection from the welfare services, instead of
53,000. This is the solution?
Lie number two: The State of Israel is going to
transfer all of the asylum seekers in Israel to a third country. We have almost
managed to forget already, but it wasn’t so long ago, in fact last August, that
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar declared that Israel had signed an agreement with
a third-party country, to which tens of thousands of asylum seekers in Israel
would be transferred. When would it happen? “After the holidays.”
the holidays that I know of have already passed, and it is clear that there is
no agreement, and no third country, and besides blatantly lying to the public,
there is nothing here.
Lie number three: They aren’t refugees, they are
migrant workers. Today in Israel there are 35,987 asylum seekers from Eritrea –
a vast majority of the asylum seekers in Israel. Only here, out of all of the
developed countries in the world, a majority of them were not allowed to submit
requests for asylum, and those that were submitted were not checked. For the
sake of comparison, in 2012 around the world 26,000 asylum-requests were checked
for Eritrean asylum-seekers – 20,000 of them were recognized as refugees. An
additional 1,500 received alternative protection.
What does that mean? It
means that apparently almost 34,000 of the people living here in Israel are
refugees, and if they would check their asylum requests, they would also be
recognized as such.
Lie number four: If we don’t lock them up, they will
continue to come.
The government likes to scare us by saying that without
the new law, a huge flood of asylum seekers will come to Israel. They say that
we have to imprison innocent people without trial for an indefinite amount of
time in order to create a “deterrent.” This is another blatant lie. According to
the immigration authorities: In 2010, 14,715 asylum seekers entered Israel
through the Egyptian border. In 2011, 17,298 entered. In 2012, 10,440 entered.
And in 2013, only 40 entered Israel.
Why? Because the fence on the
Egyptian border was completed. The stream has stopped. In the last months of
2013 only four asylum seekers entered Israel. So who exactly is this law trying
Lie number five: It isn’t a prison, it’s an “open center.” An “open
center” in the middle of the desert, on the grounds of an IDF firing zone, in
which it is forbidden to work, which is run by prison guards, with a head count
three times a day, with a miniscule living allowance, with a terrifying
barbed-wire fence – this isn’t a “center” or a “facility.”
This is a
Lie number six: This law solves the problems for which the
Supreme Court struck down the first “infiltrators” law.
“It is not enough
to call a facility ‘open’ in order for it to withstand the test of
constitutionality” – this isn’t my statement, and also not one of human rights
organizations’, but rather that of the legal counsel to the Knesset. MK Miri
Regev shouted at the lawyers after the former “infiltrators” law was struck
down: Why didn’t you warn us that this law is unconstitutional and won’t
withstand the testing of the Supreme Court? This time she won’t be able to say
that – the writing is on the wall, and it’s clear.
And the last lie:
There is no other option.
I am asked a lot what the alternative is. So,
yes, there is an alternative. There are whole branches of the Israeli industry
that under heavy stress of lack of workers – areas in which Israelis are not
willing to work, and for which Israel imports thousands of foreign workers every
year. In the cleaning industry, in agriculture, in restaurants, in hotels and in
construction – there is an urgent need for 56,400 workers.
If the state
really wanted to get the asylum seekers out of Tel Aviv, it would spend the
millions that it’s wasting on the new prison on the training of asylum seekers
that live here, who escaped from danger in their country, so that they will be
able to work here and live with dignity.
The people who are working in
agriculture don’t live in Tel Aviv – they are spread throughout the country.
They don’t sleep in Lewinsky Park – they have money for a roof over their head.
They don’t sink to crime – because they don’t need it. With this, not only is
the problem of asylum seekers solved – but also the lack of working hands in the
We cannot allow ourselves to have the situation in which tens of
thousands of people live here without a clear solution, without health, without
welfare, without work. It is a great danger to them and a great danger to us as
a society. The government, to my dismay, refuses to deal with the
In a few months, Miri Regev and Gideon Sa’ar will have to
stand in front of the inhabitants of south Tel Aviv and of all of Israel, and
explain to them why nothing has changed.
This article is based on a
speech the author, a Meretz MK who chairs the Knesset Committee on Foreign
Workers, gave to the Knesset.