IDF watch over Sudanese migrants R370.
(photo credit: Yonathan Weitzman/Reuters)
On New Year’s Eve two separate events relating to the migrant issue made
headlines in the Israeli press: The Population, Immigration and Border Authority
released figures showing a dramatic drop in the number of “infiltrators”
entering Israel in 2012 over 2011, and a gag order was lifted allowing
publication of the arrest of a 20-year-old Eritrean man suspected of raping an
83- year-old Israeli woman 10 days ago.
The two events came at the tail
end of a year that saw the migrant issue crest on a number of occasions,
particularly in late May, when an anti-migrant rally spiraled out of control and
protesters began looting African-owned stores and attacking Africans on the
streets of Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood.
According to PIBA figures,
10,365 people illegally entered Israel across its southern border in 2012, a 38%
drop over 2011, when the number stood at 16,851.
The number is also
significantly lower than the 80,200 new work permits given to foreign workers in
The most glaring figure in the report is the comparison between
December 2011, when 2,931 migrants entered Israel from Egypt, and December 2012,
when PIBA said only 37 entered the country and were all arrested immediately
afterward. With work on the Egyptian border fence nearing completion, the number
can be expected to remain at a fraction of what it was in years
Israel may now be reaching the “post-influx” – or
“post-infiltration” – phase of the migrant issue, where it now needs to deal with
those migrants already in the country, and may need to accept that most of them
are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.
well-over-60,000 illegal African migrants in Israel are a potent campaign issue
for right-wing parties like Shas, Bayit Yehudi and Likud. In particular, the
far-right Strong Israel party seems to be focusing its campaign mostly on the
migrant issue and its attempts to have Balad MK Haneen Zoabi banned from running
for the next Knesset.
Though Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last week
expressed his intentions to work to return tens of thousands of illegal migrants
back to their home countries, such a move is virtually impossible as it would
expose Eritrean and Sudanese migrants to danger and persecution upon return to
their home countries.
It is also highly unlikely that any third-party
countries in Africa or elsewhere will agree to take them. More importantly,
however, it remains to be seen if Netanyahu, at the moment flanked on the right
by Shas and Bayit Yehudi, will still focus on the migrant issue after the
After January, when the ballots are long closed, the migrant
issue will still be a burning one for the residents of south Tel Aviv and
peripheral towns in the country’s South, where the influx is being felt. They
will still have over-stressed social services and schools, and will still be
riven with tension between veteran Israelis and new arrivals.
southern border all but closed, unless smugglers find new paths across the sea
and then over the Jordanian border, the matter will no longer be one that can be
dealt with solely as an anti-infiltration or law enforcement issue, and will
have to met head on with social policies meant to ease the burden on the veteran
Israelis living in neighborhoods with a high concentration of
The government may also consider allowing those same migrants
the ability to work and live legally outside the newly-built detention
facilities, so that for the time they do remain here, however long it is, they
will be able to live humanely without being an excess burden on Israeli
Over 2012 the African migrant issue peaked and faded repeatedly
in the Israeli press and public debate. In 2013, Israelis would be wise to deal
with the issue even when there isn’t an election or a highly-publicized and
shocking act of violent crime.