Yishai: Ban soldiers from contact with migrants

After soldier killed in Egypt border attack, interior minister says soldiers shouldn't endanger lives for sake of African migrants.

Eli Yishai 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Eli Yishai 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
The IDF must immediately ban all contact between soldiers and African “infiltrators” that pose a threat to their lives, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said on Sunday.
“The IDF must put forward a procedure that bans contact with infiltrators – the life of an IDF soldier is not cheap,” Yishai said, before drawing a comparison between the ban and one that restricts soldiers from hitchhiking.
“We must treat the infiltrators issue just as we did with hitchhiking, which IDF soldiers were allowed to do until it was determined that it poses a danger to their lives.”
On Friday, terrorists in Sinai shot and killed Cpl. Netanel Yahalomi, 20, after he and other soldiers had left a fortified position to give water to a group of migrants on the Egyptian border.
“The cries of human rights organizations are preferable to the cries of bereaved families,” Yishai said.
Despite the initial reports about the shootout on Friday, during a visit to Yahalomi’s family on Saturday night, Col. Guy Biton, commander of the brigade that patrols the area along the border, said the initial IDF investigation determined “that there is no connection between the presence of the infiltrators at the border and the incident with the terrorists.”
Nonetheless, the army has issued instructions for troops to exercise greater caution when dealing with migrants at the border, due to the fear that terrorists may exploit their presence to slip into Israel undetected.
On Saturday night, about 100 protesters gathered outside Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s house in Tel Aviv where they criticized him for the decision to return 18 Eritrean migrants to Sinai earlier this month, and what they said are IDF orders to not give water or food to infiltrators.
The interior minister has been a vocal opponent of African migrants, saying that they carry diseases and pose as great a risk to Israel as the Iranian nuclear program. He has also vowed that he will begin taking steps to deport all of the more than 60,000 African migrants in the country beginning in the coming months.
Later on Sunday, MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), one of the most vocal critics of the African migrant community, called for the IDF to shoot to kill all those trying to illegally cross the border with Egypt.
“Infiltrators who want water can drink the water in Sudan or Egypt, anyone who approaches the border should get a bullet in the head, this is the only way to protect our children and our borders!” he said.
A group of Eritrean asylum-seekers and their supporters traveled by bus to Jerusalem on Sunday morning where they held a protest outside the Foreign Ministry headquarters, demanding Israel sever ties with the regime in Asmara.
In a letter they penned to Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman as well as to the prime minister, they said, “We can only go home to Eritrea when our country is safe, and right now Israel’s support for the dictatorship is making this dream even farther from reality.”
They also called on Israel “to stop all diplomatic and economic ties with Eritrea, including ending the Israeli military presence on the Eritrean islands of Dahlak and Fatma, suspending the sharing of intelligence and stopping all economic support to the dictatorship.”
One of the main grievances among Eritrean asylum-seekers in Israel and throughout the global Eritrean diaspora is the taxing of Eritrean citizens abroad by Eritrea’s embassies and consulates.
Last week, the Eritrean government agreed to stop collecting the diaspora tax at its Toronto consulate after the Canadian government threatened to expel the Eritrean consul.
In a July 2012 report on Eritrea and Somalia, the UN Security Council reported that the diaspora tax is one of the regime’s main sources of hard currency, along with other funds sent home by Eritrean expatriates. The funds, which also include money raised at Eritrean cultural events abroad, play a key role in helping the regime stay afloat and fund the country’s military despite Eritrea’s devastated economy.
“The Eritrean authorities continue to rely heavily on extraterritorial taxation among Eritrean diaspora communities to generate hard currency. The Monitoring Group has confirmed that the collection of such taxes routinely involves threats, harassment and intimidation against the individual concerned or relatives in Eritrea,” the report states.
An official at the Foreign Ministry said Israel has no intention of downgrading relations with Eritrea.
“Our relationship [with Eritrea] is largely independent of the migrants coming in and it’s important to us. Every product that leaves Israel for Africa or Asia goes down the Red Sea and travels through Eritrean waters, it’s an important place for us,” the official said. He added, “We don’t have a highprofile relationship with them, this isn’t on the level of Israel and the US or Israel and Germany, and it’s difficult to downgrade a very small embassy and relatively lowprofile relations which at the same time are important to us.”
The official drew a connection between the protest on Sunday and recent public protest efforts to put pressure on Israel to either grant Eritrean asylum requests or to change its relations with the regime in Asmara, but said that Israel will keep up its efforts to stop the influx of migrants.
“Other states have taken many measures to stop migration. Spain built fences, Australia is working to stopping them from coming from the sea, but they aren’t cutting off ties with the countries they [migrants] come from.
“If another 400,000 Africans some to Israel from wherever they come from, it wouldn’t do any good for anyone, and it wouldn’t change any of the fundamentals in Africa. The truth is that the real answer is sustainable development back home [in Africa], and that’s the real answer and that’s not one that’s going to come tomorrow morning,” the official said.