Court says African children must remain in Ketziot camp

High Court refuses to consider demands of five human rights organizations to stop placing African children who entered from Sinai.

The High Court of Justice on Monday refused to consider the demands of five human rights organizations to stop placing African children who entered Israel illegally from Sinai with their parents in the Ketziot internment camp. Around 80 minors - babies, children and youths - live in the camp; men are housed in four of its six blocs and women and children in the other two. "The state is coping with the problem of illegal entry into Israel," said Justice Ayala Procaccia. "What do you want it to do?" Justice Miriam Na'or demanded to know what the petitioners thought should be done with the parents if their children were not placed in the camp. Yonatan Berman, an attorney for one of the petitioners, the Hotline for Migrant Workers, said, "The moment we are talking about minors, they have to be the focus of the issue. In these cases, the parents are a secondary consideration." But the justices insisted on distinguishing between two issues raised in the petition. The first had to do with the demand not to place minors in the camp. The second had to do with the conditions there. "The beds are narrow and it is extremely cold in the tents," Berman told the court. "The authorities installed two radiators in each one. We asked the internees if that was enough. They said, no. The tents are wrapped in polyethylene. It doesn't help. Children shouldn't be housed in winter in the middle of the desert." He also complained that the children were not being schooled and that they received very little psychological help despite the traumas they had undergone in their countries of origin. The state's representative, Gilad Shirman, acknowledged that there were problems in the camps but said the authorities were doing something about it. "Things need to be improved and they are improving," he told the court. For example, he said, the Israel Prisons Service, which is responsible for the camp, established an electricity system in the tents and provided each one with two radiators. It also provided one teacher, two counselors and five volunteers to look after the children during the day, he said, and a Prisons Service social worker is available to talk with the children. The justices made it clear to Berman that the emphasis should be on improving the conditions in the camp, but that the children would have to remain there along with their parents. "There are things that need improvement, but I think the state is aware of that," concluded Procaccia. She said the court would hand down its ruling in a few days on the petitioners' request for a show-cause order demanding that the state improve the conditions for the children.