Ministry, Knesset panel spar over penalties for aiding illegal workers

Penalties against Israelis caught driving or otherwise aiding illegal aliens, as spelled out in a temporary act the Public Security Ministry would like to see anchored in law, are too harsh, the Knesset's Interior Committee said Tuesday. The committee rejected a call by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann to extend the order by five years, and also turned down a request by the Public Security Ministry for a two-year extension, choosing instead to grant a one-year extension. The law mainly deals with the illegal entry of Palestinian workers from the West Bank into Israel. Terrorists have routinely used the workers as cover to reach Israeli city centers to carry out attacks. For the past 12 years, the Interior Committee has met annually to extend the Temporary Order for the Illegal Stays in Israel Law (1996), but a committee source told The Jerusalem Post that sections of the act, designed to deter Israelis from transporting the Palestinians, were too severe. Within the Green Line, if a police officer "merely thinks" that a taxi driver had transported a Palestinian who entered the country illegally, the driver's vehicle can be impounded for 30 days, the committee source said. "That's taking away someone's livelihood for a month, just on the basis of a suspicion. It's not illegal to transport Arabs," the source said. "We extended the law by a year, but we expect the Public Security Ministry to study the act closely and make changes," the source said. During the committee's meeting on Tuesday, its chairman, MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) said "the request for a five-year extension is unacceptable. We would like to see some changes within five years." Paz-Pines was backed by all of the committee's members, who voted unanimously for a one-year extension. Earlier, a Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) representative at the meeting had said, "We do not expect positive developments on this front, and in another two years we will meet here and seek to extend the order. The situation is not going to improve and we need to turn this temporary order into law." Yoel Hadar, the Public Security Ministry's legal adviser, told the Post a single aim was guiding the ministry's efforts to turn the temporary order into law. "We want to prevent the transporting of those who entered illegally and who could be terrorists," Hadar said. "We wish to prevent the next terrorist attack, not to harm taxi drivers or anyone else. We want to help Israeli civilians, and this order is a tool in our efforts against terrorism. In our view, it is balanced." He welcomed the decision to extend the order by a year, saying "a year is better than nothing. We're willing to consider changes, and we'll go to the Knesset with new proposals." "If the Knesset believes that changes need to be made, we will go back and look at changes. The Knesset has its considerations and we have ours," Hadar said.