Empowering illegal migrants and punishing soldiers deployed to stop them will not secure our borders.

Darfurian refugees 224.8 (photo credit: Haviv Rettig )
Darfurian refugees 224.8
(photo credit: Haviv Rettig )
Last week a military court ordered an IDF major to pay NIS 1,500 to a Ghanaian illegal whom he had slapped. The officer's pending promotion was put on ice. The officer's unit had spotted several Africans stealing into Israel across the Egyptian border. He apprehended John Good Yaboa and tried to elicit information about how many more were in the group. It was mid-chase and time was of the essence. When Yaboa didn't cooperate, the officer underscored his demand with slaps. The prosecution charged him with "having tarnished the IDF's image in the plaintiff's eyes." It requested time behind bars as well as a demotion. The major has been in uniform for almost two decades, was seriously wounded in Gaza and decorated for "exemplary service." Yaboa was given a temporary visa and is now jailed awaiting deportation. He is protesting his detention, says he was "punished twice" and complains that his "rights were abused." SOME COUNTRIES open fire on illegals at their borders. In most places, those who unlawfully cross an international border - particularly in an area susceptible to terrorist infiltration - are considered as having forfeited residency "rights." Israeli standards are clearly different, which may both be a source of pride to some but simultaneously a reason for concern. That a man who smuggled himself into Israel, violating our sovereignty, could mobilize the military prosecution's support and defeat the officer who caught him, is testament to incomparable broadmindedness. The fact that Yaboa felt sufficiently protected here to express displeasure about the infringement of his "liberties" further underscores Israel's remarkable tolerance. People who enter this country even illegally should be treated with dignity. Unwarranted use of force cannot be condoned. Nonetheless, few societies would punish one of their own for defending their borders. The incident in question occurred in the heat of pursuit, in circumstances hardly conducive to good manners. Moreover, the major's record would suggest a dependable, responsible character, committed to serving the needs of his country. In this case, it would seem, Israeli jurisprudence has inserted itself into a situation where legal niceties may not be readily applicable. Monday-morning quarterbacking isn't merely unfair; it hobbles Israel's defenders and law-enforcers, who cannot bring lawyers along to every mission. The upshot, in this case and others like it, is that our men and women in uniform begin to fear doing their duty - which in turn is a probable reason why increasing numbers of officers are quitting career military or police service. They work in a system that exposes them to danger, yet can abandon and scapegoat them when expedient. The government's mixed signals in this case are confounding. It is laudable to offer asylum to refugees whose lives are in real danger - such as those fleeing the Sudan's Darfur. But the vast majority of Africans who smuggle in via Egypt do not fit this description. Yaboa, for one, is plainly an economic migrant. There is no mass-slaughter in Ghana or oppression of the sort common in other parts of Africa. Many Ghanaians routinely apply for, and are granted, Israeli work visas. Israel is an attractive destination and the influx of illegal immigrants - not just prospective asylum seekers from genocide - has grown to alarming proportions. All across the sub-Sahara there is a huge impetus for economic migration. As word gets back that the Sinai-Negev international border offers easy passage, the number using that route is rising inexorably. WASN'T IT only last month that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert instructed the defense establishment to crack down on infiltration from Egypt? "This is a tsunami that can only worsen. We must do everything to stem it, even if it means using force," he lectured his ministers. Yet when "force" is used, those who protect our borders face harsh consequences. So do cities such as Beersheba and Tel Aviv, where illegal arrivals are dumped without thought to the strain on municipal resources. Once inside Israel, illegal immigrants have needs that must be met if we don't want them starving in our streets. Israel urgently needs to follow a coherent policy on an increasingly significant problem. It needs to do the opposite, that is, of empowering and emboldening illegal migrants and punishing the soldiers deployed to stop them.