By Stephen Lendman
International law protects refugees and asylum seekers, Article I of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees calling them:
"A person who owning to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country."
Post-WW II, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established to help them.
To gain legal protection, they must:
— be outside their country of origin;
— fear persecution;
— be harmed or fear harm by their government or others;
— fear persecution for at least one of the above cited reasons; and
— pose no danger to others.
The Knesset’s 1950 Law of Return grants every Jew worldwide the right to live in Israel as a citizen. Yet no refugee law exists, despite Israel being a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention. Instead, unpublished Ministry of Interior procedures and secret inter-ministerial determinations are made on a case-by-case basis.
As a result, Israel has the lowest percent of requests granted (for temporary, not permanent status) compared to western states – 1% in 2005, under 0.5% in 2006, and in 2007, 350 refugees got temporary protection, 805 others were denied, and 863 were under review, after which most were rejected.
Legitimate refugees aren’t granted permanent status. At best, they get temporary limited stay permits, bi-annually renewed if it’s determined that country of origin dangers remain. Most often, however, they’re summarily denied (including for women and children) or imprisoned for extended periods under very harsh conditions.
Yet according to international law, Israel is legally and morally bound to help them, although it may establish laws and procedures to do it. Consistently, however, its record is shameless as the least hospitable nation compared to western ones.
Israel’s 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law was enacted to criminalize fedayeen freedom fighters, deny Palestinians their right of return, and deport them if they came. Now there’s a new proposal to replace the old law, the Infiltration Prevention Law, one the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) calls:
"one of the most dangerous bills ever presented in the Knesset." If passed, Israel’s international law obligations will end under proposed provisions to imprison refugees for up to 20 years, even if they committed no crime, or summarily deport them to potential death in home countries. In addition, human rights organizations and activists helping them may also be criminally prosecuted.
Besides mocking democratic freedoms (including for Jews) and international laws, this bill takes Israel one step closer to fascist rule, an accelerating track fast with each new policy.
In its February 2010 report, titled "The Infiltration Prevention Bill: Lies and Reality," ACRI separates truth from fiction, explaining the bill’s dangers.
Advanced by the Defense Ministry, Deputy Minister MK Matan Vilnai presented it to the Knesset plenum in May 2008, after which it passed its first reading by a 21 – 1 majority. In June 2009, under a new government, a continuity rule was applied to consider it. On February 3, 2010, the MK-headed David Azoulay Internal Affairs Committee began deliberations.
Its main provisions include:
— "infiltrators" (including legitimate asylum seekers) may be imprisoned for up to five years;
— those from adversary states (including Darfur, Sudan), may be imprisoned for up to seven years;
— ones with weapons, including an ordinary pocket knife, may be jailed for up to 20 years;
— organizations or individuals providing medical care, food or water, legal help, and/or shelter are subject to the same penalties;
— border crossing officers may summarily deport infiltrators to Egypt, giving them no chance to apply for asylum;
— if not immediately deported, they’ll be detained indefinitely; even if their home country is a war zone, they won’t be released;
— they may be held up to two weeks or longer before judicial review if they even get one; and
— women and children will be treated like men.
If the bill passes, Israel’s notoriously shaky safe haven status will end for non-Jews.
According to estimates, up to 20,000 asylum seekers are currently in Israel, 85% from Sudan and Eritrea – the latter country Israel’s Justice Ministry calls a dictatorship with widespread violations of human and political rights, including imprisonments without trial, religious persecution, and disappearances.
Sudanese refugees come mainly from two conflict zones – Darfur and South Sudan.
"Lies and Reality:" Fiction and Facts
"They aren’t refugees. They are labor infiltrators."
According to former Immigration Authority head, Yaakov Ganot, "In our examinations, I would say that 99.9% of them are here for work. They’re not asylum seekers. They are not at any risk."
The prime minister and various other officials repeat the lie. Israel’s media report it, and people believe it. In contrast, the UN gets a different story – like keeping two sets of books, one real, the other fake.
Israel tells the UNHCR that 90% of asylum seekers are legitimate refugees, the world body then publishing what it calls "accurate, relevant and up-to-date statistics." In contrast to Israeli policy, it says Islamic Shari’ah affirms the right to asylum. It represents:
"the deep-rooted Arab traditions and customs which have served as a solid foundation for the protection of those in need, and stresses that Shari’ah embraces a number of humanitarian principles which are at the heart of international refugee protection (UNHCR 2010 Regional Operations Profile – Middle East)."
"Based on our examinations, they are not refugees." Israel claims it follows accepted asylum review procedures and makes honest determinations.
Israel lies. In fact, 90% or more of applicants aren’t checked, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea. In contrast, according to a UN report, 96% of Eritrean requests were granted worldwide, and many western states routinely admit Sudanese refugees.
Israel grants collective "temporary protection," what ACRI calls:
"an unstable status without any real rights – that protects them from deportation, and refuses to conduct individual examinations of asylum requests, which would allow it to recognize asylum seekers as refugees."
Previously, Israel followed the same procedure for legitimate Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Ivory Coast refugees, and by so doing, claims "there are no refugees in Israel" – by excluding them from the asylum system.
Currently, only a small number of requests are reviewed, most rejected. In fact, since 1948, Israel accepted only 190 asylum seekers as legitimate refugees.
In 2008, according to UNHCR figures, France accepted 9,648, Canada 7,554, Germany 5,902, and Israel 4.
Israel protects refugees. On January 21, 2010, Ynet quoted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying, "Israel will remain open to war refugees," at the same time claiming the state rejects illegal migration, not legitimate asylum seekers it won’t abandon.
Following its "Hot Return" policy, Israel summarily deports refugees, including ones legitimately fearing grave harm or death. The Infiltration Prevention Bill formalizes this practice, without review, at the discretion of untrained soldiers – in violation of international law.
Israel bogusly claims the Infiltration Prevention Bill won’t alter its Refugee Convention obligations.
Israel never observed them. The proposed bill makes it policy with provisions in fundamental violation, including prohibitions against:
— deporting refugees to home countries where their lives or freedoms could be threatened – the principle of non-refoulement;
— discriminating against asylum seekers based on nationality;
— denying them free access to judicial review and legal help;
— denial of review requests;
— restricting free refugee movements;
— their access to employment; and
— imprisoning them.
The bill is the only way to detain criminals or security threats.
The 1952 Entrance to Israel Law addresses these issues fully. Suspects may be detained if they threaten Israeli security or its citizens, ACRI noting:
"….the proposal to formalize the ‘Hot Return’ policy indicates that the (proposed) law’s objectives do not relate to security. The State of Israel detains individuals that threaten (it) and is not quick to deport them."
Refugees pose a security threat. On January 21, 2010, Ynet reported that:
"IDF officers told Netanyahu that Al Qaida and its offshoots may attempt to send Sudanese refugees across the Egyptian border and into Israel with the aim of setting up terror cells in the Jewish state."
No Israeli asylum seeker was ever charged with terrorism or an attempt to commit it. Claiming it is a lie. In 2006, when Darfur refugees began arriving, Israel detained them as security threats, later lifted, as unjust and unwarranted, by court order in August 2007. Making false claims now is an attempt to gain public support for the oppressive new bill.
Illegal migrant workers enter Israel from Egypt and must be stopped, Netanyahu quoted by Ynet on January 21, 2010 saying: "Israel will not let its borders be used to flood the country with illegal migrant workers."
In 2009, Israel gave work permits to 25 times more migrants than refugees requesting asylum. In fact, numbers seeking work are rising while those wanting refuge status are declining.
Refugee arrivals deteriorated employment conditions in cities like Arad and Eilat, again Netanyahu quoted by Ynet on January 21, 2010 saying:
"They are causing socio-economic and cultural damage and threaten to take us back down to the level of the Third World. Anyone walking around Arad, Eilat, or even south Tel Aviv today, can see this wave, and the change it is creating, with their own eyes."
Israel claims they work for low wages, displace Israelis, force down pay scales, and cause social unrest.
The Olmert and Netanyahu governments, in fact, sent refugees to Arad and Eilat. In 2007, the "Gedera-Hadera" restriction was introduced, was binding for 18 months, and prohibited refugees from living north of Gedera or south of Hadera. Violators were arrested, the idea being to force them to less desirable peripheral areas against their will and keep them there.
They’re not given formal work permits or rights so employers can freely exploit them with below minimum wages, no benefits, and poor working conditions.
On October 22, 2008, a Jerusalem Post.com report headlined "Israel has the highest poverty in the West," saying:
"OECD report(s that) 1 in 4 Israelis (live) below the poverty line – 2.5 times the average in the developed world….The report also stated that Israel’s socioeconomic divide was the third highest, below Turkey and Mexico, and Israel was criticized by OECD for the failure of its fiscal policies to bridge the gap between rich and poor. (In recent decades) economic growth….benefitted the rich more than the poor," what’s been happening in America since the 1970s at an alarming rate, Israel mirroring its closest ally.
OECD demands a tough infiltration policy. Again Ynet, January 21, 2010 quoting Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz saying:
"Even OECD representatives who visited last week noted that the large number of foreigners here hurts Israeli society."
He and Netanyahu also claim cracking down on infiltrators will make it a stronger candidate for OECD membership.
OECD criticizes Israel’s asylum policy and recommends it be elevated to international standards. Mentioned is the low number of recognized refugees, no "public integration or support program," and other serious flaws need correcting.
All refugees want permanent Israeli residency.
Of the 190 refugees Israel accepted since 1948, over 100 left according to UNHCR figures. In 2007, the Olmert government granted temporary status to the first 500 Darfur arrivals. Since then, many left and others plan to as well. The reason according to ACRI:
"Many western countries have refugee and migrant quotas. Unlike Israel, they understand their international obligation and invest resources in absorbing refugees. A main condition for filing an emigration request is legal residence in the country (where) filed. By refusing to review asylum requests by Eritrean and Sudanese refugees, Israel is withholding their chance to emigrate to another country, where many of their relatives have already settled."
Most asylum seekers trapped in Israel "can not return to their home countries and can not emigrate to other countries that absorb immigrants."
In sum, ACRI calls the proposed Infiltration Prevention Bill "a form of abuse, not a policy." It bogusly says legitimate refugees are security threats.
During the Olmert administration, an inter-ministerial team was established to formulate clear asylum policy, including status, health, employment, welfare, education, and other issues. In August 2009, it was disbanded with no conclusions after its head, Yaakov Ganot (also in charge of the Immigration Authority) was appointed Transportation Ministry director general.
With no clear policy, the Netanyahu government now promotes the Infiltration Prevention Bill as a "magical solution," one that will harm refugees and for many returned home cause their deaths.
The following human rights organizations call on Israel "to withdraw this bill and formulate a proper asylum policy:"
ACRI, Amnesty International, Aid to Refugees and Asylum Seekers (ASSAF), Hotline for Migrant Workers, African Refugee Refugee Development Center, Israel Religious Action Center – Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, Kav LaOved (Worker’s Hotline), and Physicians for Human Rights.
Israel mocks fundamental international law principles, and won’t consider them unless nations with enough clout apply strong pressure, something very much absent in giving its government a free pass.
New Military Order Defines West Bank Palestinians As "Infiltrators"
On April 11, a Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual (hamoked.org) press release headlined:
"A NEW MILITARY ORDER DEFINES ALL RESIDENTS OF THE WEST BANK AS ‘INFILTRATORS’ WHO MAY BE JAILED AND DEPORTED"
It requires all West Bank residents (including native born ones) get IDF-issued permits. Order No. 1650 (Prevention of Infiltration) and Order No. 1649 (Security Provisions) were issued in October 2009 as amendments to a 1969 Order No. 329 (Order regarding Prevention of Infiltration) declaring "infiltrator" state enemies from Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon would be imprisoned and/or deported.
Potentially, the IDF may now "empty the West Bank of almost all its Palestinian inhabitants."
Further, this was done quietly, raising concerns about secret implementation "without public debate or judicial review." The term "infiltrator" was substantively redefined, applying it "to anyone (in) the West Bank without an Israeli permit." It refers to "person(s) who entered the Area (meaning the West Bank) unlawfully (or) who (are) present in the Area and (do) not lawfully hold a permit."
Effective April 13, anyone without an IDF-issued one is "presumed to be an infiltrator."
Up to now, with few exceptions, Palestinians didn’t need one. That’s changed, and so is their residency status, Hamoked explaining:
— the order’s language is broad and vague, giving the military wide discretion;
— this action was handled secretly;
— no valid permit definition is given;
— it violates Fourth Geneva’s Article 49 prohibiting:
"Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country…."
— the military may prosecute, imprison, and/or deport anyone called an "infiltrator" – without judicial review;
— deportations may be executed within 72 hours of order issuances or sooner, and those affected may be imprisoned until deported;
— individuals first affected may be Palestinians Israel wishes to transfer to Gaza, even those born in the West Bank or legally relocated there;
— foreign passport-holding spouses of West Bank residents abroad are likely to be targeted; "This category includes tens of thousands of individuals;"
— foreign nationals called "infiltrators" may be jailed for up to seven years; and
— potentially the entire Palestinian West Bank population is vulnerable, including legitimate East Jerusalem residents.
Besides HaMoked, other Israeli human rights groups condemning the new military order include B’Tselem, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Rabbis for Human Rights, and others.
On April 11, Haaretz writer Amira Hass expressed alarm in her article headlined, "IDF order will enable mass deportation from West Bank," saying:
"A new military order aimed at preventing infiltration will come into force this week (April 13), enabling the deportation of tens of thousands of (West Bank) Palestinians….or their indictment carrying prison terms of up to seven years."
Those most at risk have ID cards showing Gaza their birth place, those born in the West Bank or abroad who lost their residency status, Palestinians unable to prove their legitimate status, foreign-born spouses, and anyone Israel chooses to target for any reason. In the past, Israeli civil courts prevented their deportation. Military courts now have sole jurisdiction.
"The new order defines anyone who enters the West Bank illegally as an "infiltrator," as well as ‘a person who is present in the area and does not lawfully hold a permit.’ " It states:
"a person is presumed to be an infiltrator if he (or she) is present in the area without a document or permit which attests to his (or her) lawful presence in the area without reasonable justification. (Documentation must be) issued by the commander of IDF forces in the Judea and Samaria area or someone acting on his behalf."
East Jerusalem Palestinians are also affected as well as citizens of allied countries and Israeli citizens, Arab or Jew. Of course, only Palestinians are at risk and perhaps Jews with non-Jewish spouses.
Military commanders have sole discretion. The potential fallout may be catastrophic if this order is maximally implemented.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office said:
"The IDF is ready to implement the order, which is not intended to apply to Israelis, but to illegal ‘sojourners’ (meaning thousands of Palestinians) in Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank)."
Along with the Infiltration Prevention Bill, potential mass Palestinian deportations and/or imprisonments takes Israel a step closer to full-blown fascism. It’s already well along like its close Washington ally.
– Stephen Lendman contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit his blog at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.