The High Court's decision to overturn the law allowing the incarceration of infiltrators from Africa for three years without trial was received with mixed emotions and responses. An examination of the decision, which was unanimous, calls for a discussion of each one of its different aspects.
As is befitting a democratic society, at the top of the pyramid is the value-driven decision to prevent the state from holding prisoners without trial. The Menachem Begin Heritage Center recently issued a pamphlet containing Begin's value assertion (as pertaining to the 1962 extradition of Jewish American spy Robert Soblen) that every man deserves to stand before a judge. This applies to illegal infiltrators from Africa as well. Some day, Israel will be very proud of this decision by the High Court of Justice.
Another aspect of this decision is the plight of the residents of south Tel Aviv, who have been burdened with the brunt of the absorption of illegal infiltrators. The infiltrators' suffering is harming the already low quality of life of veteran residents of south Tel Aviv. It is unfathomable that the poorest residents of this city are forced out of public areas just because foreigners have now taken over the city square. On the opposing side, there is also the argument that Israel cannot morally return persecuted refugees to a homeland where their lives are in danger.
But the percentage of infiltrators who come here because of life threatening circumstances is negligible. What we are talking about is 55,000 African infiltrators who pose an economic, social and demographic burden. The nine-justice High Court bench should have looked into how other democracies confront this type of problem. In other countries, even tourists who enter the country legally are immediately deported back to their home country if they as much as sell a painting without having the proper permits.
Many Israelis would volunteer to serve as human shields to the infiltrators and fend off the demands to deport them from Israel. These people represent the kinder facet of the Jewish state. But the problem is that these kind Israelis all live in neighborhoods and cities located far from the high concentrations of these unwelcome guests from Africa.
On the other hand, not only is the illegal African population in Israel already posing a challenge to the government and to the rule of law, the court's decision could also be interpreted in Africa as a sign of Israeli weakness, prompting more infiltrators to leave their homes and families and try their luck in Israel. The message that came out of the High Court halls this week may be glamorous, but it is also dangerous.
But in the government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former interior minister Eli Yishai (Shas) and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch worked very hard to erect a fence along Israel's border with Egypt. Once the barrier was complete, it almost entirely obviated the need for the detention centers where the infiltrators were kept, because now very few of them were managing to cross the border. The unlawful detention itself, in many respects, ended up resolving the problem.
The government can pat itself on the back for its great success in building a fence that prevents infiltrations. Therefore, if the infiltrations have indeed been stopped, it may be best to integrate the Africans already living among us into Israeli society and to help them spread out throughout the country rather than forcibly deporting them for the world to see. No more infiltrators are coming anyway, and that is the important thing.