Nine Supreme Court justices will meet on Tuesday April 1, at 9:00 a.m. to deliberate on the petition submitted jointly by human rights organizations against the new law allowing indefinite imprisonment of asylum seekers at the Holot facility.

On September 16, 2013 the Supreme Court overturned the infiltration law on the basis that it was not legal to detain asylum seekers and those who cannot be deported indefinitely, and that it is illegal to use the prolonged arrest of asylum seekers as a way to deter others from seeking asylum in Israel. In addition, the court ruled that asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea cannot be deported due to the situation in their country.

“Despite the difficulty and however unwillingly, the State of Israel must deal with this problem, never forgetting that they have already entered our gates and that they are with us. They are entitled to the rights of liberty and dignity conferred by the Basic Law on any person, as a person.” [Section 45 of the judgment]

In opposition to this ruling the government quickly passed the “Infiltrator Law 2” regulating the detention of asylum seekers at the Holot facility — which the state calls an “open facility” — erected near the Saharonim Prison in the southwestern Negev.

Today, about 1500 asylum seeker are being held indefinitely at Holot. They are allowed to leave the facility between attendance in the morning and noon, and between noon and the evening.  However, both the great distance of the facility from most settlements and the lack of the activities at the facility make the stay purposeless. The intention is to break their spirit so that the government can proudly report that asylum seekers are not being deported, rather that the government is helping them to decide to leave of their own “free will”.

The new law affects not only those who are detained. It affects a whole community that now lives in fear of being detained and transferred to Holot or arrested and sent to Saharonim Prison if they are without the proper papers. Thousands have already received orders to appear at Holot and nearly 200 people have been arrested because they were not able to renew their permits due to bureaucratic posturing by the authorities.

Oded Feller, attorney for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, representing the petitioners, the asylum seekers in Holot and the human rights organizations, states:  “The fact that the Knesset and the government continue to choose the vulnerable and powerless as scapegoats, blaming them for society’s problems, causing them to be despised, and repeatedly pummeling them with legislation, forces the intervention of the courts.

According to Mutasim Ali, an asylum seeker from Darfur and a leader of the refugee protest, “The goal of the law and the imprisonment in Holot is to break our will, causing us to agree to leave as if by our own free will.  We hear Gideon Saar gloating about the statistics of the past few months reporting that thousands left Israel ‘of their own free will,’ some to Eritrea, many to Sudan, and others to third countries.

Has Gideon Saar done any follow up? Does he know what happened to those who left “of their own free will”? Does he know if they are free, safe, or even alive? We have received reports of the sad fate of our brothers that were worn down by the situation here and agreed to leave. Our brothers continue to be refugees who, at best, are fleeing in search of safety; or, at worst, have been imprisoned and murdered.

This is the choice that the government presents before us: Live a life in the desert, under a roof, with bread and water but no possibility of leaving, without the option of working and caring for ourselves as human beings. The government is asking us to live like animals, to make do with protection and basic food, while making it clear that the only other choice is to leave Israel to a fate unknown or return to the country from which we fled, back to the government that hunts us down and will continue to do so.”

The petition and all legal materials can be found on the ACLU website: http://www.acri.org.il/he/29963

Originally published on March 31, 2014

Translation: Sharon Kerpel