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Court: Eritrean torture victim must remain in jail

It is clear that through its decision to leave the asylum seeker in custody, the court refused to recognized his particular situation. Thus, it rejected the possibility that will forever remain open before us: the possibility – which is both an obligation and a right — to discover compassion.

By Asaf Weitzen

Judge Eliyahu Beitan of the Be’er Sheva District Court recently handed down a decision on an appeal filed by Raya Meiler of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, ordering the continued detainment of an Eritrean asylum seeker, despite him being recognized as a victim of severe torture.

Among the explanations given in the decision is a phrase, according to which recognition of a victim of torture on humanitarian grounds, which justifies release from prison, is likely to cause severe consequences. Not in relation to Israeli citizens, rather — and pay attention — regarding asylum seekers themselves: “It appears to me that recognizing [victims of] torture like those described by the appellant as a justifiable circumstance for release from custody, is likely to lead an increase in the phenomenon of torture and to a deterioration, and even to the creation of a phenomenon among infiltrators of self-inflicted harm. And that, in this case, is not desirable.”

Two things can be understood from this self-righteous statement:

Firstly, it appears the court has internalized, to some degree, that Israeli prison is a terrible, hopeless place, to the point that asylum seekers would do everything — including attempts to harm themselves — in order to be freed. Particularly since Israel began imprisoning people under the anti-Infiltrator Law.

Secondly, the attempt at justifying the decision not to release a man as if it is for his own good (and for the good of the group of asylum seekers to which he belongs) testifies to an embarrassing self-righteousness and cowardliness.  The court is able to decide whether to release asylum seekers from custody (the appeal contained a wealth of legal and factual justifications for doing so). Alternatively, it could have clarified that the appeal was rejected due to the interests of the State of Israel, which has decided not to recognize asylum seekers as refugees and not release even a single one. Instead, the court adopted a pathetic and righteous rhetorical gesture. The judge may pat himself on the back and say that his decision not to release a single person aids asylum seekers by preventing a situation in which they are incentivized to harm themselves. He ruled that the man remain in prison, despite not being suspected of crime nor constituting a threat to others. And everything is to his benefit and to prevent harm, torture and suffering from other asylum seekers. It turns out that justice, righteousness and real-life saints can be found in the Israeli courts.

Of course, one can also make use of such logic in other contexts. Perhaps the recognition of the rights of disabled persons creates an incentive for people to become disabled? Or perhaps compensation for victims of sexual offenses leads to an increase in those offenses? Or perhaps such logic simply isn’t used when discussing citizens of Israel.

Hannah Arendt once wrote that:

Compassion, by its very nature cannot be touched off by the sufferings of a whole class or a people, or, least of all, mankind as a whole. It cannot reach out farther than what is suffered by one person and still remain what it is supposed to be, co-suffering. Its strength hinges on the strength of passion itself, which, in contrast to reason, can comprehend only the particular, but has no notion of the general and no capacity for generalizations.

It is clear that through its decision to leave the asylum seeker in custody, and despite the righteous tone, the court refused to recognized his particular situation. Thus, it rejected the possibility that will forever remain open before us: the possibility – which is both an obligation and a right — to discover compassion.

Asaf Weitzen is the Legal Advisor on Asylum Seekers at the Hotline for Migrant Workers.

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    1. The Trespasser

      The judge is absolutely right. It is quite easy to imagine self-harming inmates so they’d go out.

      Why would they do that? Obviously, because in prison they can’t work and earn money. After all, it is the main goal for the majority.

      Reply to Comment
      • On other occasions your label has told us that internment is preferable for the refugees, for they will be fed and housed and won’t have to work for sub-minimal wages.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          Is there any contradiction?

          Reply to Comment
    2. All the State has to do is photograph bodies upon imprisonment. Any “self torture” can then be excluded as a cause of release, for it would appear after incarceration. There is no internal merit in the court’s Kafkaesque reasoning.

      What I think is happening here is that release BECAUSE of court determined torture (that is, the court affirms the fact of prior torture) might be construed as admitting asylum because of torture. The court, hardly ideologically independent, will not interfere with the Interior Ministry’s “right” to decide asylum status. Since “infiltrators” are destined to remain in camps anyway, there can be no appeal for release based on Convention definitions of asylum.

      Reply to Comment
    3. The Trespasser

      >All the State has to do is photograph bodies upon imprisonment. Any “self torture” can then be excluded as a cause of release, for it would appear after incarceration.

      Utter nonsense.

      Dude, you never been arrested, never been to an army, never crossed any borders under the guise, probably had never carried out anything illegal at all.

      There is absolutely nothing which might suggest that ANY of your opinions on the issue could be valid even theoretically.

      Reply to Comment
      • Once arrested, further evidence of damage cannot be prior torture–unless, of course, caused in the jail, by inmates or authorities.

        Exactly what never have been in the army has to do with this eludes me.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          Whatever you are suggesting could not be implemented, but, apparently, only someone who was in army or behind bard, preferably both, is capable of understanding that.

          1 – how exactly are you going to take pictures of entire body surface of all detainees, where are you going to keep these near-porn pictures and how the access to them would be controlled?

          2 – How the knowledge that the harm was self-caused would nullify the humanitarian aspects of the issue?
          Quite and imaginable headline that is: “Detained refugees are inflicting self-harm to get out of Israeli prisons”

          3 – How exactly are you going to prove that wound caused by injection of dirty water or oil under the skin was caused by self-harm and not some medical condition which would demand immediate release?

          4 – And what about torture that leaves no physical signs? Dude, I could make you tell everything you know, and a lot of what you don’t by using extremely simple means which would leave no trace at all.

          But would lack of scars make you any less victim of a torture?

          5 – At other hand, most horrifying scars are not necessarily caused by torture, even if alleged victim makes such claim.

          That is one of problems of so-called “leftists bunch”. These people have very little knowledge and experience in nearly any imaginable aspect of life, nonetheless they are coming up with all kinds of stupid (at best) and dangerous (at worst) ideas and trying to make other people believe that all they have to do to be happy is follow yet another faulty plan.

          Reply to Comment
          • If there were no physical signs then no inference of torture prior to incarceration would be necessary. General photos with a body inspection (probably carried out anyway) would be sufficient. The kind of aberrations which would cause a court to release will be obvious. You just do not want to give any quarter. There is no evidenced compassion for these people at all–which, really, is the point of the infiltrator detention policy.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Of course I don’t want to give any quarter.
            Why would I want allow illegal infiltrators to take jobs from my fellow citizens?

            Reply to Comment