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Israel's High Court orders closure of 'Holot' refugee detention facility

Asylum seekers imprisoned in Holot celebrate the ruling but warn that it’s not clear what will happen next.

African asylum seekers jailed in Holot detention center protest behind the prison's fence, as other asylum seekers take part in a protest outside the facility, in Israel's southern Negev desert, February 17, 2014.

African asylum seekers jailed in Holot detention center protest behind the prison’s fence, as other asylum seekers take part in a protest outside the facility, in Israel’s southern Negev desert, February 17, 2014.

Israel’s High Court of Justice on Monday struck down key parts of a law that allows the indefinite detention of African asylum seekers in Israel’s ‘Holot’ detention facility, also striking down a section that permits the automatic year-long detention of newcomers. The court ordered the state to shutter Holot within 90 days.

Almost exactly a year ago, the court struck down a previous version of the law that authorized the detention of asylum seekers, prompting lawmakers to quickly draft a replacement — one that led to the creation of the Holot facility and permitted indefinite detention.

Read a response from a refugee detained in Holot

In the ruling, Justice Fogelman explains that imprisonment inherently infringes on the right to human dignity and that,

Every person, by virtue of being a person, has a right to human dignity … and infiltrators are people. And if that needs explanation, let’s say it explicitly: infiltrators do not lose one ounce of their right to human dignity just because they reached the country in this way or another.

One asylum seeker imprisoned in Holot whom +972 spoke to sounded overjoyed but warned about celebrating too early.

Read +972′s full coverage of the refugee issue

“We can celebrate but not too much because we don’t know what will happen next,” he said, adding, “we need to make sure that the Interior Ministry doesn’t create a new mechanism for imprisoning us.”

A consortium of civil and refugee rights organizations who were the petitioners that challenged the law, wrote in response to the ruling:

The court made it clear today, once more, in a categorical and unequivocal manner, that the policy toward asylum-seekers cannot be solely based on mass detention of innocent people or complete disregard of the issue.

Both the refugee and the Hotline made conciliatory statements toward the residents of south Tel Aviv, who have been the most vocal opponents to granting any rights to African asylum seekers and who have held sometimes-violent demonstrations against them.

The majority of Israel’s refugee population lives in south Tel Aviv and the neighborhood’s already inadequate infrastructure has been severely stressed by the influx of newcomers.

“We need to wait and see what the reaction is in south Tel Aviv,” one Sudanese asylum seeker in Holot added. “We know that there are many people who are very angry and the asylum seekers need to be sensitive and understanding about the residents of south Tel Aviv.”

He also called on Israelis and the international community to join them in putting pressure on Israel to grant the asylum seekers their rights.

Read also: The origins and politics of Israel’s refugee debate

Refugees, both those who are already in Holot and those in danger of being sent there, have launched a number of high-profile public protests this year — protests that raised the profile of their plight in Israel and internationally.

The petition against the law was filed by the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, Assaf – Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, Kav LaOved, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and Amnesty International-Israel.

The court decision did not prescribe how the state should deal with the tens of thousands of asylum seekers that Israel systematically refuses to recognize as refugees but also admits it cannot deport. Without legal status, asylum seekers have no social or health rights and cannot legally work.

Stay tuned to +972 for news and analysis on the High Court’s ruling later in the coming days and hours.

Yael Marom contributed to this report.

Related:
Marching toward freedom in a fictional plot of land
Israel hasn’t recognized one Sudanese refugee

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    COMMENTS

    1. Kolumn8

      1) They are not refugees. They are illegal labor migrants of whom 90% are men of working age.

      2) They are leaving. The Court can say its piece. The People have already decided and theirs will be done. The illegal migrants will be given no permanent status and will be encouraged through all means to leave. If the Court chooses to oppose the Legislature backed by the overwhelming majority of the population its powers will be curtailed. That is how things work for institutions that outlast their usefulness in democracies.

      Reply to Comment
      • Adam Dayton

        Today it has been proven that Israel is no different than Iran. While there may be the facade of democracy, an unelected supreme body rules by decree. Ayotollah, High Court of Justice. No difference.

        The Israeli people are left with no choice but the revolt against the bourgeois, Ashkenazi secular-humanism that has tyrannized the country at the expense of the will of the Israeli people.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben Zakkai

          Geez Dayton, you really are autistic; you’ve got a gearbox where your heart should be. All the rest is bullshit. So now suddenly you’re a pure majoritarian democrat? Like you’ll be hitting the streets to protest every law the Israeli public opposes, including the ban on civil marriage, Haredi subsidies and draft exemptions etc.? Oh, and while you’re at it, you’ll no doubt demand the vote in Knesset elections for all those Palestinians whom Israel has ruled by military dictatorship for going on 50 years, and then Israeli law can be purely democratically determined by an Arab majority. Right? Liar.

          Reply to Comment
      • According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ 2012 data, 82% of Eritreans applying for refugee status abroad were granted that recognition, along with 68% of Sudanese applicants.

        Reply to Comment
        • bor

          Sure, and Spain doubled the size of its fence to keep Africans out so they won’t have to address this messy equation, while Italy begs the rest of the western EU countries to please, please, please help it with its flood of refugees even though it is a country many times bigger than Israel with a much bigger population.

          And just to demonstrate how foolish some of these governments are in their policies, Gatestone published a paper today about how England keeps funding charities that support terror while other parts of the government are trying to figure out how to stem the problem with home-grown terrorism. Perhaps these government can afford to be idiots and to undermine their own societies, but does Israel need to be just as foolish?

          Kolumn8 is making a valid point that most of the African refugees in Israel are young males and many of them came to Israel for economic opportunity.

          Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        Isn’t it interesting how the anti-Palestinian crowd is overwhelmingly also anti-African? I guess once a racist, always a racist.

        BTW, the Israeli high court is probably the last thing that is keeping Israel from becoming a full-fledged pariah state. By all means, get rid of it – it will become much easier to put comprehensive sanctions on you.

        Reply to Comment
        • Adam Dayton

          “Isn’t it interesting how the anti-Palestinian crowd is overwhelmingly also anti-African? I guess once a racist, always a racist.”

          What have the Palestinians and these people contributed to the world? Why is it wrong to not want people from a highly unproductive population in your country?

          “By all means, get rid of it – it will become much easier to put comprehensive sanctions on you”

          Sorry, our men in Congress and AIPAC will make sure that never happens. Keep dreaming.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            Who the hell says any people need to “contribute” or invent anything to have rights and to be defended when bullied or oppressed?

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            Adam doesn’t seem to realize or care this rhetoric was part of Nazism’s genocidal repertoire. Jews were deemed incapable of any work outside the soft professions in pseudo-scientific racist literature.

            Of course during WWII the Aryan Ubermenschen were inventing new methods of computing, sound recording and jet propulsion, so obviously the Germans were contributing more to the world than the Jews in the Pale of Settlement with their backwards religion. Adam will understand this is just a fact, since he makes decisions based on scientific rationality and not subjective moral principles.

            Reply to Comment
      • MuslimJew

        “That is how things work for institutions that outlast their usefulness in democracies.”

        No, it’s how things work for institutions that outlast their usefulness in “Jewish democracies”.

        Reply to Comment
      • Submitted for your inspection: Kolumn8 (formally 9), Adam Dayton–corporate nationalists, fascists, willing to erase the Court when it disagrees with their view of the “People,” willing to tolerate the Court when it does what Zionist Ideology (they think) demands. But to today the Court says:

        “Every person, by virtue of being a person, has a right to human dignity … and infiltrators are people. And if that needs explanation, let’s say it explicitly: infiltrators do not lose one ounce of their right to human dignity just because they reached the country in this way or another.”

        Knesset definition of the will of “the People” does not trump the rule of law. More, the last sentence of the quote affirms the Refugee Convention’s provision that mode of entry does not deny right to asylum plea.

        After the past hell months, the Court is picking itself up.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben Zakkai

          Greg, the powers-that-be in the Israeli legislative and executive branches are dead set against granting refugee status to Eritreans & Sudanese and determined to continue deporting them one way or another. They know how to drag out legal proceedings for years while also ignoring and subverting the court’s decisions. I wish I could be more optimistic, but I’m not.

          Reply to Comment
          • I think you are right, Ben Zakkai. The Knesset or Administration will establish kangaroo court asylum hearings, some of which will be appealed. My guess is that the courts will turn back some of the decisions, but predominately asylum will be denied.

            That’s one of the reasons why the present decision is so forceful: it’s long term impact is far from certain. But the principle is now in law, and that can be used elsewhere latter. In times of crisis, the law may not evolve direct. There is a painful distinction here between evolving jurisprudence and actual outcomes for refugees.

            Still, the Court has turned back a direct challenge to its authority from the Knesset. It the Court hadn’t done so, Knesset Supremacy would have a major victory. The law uses litigants as pawns to evolve.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben Zakkai

        Oh yeah, Kolumn#, they’re just economic migrants, poor Africans chasing Israeli wealth. That’s why large numbers of illegal migrants have fled to Israel from just about every African nation, plus many Asian and Latin American countries as well. Oh wait, that’s not correct? The vast majority have come from two nations, Sudan and Eritrea, which the rest of the whole have long recognized as murderous, oppressive, refugee-producing hellholes? Well, never mind, I’m sure that the Eritreans and Sudanese who have come to ISRAEL are not really refugees, because … Help me, my poor little Hasbara brain is exploding! Maybe if I just keep repeating myself it’ll calm me down …

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben Zakkai

          Rest of the world, that is.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Average American

      Kolumn 8 – I love how you say the supreme court has outlasted it’s usefulness in your democracy. Makes me laugh. Will you turn to the State Rabbis and have them decide everything? Then the law they’ll be using won’t be secular, it will be halaka, which already decides alot of civil matters. Then you will be a racial theocracy. Then it will be obvious what you meant when you say The Jewish State.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Kolumn 8 – Courts obviously being a true democracy’s check on the tyranny of the state’s majority over the state’s minorities, your anti-democratic and in fact fascist emphasis on the “will of the people” and the triumph of the will in a society where courts have “outlived their usefulness” is on full display.

        Reply to Comment
        • Adam Dayton

          Brian –

          It’s amazing how you people so conveniently coop words to suit your purposes. The core meaning of “democracy” is intrinsically linked with the will of the people. Democracy for you, however, is the tyranny of the minority and subjective moral principles.

          In short, you believe that a people are not capable of governing themselves. Instead, they need wise Bodhisatvas such as yourself to show them the enlightened way. Who cares what 60%, 70% or even 90% of the population think. Their will is subservient to the will of the great, wise bodhisatvas such as yourself.

          In a “true” democracy, the Court’s job is to faithfully interpret and uphold the law – not write laws or interpret laws in ways unintended by the law makers.

          Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            I think you weren’t paying attention in Civics 101 in 5th grade.

            Reply to Comment
          • Adam Dayton

            You’re right. we didn’t have that class. I didn’t attend Karl Marx elementary.

            Just admit it: you demand blind adherence to a subjective moral system that contradicts the will of the people.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            No, you just admit that you demand passive acquiescence by good little Arabs and black people to a soft form of fascism undergirding a racist Jewish Supremacism, and have no shame about that. And demand that the world treat your country as an up to date spiffy little Western democracy with all the rights and privileges and status that go with that except when it comes to how you treat the people you occupy then you want to be judged by the standards of declared non-Western non-democracies such as China in Tibet and you have no shame about that hypocrisy either.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            No, Adam, you just admit that you demand passive acquiescence by good little Arabs and black people to a soft form of fascism undergirding a racist Jewish Supremacism and have no shame about that and also demand the world treat you as an up to date spiffy little Western democracy–this you preen yourselves on–with all the rights and privileges and status that go with that while at the same time demanding in regards to the people you occupy and brutalize to be judged by the standards of declared non-Western non-democracies such as China in Tibet and you have no shame about that hypocrisy either.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            You know what’s so interesting about your comment about Karl Marx Elementary, Adam? Read Roy Isacowitz in Haaretz today to learn how boycotts work on crucial levels other than the economic, and how the dejected Afrikaners just could not understand why the rest of the world would not see them as the anti-communists they saw themselves as, or wanted the world to see them as. And how the world similarly is likely to frustrate the Zionist Right by not seeing them primarily as anti-Islamists. I do think the answer here will eventually have to be the increasing marginalization of Israel in the manner done to South Africa. In order to save them from themselves. Read Isacowitz to understand why. And, since the EU and NATO have been applying sanctions with abandon to the Russians in Ukraine, it simply will not suffice to blame coming economic sanctions and related psychological costs on “anti-Semitism.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Janet

            I guess you have no problem with various country that turned away boat loads of Jewish refugees before WWII, after all it was the will of the people. Morality is not fungible, what is immoral is always immoral and it is immoral to send people back to a country where they may be killed or tortured

            Reply to Comment
          • Adam Dayton

            Okay Janet. Provide me with the scientific evidence supporting your claim and you win.

            Prove to me that your morality is true and mine is false.

            This is why arguing something based on morality is pointless. Its subjective and thus of little value. Unless of course you have that scientific evidence showing otherwise.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Bizarre, cold scientism. Really obtuse.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben Zakkai

            Yes it would be nice if Israelis remembered how bitterly we Jews complained about many nations not granting us refuge before WWII, and how the subsequent recognition of that failure was one of the driving forces behind the enactment of the international refugee treaties that Israel is now ignoring. Turns out our concerns were tribal rather than universal, what a surprise.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            As best as I can figure out from his cold cryptic utterances, taking his words at their face value, Adam is an unabashed believer in der Wille zur Macht, in fascism, not to mince words, like an old style anti-communist from the 1940s. It is an inconvenient fact for him that Jews were denied refugee status as you point out, but an inconsequential one for him. For Adam that is no concern to him now because his tribe has the power now. And it’s all about amoral power. Everything else is not “scientific” so why bother? If you reverse who is up and who is down that changes everything for Adam.

            Reply to Comment
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