Israelis caught assisting “illegal” immigrants could soon receive the same punishment as the people they help. If a bill being discussed in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) becomes law, it would be the only legislation in the world that mandates equal punishment for both parties, a leading Communist Party member MK Dov Khenin says.
The most common penalties under the legislation would be five- and seven-year sentences, although under some circumstances illegal immigrants and their helpers could be sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison. According to the bill, Israeli citizens could be punished for helping an illegal immigrant either enter the country or stay in the country.
“We understand illegal ‘stay’ as providing, for example, lodging, food, medication, legal assistance — anything, basically,” Anat Ben-Dor, an instructor at Tel Aviv University Law School’s Refugee Rights Clinic, says. “It’s a shame that people who do want to help will get punished for it — for taking responsibility for people who are here and no one else is taking responsibility for them,” according to MK Khenin.
The proposed legislation would alter several aspects of procedure for handling illegal immigrants. It is unnecessarily severe, redundant, and runs counter to Israel’s humanitarian obligations, opponents say.
“This is one of the most extreme laws dealing with refugees and trying to help them,” said MK Khenin (Hadash), the only MK to vote against the legislation in its first reading in May 2008 and when it was approved for continuation early last month. “This is very far away from the lessons we should all learn from Jewish history. In the past, the Jews were the refugees who needed help in places not willing to accept them,” he said.
The bill would mandate five years of imprisonment for most illegal immigrants and seven years for those coming from “enemy countries” or countries “that assist enemies” of Israel, such as Sudan. It also would give authorities a choice between detention and immediate deportation of illegal immigrants if authorities catch them within 72 hours of entering Israel. That clause is particularly troubling to refugee activists. Another concern is the lack of differentiation between asylum-seekers, who are fleeing persecution, and other illegal immigrants. Immediate deportation of asylum-seekers could mean returning them to a place where their lives are in danger, Khenin said. According to Khenin, it was first proposed by the Defense Ministry.
The new legislation would replace the 1954 Law for the Prevention of Infiltration, which was created to handle Palestinians entering Israel and mandates five years in prison for illegal immigrants suspected of posing a security threat. Under current procedure, most “illegal” immigrants caught entering the country are initially detained under the Infiltration Law but are prosecuted under less stringent legislation, the Entry to Israel Law, which sentences most illegal immigrants to one year in prison.
For more information, contact the Communist Party of Israel: <www.maki.org.il>.