The High Court of Justice ruled unanimously Monday that the so-called “infiltrator law,” an amendment that allowed the state to detain illegal migrants for up to three years without charging them with a crime, is unconstitutional.
The court met in an expanded panel of nine judges to decide on the amendment to the Law for Prevention of Infiltration, which went into effect in June 2012 and was sponsored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
There are currently more than 50,000 African migrants in Israel. Some 1,750 are being held under the amendment, most of them in a detention center in southern Israel. The court ruled that each case must now be examined individually, and set a 90-day deadline for the process.
Justice Miriam Naor, deputy president of the High Court, said the ruling could be Israel’s “finest hour,” because it would force the country to find “humane solutions… that match not only international law, but also the Jewish worldview.”
The ruling will create “a difficult task” that Israel will perhaps “have to face against its will,” Justice Uzi Fogelman said, but “we must remember that those who come to our shores… are entitled to the right to liberty and the right to dignity that the Basic Law grants to any person as a human being.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response that he “respects the High Court’s decision” to cancel the detention policy but was “determined to continue to lead government operations for dealing with infiltrators.”
“At a time when many countries around the world are dealing with infiltration, we have helt it [at bay], and last month not one infiltrator crossed our southern border,” Netanyahu added, crediting government measures, including the construction of a new fence along the border with Egypt, for the drop.
African migrants are commonly reffered to as “infiltrators” in Hebrew.
MK Miri Regev (Likud), who has sparked controversy for inflammatory statements against African migrants, said the ruling was “divorced from the reality on the ground” and marked “a sad day for residents of south Tel Aviv.”
The “judges are in Jerusalem,” she added, but “the pain is felt in south Tel Aviv.”
South Tel Aviv, over the past few years, has become home to a large concentration of migrants, leading to tensions with residents.
MK Yariv Levin (Likud) said the ruling was the result of “the High Court’s activism, done completely without any authority” and “a crazy decision” that would threaten Israel’s nature as a Jewish state. Levin called on the Knesset to re-instate the law.
Opposition leader Shelley Yachimovich (Labor) praised the High Court decision. “The situation in which a person can be arrested for three years, under an arbitrary administrative decision, contravened basic human rights,” she said. The ruling that struck down the amendment, she added, “set a clear and precise national moral standard.”