One thousand protesters, mainly children, staged a solidarity rally in central Tel Aviv on Friday, March 16, with African refugees and asylum seekers who are slated to be deported by the far-right government in the coming weeks to Uganda or Rwanda.
The demonstration “Children and Youth against Deportation”—began at Habima Square from where the children made their way to Sderot Chen and convened in Rabin Square. At the end of the march, the famous Israeli musician, Aviv Geffen performed at together with a band from the Bialik Rogozin High School in south Tel Aviv where many of the children of refugees and asylum seekers learn.
On Thursday, Israel’s Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction, ordering the state to halt the expulsion of asylum seekers from Israel until authorities submit a response to a petition made to the court against the expulsion. The state’s reply, the justices ruled, must be submitted by March 26.
According to the ruling by Chief Justice Esther Hayut, Deputy Chief Justice Hanan Melcer and Justice Neal Hendel, the injunction will not apply to anyone agreeing to leave Israel willingly.
The Supreme Court’s verdict was handed down on a petition submitted six weeks ago by 119 human rights activists, in which they sought to freeze the “secret agreement” the government had reportedly signed with Rwanda for the latter state’s receiving asylum seekers deported from Israel.
129 petitioners, represented by attorney Itay Mack, claimed that Prime Minister Netanyahu, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri sharply overstepped their authority to administer foreign relations and the legal articles regulating entrance into Israel when they approved the agreement with Rwanda.
The agreement, they said, was highly irregular and hitherto unheard of in the country’s history, adding it constituted a moral stain that could never be expunged, and that only the Knesset could make decisions of such magnitude. Nearer to the state submitting its reply, the court ruled, it will be decided whether to extend the injunction. The Holot migrant detention center, meanwhile, was closed on Wednesday, March 15.
MK Dov Khenin (Hadash – Joint List) commented on the Supreme Court decision, saying, “The far-right government’s expulsion policy is crumbling. The idea that the State of Israel will expel tens of thousands of human beings is incomprehensible. I hope this is the first sign en route to stopping the expulsion completely.” Shula Keshet, one of the leaders of the “South Tel Aviv against the expulsion” group, agreed, “The Supreme Court’s decision must not only be a first step to stopping the expulsion, but also a wakeup call to the Israeli government to change its policy — stop the evacuation of residents of the city’s south and rehabilitating neighborhoods.”
In past weeks there has been a groundswell of American Jewish opposition to the plan, including calls from the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and HIAS, the leading Jewish immigration advocacy group, to stop the deportations. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, which in February joined the calls to halt the deportations, on Thursday helped convene a meeting between Israeli Embassy staff and 15 local rabbis of the major denominations.
“The Israeli government’s plan to deport or imprison African asylum seekers is immoral and I fear it will wipe away all the goodwill Israel has generated from giving refuge to tens of thousands of Africans over the last 10-15 years,” said Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Congregation Ohev Sholom. “Moreover, there is no international legal precedent for what Israel is doing by forcing refugees to relocate to a ‘third country’ under secret terms.”
In Tel Aviv, another mass rally against the deportation of African refugees and asylum seekers will be held at Rabin Square, next Saturday night, March 24, at 8 pm, under the slogan “Israel is stopping the deportation!”
According to organizers: “This is a struggle for our values, for the State of Israel. Throughout Israel and across the society we already know, the country can take care of citizens and asylum seekers. All you have to do is come, join us, in demanding together, with one voice, loud and clear: ‘We want a responsible solution.'”