Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Attorney General Yehuda Weinsten received a petition on Sunday signed by 400 intellectuals and academics in support of the asylum seekers’ protest. The petition calls on the authorities not to imprison asylum seekers but rather to treat them as required by the treaty on refugees. Among the signatories are authors A.B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz; Israel Prize laureates, including sociologist Sammy Smooha, Holocaust scholar Prof. Yehuda Bauer, education expert Prof. Gabi Salomon and philosopher Prof. Avishai Margalit, as well as former and current deans of a number of law schools. Among the signatories: Dr. Iris Agmon, Prof. Anat Biletzky, Prof. Abraham Oz, Prof. Colman Altmann, Dr. Yshai Menuchin, Prof. Dani Filc, Dr. Efraim Davidi, Prof. Kobi Peter, Prof. Uri Ram, Dr. Ovadia Ezra, Prof. Yoav Peled and Prof. Oded Goldreich.
The full petition: “We the undersigned members of academic faculties and clinics in Israel express our support for the protest of the asylum seekers in Israel and call upon our government to address their requests and to treat them as both law and moral decency demand.
About 54,000 asylum seekers currently reside in Israel, the vast majority of whom fled from Eritrea and Sudan (92% according to the Interior Ministry’s data). The State is legally required to examine their asylum applications. While their asylum applications are pending, the State is required to presume that they are refugees. In other words, the State may not detain them, nor may it act toward them in any other hostile manner, and they must be granted the opportunity to live and work in a dignified manner. History should have taught us what it means to seek asylum, to flee great danger and encounter impervious indifference, and it admonishes us all against hatred of the stranger. The opening paragraph of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights maintains that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” The Declaration refers to “barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind”, acts that we experienced in the preceding century and that today afflict other victims. Once upon a time, Israel was among the first signatories on the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which defines a ‘refugee’ as a person who ‘owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country […].’ The Convention further stipulates that no State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened. Israel is therefore obliged to conduct refugee status determination processes in good faith and according to due process that meets the standards honoured by democratic nations. It should assess whether or not these asylum seekers are entitled to refugee status or, at least, whether their lives or liberties would be threatened if they were returned to their States of origin. For these reasons, holding them in detention facilities serves no legitimate purpose. It punishes them without just cause, for the sake of deterring others from coming to seek asylum in Israel. This is forbidden.
We therefore join the protest of the asylum seekers: the government’s refusal to assess their applications, the preclusion of their right to live in an honourable manner until their status is determined, and recent detention practices are abusive measures applied to human beings who are entitled to treatment of a very different order altogether.”