Interior Minister Gideon Saar
Interior Minister Gideon SaarFlash 90

The Knesset approved on Monday evening the first reading of the law to prevent infiltration of illegal immigrants, presented by Interior Minister Gideon Saar (Likud-Yisrael Beytenu).

The purpose of the law is to prevent the entry of illegal infiltrators into Israel's borders and add tools to deal with the phenomenon of the illegal infiltrators already residing in Israel.

The law, which was approved by the Cabinet last week, would allow police to jail illegal migrants for up to 12 months in special detention facilities.

The new law follows the cancellation of a previous law that allowed illegal migrants to be held for up to three years. That law was overturned by the High Court as unconstitutional. It is estimated the new law will cost 500,000 shekels ($140,000) to implement.

During the debate that preceded the vote, Minister Saar said that according to official United Nations estimates, there are more than 30 million Africans across the continent who are looking for a country to emigrate to.

"The equation is simple and brutal - If Israel becomes the liberal indicator in the West on dealing with illegal infiltrators - it will bring about the loss of the only Jewish state,” he declared.

“The onus is on us,” added Saar. “The responsibility does not lay on the human rights organizations. It also does not lay on the court. The responsibility to protect the borders of the state, its nature and its future lays on the elected government.”

Illegal entry to Israel from Africa has dropped by 99% since early 2012. In that time, Israel built a security barrier along its border with Egypt. In addition, the Sinai Peninsula, through which Bedouin smugglers brought citizens of various African and other countries to Israel, became the scene of a bloody ongoing battle between the Egyptian military and local crime gangs and terrorist groups.

Illegal entrants continue to enter Israel from Palestinian Authority-controlled regions of Judea and Samaria, and the government has also struggled to deal with the problem of foreign workers who overstay their visas.

As expected, the law was slammed by leftist MKs. Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon slammed the law as “an obscene law of which we should be ashamed” and said it was a “disgrace to the Knesset.” She also claimed that placing illegal aliens in special detention facilities stands in contrast to a High Court ruling which said that a person cannot be imprisoned without trial.

Responding to Galon’s remarks, Minister Saar said, “The statements made by the representatives of the opposition are nothing but a beautification of the problem and ignoring the harsh conditions under which infiltrators currently live. We will prioritize those infiltrators who have criminal records and who have no right to move freely around the cities of Israel."

He added, “You insist on leaving the State of Israel naked. We insist on protecting the State of Israel and we will succeed.”

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) also slammed the law, saying, “What have we come down to? This country was founded by people who fled anti-Semitism. Where is the commandment, 'What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor?’ You cannot deport refugees to Sudan and Eritrea.”

MK Galon was ejected from the plenum during the debate, after she interrupted MK Yariv Levin (Likud-Yisrael Beytenu).