A long list of Israeli international jurists contacted Attorney General Avichai Mandelblitv earlier this month, asking him to reconsider the decision to expel Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to a third country.
The jurists claimed in their public missive that the Interior Ministry's protocol, according to which migrants will receive notice of their expulsion to Rwanda, was in contravention of international law.
"The State of Israel must abstain from putting the protocol into practice and place its immigration policy within the confines of international law," the letter said.
The letter was undersigned by 25 prominent international law experts, including Prof. David Kretzmer, Prof. Orna Ben-Naftali, Prof. Eyal Benvenisti, Prof. Yuval Shany, Prof. Tomer Broude, Prof. Frances Raday, Prof. Moshe Hirsch, Prof. Muhammed Wattad, Prof. Yaël Ronen, Prof. Guy Harpaz, Prof. Iris Canor, Dr. Natalie Davidson and Prof. Aeyal Gross.
The legal experts claimed that the expulsion's protocol violated international laws on human rights and refugees, as well as the principle of non-refoulement, according to which a country cannot expel a person to a place where they may be subject to persecution, torture or degrading and inhumane treatment.
The experts assailed Israel's policy on several levels, also maintaining that the state did not properly examine requests for asylum. "Unlike other countries, the Israeli judicial system was in the wrong by not examining and even methodically rejecting almost all asylum requests made by Sudanese and Eritrean nationals," they claimed.
On the question of whether Rwanda indeed constituted a safe country to expel refugees to, the jurists wrote, "We're of the opinion it cannot be claimed Rwanda fits the criteria of a 'safe country' according to the standards set by the attorney general."
It was further claimed the refugees' expulsion was not truly carried out with their consent, while Rwandan authorities stated they will not be receiving migrants deported against their will.
"Detention of unlimited duration on the one hand and expulsion on the other are not alternatives to be selected from," the jurists explained. "Detention of unlimited duration is aimed solely at breaking the detainee's spirit. This constitutes a violation of international law, specifically as it pertains to human rights."
The letter's signatories also took umbrage with the fact the agreements allegedly signed with Rwanda to receive migrants remained confidential. "We are unfamiliar with a single previous precedent anywhere in the world of reaching a clandestine expulsion agreement with a country other than the detainee's country of origin," they said.
"Israel cannot and, moreover, is prohibited from counting on Rwanda in an issue with such far-reaching implications on fundamental rights," they added.
The letter's conclusion said, "The expulsion policy deals with the most basic of rights, with which all people are endowed, including the rights to life and to liberty. It is, therefore, our professional duty to speak up. We hope the Israeli government recants on its intent to illegally expel tens of thousands of people under the aforementioned protocol."
Jurists joined by innumerable Israelis in public, private life
The international experts' missive was preceded by numerous other appeals, with 350 doctors signing a petition saying, "As doctors, we cannot stand idly by when the life, health and spirit of our patients are at risk."
Some 500 academics also signed a petition stating that, "The history of its people obliges the state of Israel to be a paragon in treating children and adults seeking refuse from ethnic cleansing."
A group of rabbis also convened, issuing a statement saying, "As Jews who have suffered the distress of immigration and the suffering of being refugees, we should treat refugees more justly."
In addition, Holocaust survivors said they will hide people selected for expulsion in their homes, while several El Al pilots announced they will not consent to flying expellees to Rwanda.
Lastly, 35 of Israel's preeminent poets and authors called to stop the expulsion as well. "We call on you to act with the morality, humanity and compassion worthy of the Jewish people and to stop the expulsion of refugees to the hell from which they came," they wrote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other MKs.
Migrants protest Immigration Authority's handling of asylum requests
Some 15,400 Sudanese and Eritrean nationals have submitted requests for asylum in Israel, according to the Population and Immigration Authority. The Authority has handled 6,600 requests, of which only 11 were approved.
In fact, many asylum seekers decried the Authority's handling of their requests, accusing it of ignoring their reasoning for remaining in the country or striking them down for odd reasons.
One Eritrean asylum seeker, for instance, said he had escaped his country eight years ago after his army commander demanded he shoot Ethiopians who were trying to cross the border. If he returned to Eritrea, he claimed, he will be thrown into an "underground prison."
The Interior Ministry, however, rejected his requests saying his only offense was disciplinary, and his life was therefore not in jeopardy.
Attorney Elad Kahana, who represents the migrant, said, "A person who disobeyed an order for conscientious reasons, and who went against his country's dictatorial regime, is presented by the Interior Ministry as someone who merely got in trouble with the army over a disciplinary offense and took the law into his own hands by defecting."
Another case involves a migrant who claims he was only 12 when he was forcefully conscripted in the Eritrean army. The migrant then fled his country and was held in "torture camps" in the Sinai Peninsula until he was able to enter Israel. He submitted a request for asylum, but it was denied citing that, "The mere dodging and defection from the Eritrean army do not, in and of themselves, constitutes reason enough to seek political shelter."
Attorney Carmel Pomerantz, who represents him, said, "Under the current situation an Eritrean refugee has an equal chance of winning the lottery as he does being granted asylum in Israel, only the lottery does not demean you, call you a liar or send you to your nebulous fate. People with a similar story are received in the United States, Canada, Sweden and other countries. How come Israel gets all the liars?"
The Population and Immigration Authority noted current policy allows to expel migrants to a third country, rather than their country of origin, and that "requests for asylum are examined on a case by case—rather than a group—basis and anyone with qualms as to the process may appeal it through the proper channels."