Jonathan Cook writes: The wheel is turning full circle. Last week the Israeli parliament updated a 59-year-old law originally intended to prevent hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from returning to the land from which they had been expelled as Israel was established.
The purpose of the draconian 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law was to lock up any Palestinian who managed to slip past the snipers guarding the new state’s borders. Israel believed only savage punishment and deterrence could ensure it maintained the overwhelming Jewish majority it had recently created through a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Fast-forward six decades and Israel is relying on the infiltration law again, this time to prevent a supposedly new threat to its existence: the arrival each year of several thousand desperate African asylum seekers.
As it did with the Palestinians many years ago, Israel has criminalised these new refugees – in their case, for fleeing persecution, war or economic collapse. Whole families can now be locked up, without a trial, for three years while a deportation order is sought and enforced, and Israelis who offer them assistance risk jail sentences of up to 15 years.
Israel’s intention is apparently to put as many of these refugees behind bars as possible, and dissuade others from following in their footsteps.
To cope, officials have approved the building of an enormous detention camp, operated by Israel’s prison service, to contain 10,000 of these unwelcome arrivals. That will make it the largest holding facility of its kind in the world – according to Amnesty International, it will be three times bigger than the next largest, in the much more populous Texas.