© AFP /Oren Ziv
African illegal immigrants take part in a protest march on the highway near Lahav junction in southern Israel on their way to Jerusalem on December 16, 2013 after they fled a detention centre in the south where they were being held.
Two situations capture the moral imagination as Christmas holidays approach: the plight of undocumented migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa who are living in Israel, and the even direr humanitarian emergency in the Gaza Strip.
Reports about illegal immigrants from Eritrea, Sudan and other African countries who have entered Israel in recent years, seeking asylum and refugee status, being sent to a "de facto jail"
raise questions about how a modern and progressive state can deprive people of liberty without charge or any specified release date.
So far, Israel has taken the position (which seems generally accurate) that these African migrants, of which there are some 55,000, are not entitled to refugee status because their motivation was economic, and that there is no evidence that they face persecution. Unfortunately, governments have virtually unlimited authority to make such a determination without any right of the immigrant to mount a legal challenge - beyond what may be granted in the domestic legal system. International law is vague and unsatisfactory, although the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees does confirm the rule that no one can be forcibly deported to their country of nationality if they face the prospect of persecution upon return as a result of their race, religion or political views.
The issue has recently surfaced in an ugly form as right-wing extremists in Israel have demanded that the government take stronger measures to prevent future entry and to detain and deport those who are currently present. They argue that such immigrants pose security problems by engaging in crime and they also dilute the Jewish character