But Regev, Netanyahu’s spokesman, said that Israel had the legal right to regulate entry across its borders. “People who enter Israel illegally are taken to detention centers according to the law,” he said. “And we have the right to prevent people from entering Israel illegally.”
Human Rights Watch, in its statement with the Hotline for Migrant Workers and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, said that Israel was obliged under international law to examine the Africans’ refugee claims and prohibited from returning them to places where their lives or freedom were threatened, or where they risked torture and abuse.
“Building a border fence does not give Israel a right to push back asylum seekers,” said Gerry Simpson, a senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch.
‘Hunger and thirst’
Citing witness accounts, the groups listed several cases since June in which Israeli soldiers had blocked Eritreans and other migrants at the border fence. In some cases soldiers fired warning shots in the air or threw stun grenades and tear gas canisters to repel the Africans, and in others they entered Egyptian territory and detained the migrants before handing them over to Egyptian forces, according to the reports.
In one incident that attracted extensive Israeli media attention, a group of 21 Eritreans that reached the Israeli border fence remained there from Aug. 28 to Sept. 6 under a makeshift cloth shelter in searing desert heat as Israeli troops prevented their entrance. Eventually two women and a teenage boy were allowed in, and the men were turned back.
“The hunger and thirst were terrible. The Israelis fired [tear] gas at us twice, pushed a long metal pole through the fence and tried to push us back,” the boy said in an affidavit taken in the migrant detention center by Omer Shatz, a lawyer for We Are Refugees, an Israeli legal aid group.
On the eighth day, after enabling the women and boy to cross, the soldiers “threw the rest of the men on the cloth sheets and dragged them under the Egyptian border fence,” according to the affidavit. “The men had begged for eight days, and on the eighth day they no longer had the strength to resist. They were exhausted and screamed, ‘Just kill us here.’ ”