Israeli officials announced that they plan to begin deporting thousands of Africans who have slipped over the border through Egypt.
The Africans began trickling into Israel in 2005, after Egypt violently quashed a demonstration by Sudanese refugees, in which at least 27 were killed. The number of new arrivals has surged in recent months as word spread of safety and job opportunities in Israel.
The result is that Israel is torn between a sense of duty to help people who are fleeing persecution and the surging influx of illegal immigrants.
According to Israeli officials, more than 7,000 Africans have entered the country illegally in just over a year, including more than 2,000 this year alone, according to Michael Bavly, a representative in Israel of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The majority are from Eritrea and Sudan.
As the Africans arrived in Israel, the country provided shelter and arranged menial jobs in hotels and on kibbutz collective farms. The country recently granted temporary residency status to 600 refugees from Darfur, and gave work permits to about 2,000 others from Eritrea whose lives would be endangered if sent home.
But Israel has pledged that the rest will be deported. Officials said the Africans are in the country purely for economic opportunities.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert directed authorities to expel 4,500 Africans, including people from the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Nigeria, by the end of the week.