January 5, 2011
When Africa Comes to Israel
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The Interior Ministry has also begun stripping refugees of their work permits, and the government’s plan is that once the detention camp is built, Israeli employers will be induced to fire them with the threat of heavy fines.
The question is whether all these high-profile measures will stop the “flood.” In November, Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s largest newspaper, reported on the murder, torture, rape, beating, starvation and other atrocities that large numbers of Eritrean refugees face from Bedouin guides while being transported through Sinai. The Eritreans pay $3,000 each to travel in ship containers through the Suez Canal to Sinai, then they are tortured so their families will send the guides more money, according to the report. Reportedly, many refugees are killed by the Bedouins. Since the migration through Sinai began in 2005, many others have been killed or captured by Egyptian border guards, Yediot Aharonot reported.
“There were 33 of us who came through Sinai, and only seven of us reached the border,” a former Eritrean political activist named Arefaine Tefazion, who made the trek in July 2007 and now lives in Bnei Brak, told The Journal. “All the rest were killed, or caught, or they just dropped and died on the way.”
“This country doesn’t understand the kind of abuse it will have to dish out for the Eritreans and Sudanese to decide it’s better to stay where they are. I don’t think Israel is prepared to sink that low,” said Rozen of the Hotline for Migrant Workers.
Rozen said she sees no way to stop the influx. “There will be an average of some hundreds of refugees a month coming to Israel,” she said, “and if we want to look at ourselves in the mirror and be part of the family of nations, we’re going to have to deal with them as human beings.”
The influx of African refugees comes in addition to the estimated 150,000 foreign residents working in Israel illegally. They came here on work or tourist visas from the Philippines, Thailand, China, India, Nigeria, Nepal and other poor countries, and then remained because of the relatively high salaries here. These are not humanitarian cases; they come to Israel for work, not refuge. In the last year and a half of aggressive enforcement by the “Oz Unit” of the Population and Immigration Authority, about 3,000 illegal foreign workers have been deported. Typically, they’re held in prison for a matter of days before being put on a plane home, said Sabine Hadad, spokeswoman for the authority.
For African refugees, as for all illegal foreign workers, the nation’s true capital is Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station and its surrounding streets; over the last 20 years, the area has become an international enclave. A little farther out lie the neighborhoods of Hatikva, Shapira and Kiryat Shalom — old, poor and populated mainly by right-wing, religious Sephardim and right-wing secular Russian immigrants who, in general, don’t like the illegal foreign workers, but fear and hate the refugees.
At a meeting of Hatikva’s “neighborhood committee” in midsummer, the Africans weren’t referred to as “kushim,” a Hebrew word often used as a pejorative toward blacks. The Sudanese and Eritreans were described, rather, as murderers, thugs, thieves, drunks, drug dealers, gangsters, job-stealers, Christian interlopers and Muslim subversives bent on marrying South Tel Aviv’s Jewish girls.
“It’s all kushim outside my window; they’ve turned the place into Harlem,” one man said, and the voices of others echoed his concern. “I get on the bus at 4 in the afternoon and I’m afraid for my life. It’s 99 percent kushim on the bus,” a woman said.
“People are afraid to send their children to school, the old people are afraid when they see them in the alleys.”
“Pretty soon there’s going to be more of them than us.”
“They’ve taken over. We’ve lost the State of Israel.”
The neighborhood committee’s monthly discussion meeting was led by Shlomo Maslawi, a Tel Aviv city councilman from Hatikva. He derided the “bleeding hearts” who urge compassion for the Africans. “They tell us they’re poor, they’re refugees — but they’re not refugees, they’re infiltrators, they’re in this country illegally,” said Maslawi, a tall, quietly imposing presence. “They compare them to the Jews of the Holocaust, but where’s the comparison? These people are murderers!”
Yet only one refugee has been charged for a murder of an Israeli, which took place early this year in Hatikva, according to Tel Aviv police. There have been some cases of refugees assaulting prostitutes, according to Tamar Schwartz, director of Mesila, the Tel Aviv Municipality’s aid agency for foreigner residents near the central bus station. Otherwise, crimes by African refugees have tended overwhelmingly to be committed against other African refugees, often growing out of drunken street fights or domestic quarrels, Schwartz said. Five “refugee-on-refugee” murders have taken place this year, said Tel Aviv police report.