Thursday, May 24, 2012

Vicious mob attack on African migrants in south Tel Aviv

Last night, in Tel Aviv, a protest against African migrants to Israel turned from a demonstration into a murderous riot targeting the migrants and anyone else the mob saw as an enemy. The migrants have come from countries like Sudan and Eritrea - some as asylum seekers (especially people from Darfur), others seeking work that they can't get in their desperately poor homelands. They've been coming for the last decade, and there are now about 60,000 of them living in Israel. They come over the Egyptian border, smuggled in by Bedouin gangs that they pay to get them over the border (the gangs sometimes imprison and torture them in order to get their relatives back home to pay more money for the smuggling).

Once they get into Israel, they are taken to temporary detention facilities in the Negev, registered, released, and taken into buses to central Israel, where they go to poor neighborhoods that already house thousands of refugees. The government doesn't give them work permits, nor does it do anything to support them. Small human rights organizations do their best to take care of them, as do groups organized by previous migrants to help their fellow countrymen. The neighborhoods they live in, like the Hatikva and Shapira neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv, were already poor and badly served by the government, and the government has done nothing to help the migrants integrate with the residents - it has provided no new resources whatsoever for either the veteran residents or the migrants. The situation has been boiling over in the last couple of months - a child care center for the children of the African migrants was firebombed, and there have been other attacks on the migrants. Last night was when the anger broke out into open, murderous violence that would have ended in someone's death if the police had not been on the scene.

The demonstrators were incited by members of Knesset who made xenophobic and dehumanizing statements about the migrants. Miri Regev, a Likud member of Knesset, said that "the Sudanese are a cancer in our body." Danny Danon, another member of Knesset from Likud said, "For this terrible situation that was created here, for this situation in which entire neighborhoods have turned into refugee camps, there is only one solution, and we must talk about it, and it's forbidden to be ashamed: We must expel the infiltrators from Israel, deportation now!" Another member of Knesset, from the National Union party, Michael Ben Ari, said to the demonstrators: “There are rapists and harassers here. The time for talk is over." And indeed, soon after he spoke, the demonstration turned into a riot.

From today's article in Ma'ariv by Yuval Goren (my translation):
Things began to heat up a short time after Knesset member Michael Ben Ari (National Union) began to speak. The crowd cried out after him - "Sudanese to Sudan!" The disturbances, whose like has not been seen in the neighborhood for a long time, started, however, in another place: during his (Ben Ari's) speech, one of the residents of the neighborhood attacked members of the social protest who were demonstrating close to the residents' protest, and said to the enraged crowd that these demonstrators were the same people who brought petitions to the High Court of Justice against the expulsion (of the migrants) and supported the organizations who helped the foreigners. 
Less than five minutes after that one of the demonstrators recognized a leftist activist who stood close to the group of demonstrators, and she began to shriek at him and to blame him for "throwing rocks at soldiers." In seconds, tens of young people surrounded the activist and a journalist who stood next to him [a writer for Haaretz named Ilan Lior, who also wrote about his experience], and they began to hit them. Hundreds of the demonstrators who saw the uproar began to run to the place where it was happening and after that the youth marched quickly to the Haganah bridge, where they called to their friends to come to the central bus station. "Deport them now!" they yelled. [The neighborhood of the old central bus station in Tel Aviv is the center of life for foreign workers and migrants, legal and illegal]. 
A police force that had apparently prepared beforehand for the possibility of disturbances did not succeed in quickly preventing the demonstrators from advancing, close to the train stop on the Haganah bridge. At that same time hundreds of youth from the neighborhood stood on the road. All of sudden, one of them saw that two young men with dark skin were sitting in one of the cars that was stopped and waiting for the traffic to resume - men who were apparently foreign workers. 
For the hundreds of aroused and angry young people there was no need for anything else. Within minutes they took apart the car around the people sitting in it (there's no other way to describe this).  Some of them smashed the windows with their hands and with rocks, while others kicked at the car, bent the plastic, and tried to attack the passengers. "I am not from Sudan, I am not from Sudan!" the driver tried to tell the attackers, but no one at this stage even paid attention.
This was only the beginning. Hundreds of young people made their way back to the neighborhood, and began to survey the stores belonging to the migrants and asylum seekers. There are not a few of them on Etzel Street. Close to a branch of Avazi [a restaurant], on Etzel Street at the corner of Avital, the young people found a store of Eritreans. They broke the display windows and made names for themselves [I this means they looted the store]. The streets of the neighborhood, that on other nights had been deserted because of fear, were suddenly filled with hundreds of residents, young people as well as older ones, who struggled with the (regular) police and the Border Police. 
According to the owners of the shop products were stolen from it. The rioters broke the glass on the refrigerators, turned them over and scattered much the contents on the floor - all in front of the owners of the store and their friends, who were left helpless and hoped that they themselves would not be injured. "I don't understand why they did this to us," one of the store's owners said. "I don't understand what I did, why anyone would have a problem with me." Despite the difficult experience, the same man said that he was not afraid, as his friends also said. "This looks to me like war, and if someone causes me trouble, I'll give him trouble in return," said one of them, only 15 years old. "We are not afraid because we've already seen everything, we've seen Christians, we've seen Arabs, we've seen Bedouin, my enter back is full of scars, this is not what frightens us."
Next to the entrance to one of the alleys in the shuk, when groups of young people passed in front of us running wild, I encountered Oved Hugi, who has worked for thirty years for the improvement of the neighborhood. Only yesterday he had warned me that the frustrated young people were likely to take the law into their own hands. "See, tonight you have the evidence," he said to me. "And what happened tonight is only the beginning, from here this only goes downhill, because people are fed up, and to my regret the state only understands violence, and now the young people also understand this."
For other reports, see Ilan Lior's own personal account:  How a Tel Aviv anti-migrant protest spiraled out of control. Mark Tracy of Tablet has a good summing up. An African migrant named Adam Ibrahim writes his own story in Haaretz.

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