African migrants spark debate in Israel (WASHINGTON POST) By Vita Bekker TEL AVIV, ISRAEL 06/13/12)
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TEL AVIV — A shattered refrigerator door and a hand-size hole in the
wall are the only visible reminders of an attack on Helen Bereket’s
store in Tel Aviv last month. But the incident continues to haunt the
23-year-old asylum seeker.
Five Israeli men ransacked Bereket’s corner shop in late May,
following a violent protest against the rise in illegal African
migrants living in the area.
After one of the attackers threw a concrete block at Bereket, she hid
in a bathroom until the men left. She emerged to find broken bottles
and costly Eritrean spices strewn on the floor. The damage was
estimated at $10,300.
“I now get scared whenever I hear people outside my store,” she said.
Human rights activists say a pattern of violence against Africans has
emerged as tensions rise between Israeli locals and African newcomers
who have settled in a working-class area of southern Tel Aviv.
The hostile mood has grown following the arrests of several Africans
on suspicion of rape and fiery warnings by Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu that the influx of migrants will damage Israel’s Jewish
One politician has compared the migrants to “a cancer in our body.” A
poll last week showed that 52 percent of Israeli Jews agree. Israel’s
ultra-Orthodox interior minister claimed that many of the the
migrants are criminals.
Some 60,000 Africans — mostly from Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan —
have crossed illegally into Israel in recent years through the
country’s porous border with Egypt in an attempt to escape poverty,
war or authoritarian governments at home.
The issue has sparked a fierce debate in Israel on how much it owes
to the impoverished migrants — a particularly sensitive matter for a
state born as a haven for refugees from Europe after the Holocaust.
It has also spurred accusations that Israelis are becoming racist and
Yossi Sarid, a former government minister and a prominent left-wing
commentator, said: “Israeli reactions have been a very painful
disappointment. This is a state of refugees, and Israel should be
more forthcoming in recognizing that these people are refugees.”
Analysts said Netanyahu’s warnings on the migrants were aimed at
deflecting attention from his expansion of settlements in occupied
Palestinian territory and from growing public dissatisfaction over
Yossi Alpher, an Israeli political analyst, said, “He is focusing
public frustrations on the Africans when in fact the real danger to
Israel’s Jewish character is his settlement policy, which is
gradually attaching 3.5 million non-Jews to Israel.”
In southern Tel Aviv, residents accuse the newcomers of engaging in
crime, hoarding rubbish on streets and relieving themselves in parks,
playgrounds and back yards.
However, police data contradict claims that Africans’ crime rates are
higher than those of Israelis.
The migrants say they are driven to low-paying illegal work because
Israel refuses to examine their asylum requests or give them rights
that would be given by many other Western countries during the asylum
application process, such as housing aid and job permits.
Israel approved only one asylum application last year out of a total
of 4,603 received, the U.S. State Department said last month.
Israeli officials concede that they do not even review applications
from Eritreans, Sudanese and South Sudanese because those
nationalities have been granted a “collective protection” from
deportation. However, that does not include a work permit or any aid.
Even this protection may be shortlived. An Israeli court last week
cleared the way for the possible expulsion of some 750 South
Sudanese, rejecting a petition by rights groups arguing that South
Sudan was unsafe despite gaining independence last year.
Immigration authorities said Wednesday that they had rounded up
dozens of South Sudanese and were preparing to detain the remainder
and begin deporting them as soon as next week.
In the rundown Tel Aviv neighborhood of Hatikvah, Hebrew for “The
Hope,” locals say they feel insecure because of the Africans.
A 50-year-old secretary, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out
of what she said were concerns for her personal security, showed a
tear-gas pistol that she had bought for herself. “I’m worried my
daughter will be the next rape victim,” she said.
Some blame the government for the troubles. Moshe Ben-David, a 54-
year-old who sells eggs at Hatikvah’s food market, said: “The
government allowed them to enter Israel, so it should also let them
work. That way they won’t steal.”
He added, “I don’t hate them — we Jews were also refugees for 2,000
years.” — Financial Times (© 2010 The Washington Post Company
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