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Community shaken after night of arson attacks on African refugees

Four houses and one kindergarten in south Tel Aviv, all serving the African asylum seeker community, were hit  within the same hour by Molotov cocktails. Testimonies from asylum seekers and Israeli neighbors indicate a coordinated pogrom.

Forensics take pictures of unused Molotov cocktails (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Forensic workers take pictures of unused Molotov cocktails (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

“Somebody is trying to get rid of these damn Sudanese,” said an Israeli resident of Shapira neighborhood in south Tel Aviv this morning. The term “Sudanese” is commonly used by Israelis to describe all African asylum seekers. The house adjacent to the house of this Israeli was hit at around 1:30 a.m. by three Molotov cocktails: two were thrown through the window, and one into the entry hall. No one was hurt, as residents and neighbors quickly awoke and extinguished the fire. Another fire bomb was thrown into a neighboring yard, where five asylum seekers sleep outdoors. Furniture was badly burned, but none of the residents were hurt. All of the cases are probably linked, as Mya has noted.

“Whoever did this is right, but he’s doing it the wrong way,” says the neighbor. “This fire almost burned my car, and also – there is a small girl in that house. He should have waited until nobody was home, and then blown the place up to send them a message”.

Asylum seeker looking at burnt couch in south Tel Aviv attack (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Asylum seeker looking at a couch burned in the south Tel Aviv attack (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Shortly after the first two attacks, two more houses were hit in the center of the neighborhood. “My brother and I were sleeping, and we awoke from the sound of the fire – which started right next to my bed,” says Maskala Masgene, an Eritrean asylum seeker. “They opened the window and threw the bottle in through the bars. When I saw it I took the bottle and threw it right out to the street. I couldn’t go back to sleep since. I’m too scared. I understand they were not caught yet, whoever did this. I’ve experienced hate talk on the street before, but nothing like this.”

The apartment next door was the fourth place hit. Here the bottle exploded on the frame of the window. Another Eritrean woman and her four children were sleeping inside, right under the window.

Maskala Mas'gne showing how the Molotov was thrown in her house (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Maskala Masegne speaking about the attack on her home (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

The fifth attack, at around 2:30 a.m., targeted a kindergarten that also serves as a home to the Nigerian couple who runs it. The burned playground equipment was still visible in the morning. “We didn’t wake up from of the fire, but actually from the knocks on the door by the firefighters,” says Balsin Baraka. “They told us to stay inside, and now the children are coming and have no games to play with outside. I have no idea who could have done this but it’s terrifying.”

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai condemned the crimes. Acknowledging the hardships suffered by the Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv as a result of the refugee influx, he said in a statement that “the Tel Aviv municipality is investing many resources in order to make life easier for the residents, and I call on the Israel Police to do everything to catch whoever is behind this horrible act.”

All five locations were visited by police forces, who also located unused Molotov cocktails. Police say that they have not yet identified suspects in the attacks.

The burnt kindergarten (Yotam Ronen / Activestills)

The burned kindergarten (Yotam Ronen / Activestills)

While refugees are uncertain about the identity of the attackers, Israeli residents of Shapira are all very certain that this was a racial attack. In addition to the neighbor interviewed above, several other neighborhood activists said that this is a culmination of a dangerous process that’s been going on for quite some time. “There is racist propaganda that comes down from the government, through members of the Municipal Council, and to the street – and this is the result,” accuses Nir Nader, a resident who is planning a solidarity vigil later on today. “People preaching violence should be in prison, and if the state doesn’t stop them – we shall.”

Asylum seeker at the site of fire bomb attack in south Tel Aviv (Activestills)

Asylum seeker at the site of fire bomb attack in south Tel Aviv (Activestills)

On Friday afternoon, a demonstration against violence and in solidarity with the asylum seekers took place in the impoverished Shapira neighborhood of south Tel Aviv, where much of the refugee population is concentrated. As asylum seeker bystanders looked on from the side, screaming matches erupted between refugee advocates potesting against violent racism, and angry residents blaming the protesters for turning their backs on their fellow citizens.

“These anti-Israeli leftist anarchists came here to make a mess. You don’t even live here!” one woman from Shapira yelled, although many of the demonstrators were locals. “Go demonstrate in north Tel Aviv! Why do we have to accept all of them in Shapira? Why not in north Tel Aviv or Herzliya?” said another, referring to wealthier areas in which refugees are less likely to live.

As the exchanges grew more heated – with some Shapira residents tearing signs from the hands of protesters – police separated the residents and the demonstrators behind barricades, on separate sides of the street. One demonstrator was arrested.

In recent years, conflicts often break out between lower class Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv and activists in refugee rights’ groups. Calls to “send the refugees to north Tel Aviv” are commonly heard, charging the upper class with hypocrisy  for their purported lip service to liberalism while the poorest sectors of society must deal with the difficulties of absorbing refugee communities. Over the years, left wingers and NGO activists have started to incorporate the hardships of those residents into their agendas. Activists now tend to emphasize how better treatment of refugees by the government would also ease the pressure on locals.

Demonstration in Shapira. "Violence, racism, nationalism - not in our neighborhood!" (Oren Zvi / Activstills)

Demonstration in Shapira. "Violence, racism, nationalism - not in our neighborhood!" (Oren Ziv / Activstills)

Noa Yachot contributed reporting to this post. 

Read also:

Molotov cocktails take aim at refugee community

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    1. I live in this neighborhood. In the night of Independence Day I went out to the midrahov Neve Sha’anan at about 1am. There I witnessed a police van full of Magav randomly pull up at Bnei Barak road, and MAGAV officers jump out and begin harassing someone. An officer was yelling at the individual they held in Arabic very loudly and with hate. Then, the van pulled to the end of the midrahov along with four other vehicles. Then a unit of ten armed Magav rolled out in a formation, led by one blue uniform officer and one all-black outfitted individual. They literally began to cleanse the street, going from alley and doorway to doorway, entering systematically, but without warrant. They kicked people out of residences and gathering places. Then they would march two by two swinging their clubs and yelling at people to go home. Note, they told Africans standing next to me to get out, but said nothing to me (white). A magavnik pulled a taser on one man and I heard it shoot and click, as well as witnessing the strobing red light that flashed as he did it. The streets cleared quickly. They continued to storm in buildings. 11 at a time with a female officer guarding outside.

      I have only seen this before in the West Bank where I have lived before. It was not unlike Hebron day-to-day or Ramallah during an invasion. This was all in Independence day, which is typified by celebrations because of a day off of work. Another person was witness to this with me and we sat watching with only one parallel image in mind. I’m sorry to say it’s an image of Germans as much as I hate the comparison.

      This is the ghetto and the police oppress like the ghetto and now the Lieberman Youth are taking price tags here too. Do we not have the right to arm ourselves against these terrorists? Why are leftists arrested for reading names, while an area the police totally control allows Jews to make bomb attacks? This would be national furor in the USA, like travyon. What we are likely to get is continued oppression. I never thought leaving the West Bank for Tel Aviv I would find the exact same racism and state sponsored complicity in violence. It now seems clear, nationalist racism is the leading product of Zionism, in word and in deed.

      Reply to Comment
    2. The police and Magav who control this area are complicit, if not in cooperation. They own the neighborhood do much, one might even consider they did this act to justify further control. In either case, facilitating terror attacks amounts to a serious offense. I do not consider this acceptable. Remove problematic police and Magav units, or they should be considered terrorists as well – point.

      Reply to Comment
    3. sh

      “I never thought leaving the West Bank for Tel Aviv I would find the exact same racism and state sponsored complicity in violence.”
      The whole point with these “exceptional behaviors”, supposedly limited to outlying places only, is that they come home to roost. The Pastor Niemoeller syndrome. This incident, combined with the one against Zochrot the evening before for wanting to read out names of places even Tel Avivians are not disposed to remember, plus the pronouncements against the alternative memorial to the fallen of Naomi Enoch, chairperson of the state-owned TA port at which it took place the evening before that, has pulled the lid off the complicity cauldron.
      Lieberman Youth. You’ve named them Woody; they must be shamed.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Jack

      Racism and terror against minorities…
      Israel having a hard time living up to being the self-proclaimed democracy it say it is.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Yeah

      They don’t belong in Israel. This is what is going to happen more & more until the Government removes them from the country.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Anto Golem

      Israel has never been a democracy, that’s an illusion that’s slowly wearing off.

      Reply to Comment
    7. aristeides

      “Jews don’t belong in (name of country.) Pogroms are what is going to happen more & more until the Government removes them from the country.”

      I think there’s a word for Yeah’s kind of thinking.

      Reply to Comment
    8. caden

      I think that the Mossad should equip these people with all the documentation that they need and send them on to Europe. Malmo Sweden would be my choice. Or London. Ken Livingstones district.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Perhaps it is time for the Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid Newsletter (http://frlan.tumblr.com)to add a column for HOST Country Conditions for Refugees. In most countries of the ‘global south’, refugees so not enjoy their basic human rights, e.g. right to work. One does not, however, expect ‘pogroms’ against them in democracies but horrific events that risk even the right to live, like this reported from Israel, are becoming too common.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Mordechai Ben Yosef

      Caden, Anto Golem and Yeah clarify the choice. Preserve the “Jewish State” and destroy Judaism or vice versa.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Apa

      ‘“Whoever did this is right, but he’s doing it the wrong way,” says the neighbor. “This fire almost burned my car, and also – there is a small girl in that house. He should have waited until nobody was home, and then blown the place up to send them a message”.’

      Name and shame! What is the name of the neighbor. If he wants to say things like that, he should be named! He is arguing FOR terror attacks.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Jack

      You mean forced ethnic cleansing? Like Soviet, Germany, Yugoslavia?
      Whats your beef with blacks? Arent people worth equal to you?

      Reply to Comment
    13. arielle berkowitz

      It’s so unfair that people living in their homes day to day are attacked, raped, mugged and can’t go to the store to buy groceries without being scared of these refugees. I’m sorry that you people feel like the refugees are the poor unfortunate ones, but they make life completely unbearable for the jews who live in the area.
      In america this happens every day in areas where there are known refugees from mexico, and I think that everyone should know is that if Egyptians catch them in the desert on the way to Israel, they kill them. So the police get a little tough sometimes. It’s part of organized law in the whole world and all you people who are so anti israel and have to stop condemning.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Judah

      Arielle, thanks for embodying the charity of Torah. Pray tell, how many are mugged? Raped ? Do you know any personally ? What are your obviously thuggish policemen doing about it ?

      I suppose firebombing minority homes in return is an apt response, right ? I suppose Shabbat is now a day of rest, a sanctimonius prelude to more violence, right ? An eye for an eye ? Wow. Working wonderfully isn’t it? ..

      Reply to Comment
    15. Marcy Fleming

      As an Irish-American Jew (Mom’s side) who lived in Tel Aviv for two years it’s distressing to read this. I have known many Ethiopians here in San Francisco and on the whole they are far more law abiding than most Blacks here in SF and in Oakland (the crime capital of California).
      I don’t enough about the Sudanese to have a view.
      But I do know the American Jewish community is seeing through the facade of Israeli ‘democracy’as Israel’s well known anti-Arab racism gets more evident every day.
      And all you Jewish Archie Bunkers are simply bigots. Bigots. Period.

      Reply to Comment
    16. anna

      What’s really disturbing -even more than the criminal acts themself, if that’s possible- is how time and time again, there seem to be presumably “average, regular” people who come out in defense of this madness and actually try to justify them. Amazing -in a frightening way. I’ll be reading something that (to me) seems completely and unquestionably unacceptable and unconscionable, asking myself what kind of disturbed punks commit these things. And I’m still just as shocked every time people inevitably start to justify the violence and unashamedly go on to support that kind of anti-social, racist and hateful attitude. And I’m sorry if it angers some of you to be held to higher standards than this kind of racist thuggery but HELLO?!? its especially sickening when its coming from a group of people who not only come from a society that is defined by a fear of this very same hate being directed at them, of being victims of it themselves but also has experienced it. Isn’t the very reason for Israel’s existence to provide a country where all Jews can be safe from persecution and violence they have been victims of in other parts of the world at different times and for the many who found themselves without a place to go to? And that is somehow in line with treating others who find themselves fleeing from their homeland in this despicable manner? Shame on you.

      And I don’t care what they do in Egypt, this isn’t about Egypt – its about Israel! A country that claims to be democratic, tolerant, open and humane, so stop trying to deflect the attention by comparing yourself to a country that is NOT democratic, open or humane and that has never claimed to be either!

      Reply to Comment
    17. Binyam

      How could a horrific historical incident like the Holocaust fail to teach these idiot Israelis to be tolerant and respect immigrants? He who fails to learn from history is condemned to repeat it…

      Reply to Comment
    18. tecle

      realy realy sad and inhumane!

      Reply to Comment
    19. Athens, May 11, 2012
      Dear Friends,
      Israel is a small state with limited financial possibilities and with many internal and sectarian problems, depending of continuous external aid.
      Because of western oil interests, after the deportation of jewish religious omology europeans, Israel is established as a “jewish” state, based on the myths of the tora (bible) and other “jewish” texts. Not all jewish religious omology persons immigrated to Israel were decedents of those left Judea and Samaria at the postroman period, many proselytes to “judaism” immigrated as well.
      To this “jewish” “repopulation” of Palestine, accomplices are all the today’s partners, ex enemies after falling to expropiate the russian oil, the “allies” in S.Russia and the “ennemies(?)” in Caucasus, during and after the I W.W. Russians and today’s partners allways tried to penetrate to the Middle East, under any pretext centuries ago. Israel has an excellent geostrategic position.
      The conditions of the “depostration” are well known, and I concider not necessary to remind it.
      Now days jewish religious omology Israelis are not the majority, and the jewish character of the state, except the oficial hollydays, is under reconcideration.
      The state still theocratic, no constitution and civil code was enacted until the year 2006,
      when I left the country, after living there four years. Drowing of a civil code was under process.
      In now days Israel are living people like in any other country religious, indifferent etc.
      and life is very hard for all.
      Amongst them are many open minded and really educated persons, but are also people with very different vision, even nazis (see taday’s Economist).
      Immigration now days is not economicaly affordable. Israeli army and police are doing their “job” as in any other country, the applied methods are more or less the same everywhere.
      Yianni Stasinos

      Reply to Comment
    20. Ausie

      I’ve read reports that the crime rate of the Africans in Israel is lower than the Jewish one. Judging by the protestors this is nothing except racism disguised through misinformation.

      I’ve heard alot of negative things about jews and always stuck up for them. Really didn’t think Jews were like this…

      The world isn’t like it was in the past, lots of things are recorded, do the Jewish people think this will help them in the eyes of everybody else?

      Reply to Comment
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