What’s going on between Israelis (including Israeli Arabs) and African refugees, and the prospects for more vigilante violence.
Here’s my suggestion for preventing more vigilante riots like last night’s in South Tel Aviv’s Hatikva Quarter. One, put lots and lots of older, cooler-headed cops and soldiers on the southside, and in Eilat, Arad and every other place where there are large concentrations of African refugees. The main purpose is to deter further attacks on them, the other is to cool the locals’ grotesquely inflated – though not entirely imagined – fear of getting murdered, raped or mugged by them.
Two, the refugee population in south Tel Aviv and Eilat has to be drastically thinned out and relocated throughout the country, to cities, towns, kibbutzim and moshavim, whether the Africans or Israelis at large like it or not. We cannot “dump” this problem on South Tel Aviv and other poor communities; it’s unjust to the Israeli residents there and dangerous as hell for the refugees.
After being relocated, the Africans have to be allowed to work, or at least be given food, shelter, clothing and health care so they can live.
The big flaw in my plan, though, is that it would not stop the influx of Eritreans, Sudanese and other Africans coming across the border from Sinai, an influx that now stands at 2,000 to 3,000 people a month. In fact, it would probably increase their numbers (though the border fence, supposed to be completed by the end of the year, should reduce them). At some point, Israel would have to decide whether to let the refugees remain where they are, or start building many, many refugee camps in which to hold them. (Currently, there are some 60,000 African refugees in the country.)
By rights as well as by international agreements that Israel has signed, deportation is not an option. These people’s health, safety and very lives would be in danger if they were sent back to Eritrea and Sudan, if not because of the monstrous violence, humanitarian and human rights conditions for everyone there, then because they “deserted” their homeland and went, of all places, to Israel. Until now, no other country has agreed to take more than a tiny handful of them, even for money; other countries have their own refugees, why should they take Israel’s?
So that’s my plan. Of course, it would never be adopted because Israeli cities, towns, kibbutzim and moshavim would not agree to take in thousands or even hundreds of Africans. And it’s not necessarily because they’re Zionists or racists. On Sunday, Haaretz ran a story about the Israeli Arab village of Kafr Manda, which welcomed the entry of Sudanese refugees when they numbered a few dozen, but which feels overwhelmed now that there are hundreds of them.
“I know people are starting to look at us suspiciously and that bothers me. I see young women walking down the street who, when they see one of us, they run away, and that’s hard. We didn’t come here looking for problems, but to make a living and get away from worse conditions,” Ismail says.
Sheikh Mohammed Nimr, the imam of the Ashuhada mosque on the eastern edge of Kafr Manda, where many of the Sudanese men come to pray, is concerned. “When they first came here and found work, we welcomed them. After all these are people who suffered persecution and are looking for shelter and we as Palestinian Arabs and Muslims view it as our moral duty to help them.” But Nimr says concern over their numbers is growing. “What started out as a few dozen is now many hundreds,” he says.
Nimr said religious and community leaders called a meeting in the mosque where they explained to the refugees “that we would not tolerate social problems or God forbid behavior that does not conform to our values as Arabs and Muslims. Nimr said, “No doubt the issue now requires the central government to step in.”
The main problem with such large numbers of African refugees being concentrated in South Tel Aviv, or Kafr Manda, is not the threat of violent crime, including rape, although, as I’ve written, this was pretty likely to arise because of where they come from, what they’ve been through and what they’re going through now.
No, the real problem for the communities where they’ve settled is that they are black, male, young, poor and on the streets in large numbers. The sight of them scares the hell out of people. Their presence would be scary in a residential black community, too; in a non-black residential community, they appear all the more alien and threatening.
“I don’t want to even see them,” a woman in Hatikva told me after an angry, loud, racist (though at least non-violent) anti-refugee rally there about a year ago. Of everything I’ve heard from people in the neighborhood, that remark seems to be the bottom line.
So the idea, very popular among progressives (and police) to let the refugees work since that would bring down their crime rate, however high or low it may be, is beside the point. Even if every single African refugee in South Tel Aviv, Eilat and everywhere else they’re concentrated were perfectly law-abiding, they would still be widely feared and loathed. They are a large, alien-looking, suspicion-arousing presence in residential, family neighborhoods.
For at least a year, people have been using the term “time bomb” to describe this situation. Last night, the time bomb went off. For refugees and Israelis, we all have a real, serious, dangerous problem on our hands, and I don’t see any decent, humane solution that has a chance of being adopted. Meanwhile, I don’t think I’m alone in expecting the vigilante violence to get worse.
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How I survived a Tel Aviv mob attack
Africans attacked in Tel Aviv protest; MKs: ‘infiltrators’ are cancer
Using rape to justify racism