As he cleans up debris from the floor of his looted bar on Etsel Street in south
Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood, Amin, an Eritrean migrant, holds up two
Just a few hours ago on Wednesday night, rioters hurled those
bricks through the plate-glass door of Amin’s bar, a cozy and popular local
venue patronized by members of the Eritrean migrant community.
smashing down the door, the rioters looted the bar, stealing money and bottles,
“They just smashed the place up.
everything. Why? What for? What have we done to them?” said Amin, who didn’t
look angry – just sad, tired and worried.
Amin said he spent all of
Thursday morning trying to clean up the smashed glass and debris left on the
floor after the looters left the tiny bar.
“This was the best bar in the
area, and now it’s wrecked,” he added. “It was a lucrative business, and now
maybe it’s lost.”
Amin is one of several Eritrean small-business owners
whose tiny stores and bars were smashed and looted after Wednesday’s south Tel
Aviv anti-African migrant rally turned into a riot.
Police arrested a
total of 17 people during and after the protest for rioting, attempted assault,
possession of knives and looting store fronts.
Amin said he closed his
bar hours earlier than usual on Wednesday when he learned about the planned
demonstration, because he wanted to avoid trouble. Instead, he got a telephone
call in the middle of the night from a neighbor, who told him his bar had been
Wednesday’s looting is not the first time Amin has
experienced violence since he opened the bar – a tiny, cozy place with pictures
of Eritrea on the walls – a few months ago.
He described how a gang of
Israeli teenagers burst into the bar two months ago, and then beat him and
smashed bottles when he said they were underage and refused to serve them. Amin
said he called the police, who photographed his bloody face and said they would
try to catch the perpetrators. Since then, he hasn’t heard anything
On other occasions, he said, people have punched him as he walked
down the street.
Amin said he runs his business exactly according to the
law, and trusts in the law.
“This is a democratic country.
are laws here. People should obey those laws. But these rioters, they broke the
law, they don’t even care about it,” he emphasized, shaking his head in
Hatikva’s African migrant community is scared, he
“It’s hard to be here; you have to worry all the time,” said
A few meters from Amin’s bar, on Hagana Street, is a tiny Eritrean
Internet cafe that also sells phone cards and displays community announcements –
a wedding, the birth of a son, a computer course. The cafe’s young female owner,
Natsnet, admits she is afraid to walk on the streets at night.
usually closes up the cafe at midnight, but said that on Wednesday night she
closed early, at 5 p.m., meaning to go home and avoid the violence.
anyway people came to my house with bottles and tried to smash windows,” she
Natsnet said she has not heard any rumors that local Israelis are
afraid of African migrants.
“But why should they be afraid of us?” she
asked, wrinkling her nose in disbelief. “What have we done to them to make
anyone afraid?” For Siyun, a young Eritrean man whose tiny grocery store on
Hodaya Street in the Hatikva market was also smashed and looted Wednesday night,
it was almost business as usual on Thursday.
Siyun cleaned up the smashed
glass and opened his store, but admitted he was shaken and shocked by Wednesday
The 29-year-old described how he had been inside the
store with his infant son when the rioters forced their way inside.
I saw the rioters coming toward the store, when I saw the balagan [chaos], I ran
to close the metal shutters, but they smashed their way in anyway,” he said in
Siyun said the rioters hit him on the head, terrifying his son,
who was still traumatized by the incident.
“Then they smashed everything
up,” he said. “They opened the fridge, they took everything out, they smashed it
Siyun added that the damage will cost him a lot of money, maybe
even destroy his business.
Amin said that he has been in Israel for five
years, and “in all that time, I’ve never seen anything like this here before,”
he added, shaking his head.
“We don’t know what to do, whether the
international community can help us, whether the Israeli police will look after
us, or what.”
As Siyun described the rioting, a local man passing by the
store stopped in to say that there would likely not be any more violence
“But you should watch it. Keep your eyes open,” the man warned
Siyun before leaving.
As the man left, an Eritrean woman stopped by to
make a purchase and admitted that the violence has left her scared. She has
children in a local kindergarten run by and for Eritrean refugees, she said, but
took them out early because she was afraid they would be hurt.
Siyun added that while he usually closes his store at 9 p.m., on Thursday night
he plans to close at 5 p.m.
“We’re frightened,” he
Mahari, another Eritrean storeowner on Hodaya Street, said the
violence frightened him because until Wednesday night he had believed he was
safe in Israel.
“You know we experienced so many violations of our human
rights on our journey from Eritrea,” he said.
“We felt so much fear. And
now? Now that fear is back.”
As the Eritrean business-owners picked up
the pieces, outside on nearby Abas Street, veteran Hatikva resident Zion Ovadia
was taking a cigarette break outside his carpentry workshop, where he runs a
small business making kitchen cabinets.
Ovadia said he was not at
Wednesday’s anti-African protest, and that he was definitely not opposed to the
“But look, our government needs to do something about the
situation,” he said.
“Our government let them come live in this
neighborhood, but these Sudanese, they’ve nothing to do.
They don’t have
work permits so they just hang around all day and that’s not good for
Ovadia said the African migrants should be allowed work
“They need to eat, too, like everyone else,” he
However, Ilan, another local Hatikva resident, said the African
migrants should not be allowed into Israel at all.
“They say they are
refugees, but really they just come here to work,” Ilan said. “The reality is
that they take jobs away from people who were born here, in this neighborhood,
and we’re the ones who suffer.
The government should move the Africans
from south Tel Aviv into Ramat Aviv [in north Tel Aviv]. Let’s see what the
leftists who support the Africans say, when they live in their neighborhoods.”