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Photo by: JOANNA PARASZCZUK
‘Why did they smash our businesses? We’re scared.’
By JOANNA PARASZCZUK
25/05/2012
Eritrean migrants react with shock and fear to anti-African violence in south Tel Aviv.
 
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 bricks.

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.

After smashing down the door, the rioters looted the bar, stealing money and bottles, Amin said.

“They just smashed the place up.

They destroyed 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 smashed up.

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 more.

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.

There 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 disbelief.

Hatikva’s African migrant community is scared, he added.

“It’s hard to be here; you have to worry all the time,” said Amin.

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.

Natsnet 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.

“But anyway people came to my house with bottles and tried to smash windows,” she said.

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 night’s violence.

The 29-year-old described how he had been inside the store with his infant son when the rioters forced their way inside.

“When 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 Hebrew.

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 all.”

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 tonight.

“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.

Meanwhile, 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 admitted.

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 migrants.

“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 anyone.”

Ovadia said the African migrants should be allowed work permits.

“They need to eat, too, like everyone else,” he said.

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.”
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