A rat the size of a well-fed house cat sent a female reporter from Army Radio
dashing across Fein Street one night last week in the heart of the central bus
station district, Tel Aviv’s basin of junkies, homeless African migrants, and
The brush with the rodent was one of the few
moments of excitement during a tour organized by police for crime reporters, all
of whom have been to the area time and time again. The feeling was akin to
taking political reporters on a tour of the Knesset, though it did have its
bright moments. One of these was when a female crime reporter for an Israeli
outlet wanted to see the inside of a brothel. The deputy head of the Tel Aviv
district knocked on the door of a matchbox- sized apartment on Fein Street and
the reporter was let in by a haggard, 50-something prostitute who pinched her
cheek and showed off her meager digs.
The tour was held a little over two
weeks after news broke of a brutal rape of an 83-year-old woman by an Eritrean
migrant in the Neveh Sha’anan neighborhood, a crime that police kept from the
press for over a week.
Recorders were turned off and notepads stashed
away at the Lewinsky police station so that Tel Aviv police head Asst.-Ch.
Aharon Eksel and head of the Yiftach subdistrict (which covers south Tel Aviv
and Jaffa) Cmdr. David Gez could speak freely about the issues facing the
station in the heart of Tel Aviv’s African migrant community, without any loose
words finding their way into the papers the next morning.
Over the course
of a half hour talk at the station, Eksel and Gez discussed the quality of life
issues facing the Neveh Sha’anan, Hatikva and Shapira neighborhoods, where an
influx of tens of thousands of migrants has led to tension with veteran
residents and a declining feeling of personal safety – even if such a feeling
isn’t necessarily borne out by crime statistics.
The officers spoke about
the violence and petty crime in and around the area of the bus station – the
lowest spot in the seediest corner of Tel Aviv – which they said has only become
worse in recent years.
Reporters in the room pointed out that the area
has been a haunt of drug addicts, street walkers and all types of ne’er-do-wells
since long before the Africans began arriving.
The police conceded this
point, but went on to insist that the problems their officers are dealing with
today are unique.
It was clear from the conversation that police are
concerned about public safety in south Tel Aviv and a battery of social issues
they don’t have the tools to deal with.
Eksel spoke of fears that there
will be an outbreak of HIV among junkies who have taken to shooting up
“hagigat,” a cheap, bathtub crank sold at kiosks for as little as NIS 25,
sharing mixing caps and needles. The implication is that the state has left a
vacuum, and the police and city hall are left to try and find ways to stave off
a public health disaster. They must also deal with the on-the-ground absorption
of a thousands of illegal migrants, dumped in their district by the state,
alongside a veteran population that includes many drug addicts and sex
Eksel and Gez described their work as having changed
dramatically in the past five years since the migrant influx began. This has
brought with it a wave of crime, most of which the officers said is petty theft
by people not legally allowed to work, and struggling to survive on the
The offices spoke of the nightly drunken brawls that spill out of
the African bars in south Tel Aviv, which are typified by brutal violence and a
disregard for life.
Joined by two patrol officers, Eksel and Gez led the
reporters through the Lewinsky Park over to the Neveh Sha’anan pedestrian mall,
passing the stolen bike market before turning left onto Fein Street.
asked why police don’t shut down the market, one officer said they have adopted
an approach of allowing it to stay open, with the assumption that if desperate
migrants can’t make money selling stolen bikes they’ll eventually start breaking
into houses or snatching purses – crimes that have a greater potential for
A similar explanation was given about the brothels, with
police on the tour saying that soliciting prostitution is legal in Israel, and
that they worry that – if the population of tens of thousands of migrants, most
of them men, don’t have an outlet for their sexual needs – they may end up
attacking Israeli women.
Past the bike market, police pointed out a
hookah bar crammed with dozens of migrants watching a soccer game, the Star of
David on the front door indicating that it had been a small synagogue for former
Jewish residents who left years earlier.
The tour ended on the second
floor of 1 Fein Street, a building that for years had been an infamous shooting
gallery, the lowest circle of the central bus station inferno.
building is full of apartments housing African migrants, many of them families,
after the owners realized that renting out to drug addicts was no longer worth
Eksel stood on a second floor balcony overlooking the courtyard and
bragged about how today, there is zero crime in the building.
or not, that may have been a telling way to end the tour.
As the group
had strolled down Fein Street it passed several storefronts that had once been
brothels or peep shows and are today African bars, as well as buildings where
one-time drug dens are now rented out to families of illegal and Asian foreign
workers, who tend to be much more lucrative and dependable
Beyond the politics, a very obvious gentrification is taking
place, much of it brought on by African migrants, as one population leaves and
another one enters and renews.
When asked if from a public safety
perspective police prefer brothels and drug dens to apartments housing illegal
African migrants, one officer answered, “Each population has its problems, you
switch out one and you have the problems of the other.”