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Photo by: Tamir Kalifa
In Tel Aviv's Little Africa, Israeli shop-owners shrug at the African migrant protests
By BEN HARTMAN
01/07/2014
One store owner said he hoped migrant would be deported but admitted that they form most of his customer base.
 
The Neveh Sha’anan pedestrian mall in south Tel Aviv hummed at a muted pace at noon on Tuesday, the third day of a nationwide strike by the African asylum-seekers community.

The street just north of the metropolis’s central bus station has been the center of the community for several years. On Tuesday, thousands of its members were meeting a couple of blocks away at Lewinsky Park, leaving most of the stores on the walkway shuttered.

Israeli Yisrael Dan hustled around his cellphone store, helping customers and taking orders on his phone, alone behind the counter for the third day. He has three Eritrean workers with work permits who are taking part in the strike, and since Sunday, he’s been working from morning to night.

“I can’t keep working like this for long. My workers make NIS 10,000 a month, but even for that money I can’t get an Israeli to work here,” Dan said, shrugging his shoulders.

When asked what he thinks of the protests, he said that while the Interior Ministry needs to check the migrants’ asylum requests “I really don’t feel solidarity with them, from what I understand most of them aren’t refugees and they just came here to make money.”

It was a common sentiment on Tuesday; shop-owners expressed a fondness for employees or neighboring African store-owners, but quickly added that they don’t believe they’re refugees and that the state needs to enforce the law. They also said that with all due respect, protesting won’t make a difference.

“If the government’s made up its mind, what difference does it make? They don’t care when Israelis are protesting, you think they’ll care when they [African migrants] do?” asked Moshe, a shoe store owner a few doors down.

Moshe said the Sudanese shop-owner next door told him that he was closing and going on strike because he was afraid that other Africans would vandalize his store or attack him, and that intimidation drove others to close as well.

A native of Iran, Moshe said that he knows what it’s like to be a refugee, but that he doesn’t see the Africans as being in a situation similar to his when he left Iran for Israel.

He also said that they’re good people, except for a small minority who drink and fight and commit crimes, causing the public to fear and dislike the rest of them.

“Most of them are good people who came to make money and then leave, but this whole thing isn’t regulated,” he said.

David, who owns a cellular phone store near the corner of Har Tzion and Neveh Sha’anan streets, dismissed the protests outright, saying “they can go on strike forever if they want, it won’t matter.

The landlords are pigs, they’ll just rent out the stores to someone else.”

He said he hoped the government would deport them all, but admitted that they form most of his customers.

Down the street at Lewinsky Park a few hours later, Abed and three men from Baka al-Gharbiya, near Hadera, scurried around the crowd, picking up trash and changing out the garbage cans next to the basketball court. Abed, a contractor for the Tel Aviv Municipality, said that for the past three days his eight Sudanese workers have been on strike, so he’s had to improvise.

“The Sudanese are on strike so I had to bring in Arabs,” he said, adding that the three men would be staying in Tel Aviv until the strike ended and they go back to their village.

He also said he was told by a couple of his Sudanese employees that they felt intimidated into taking part in the strike.

Like Abed, employers across the Tel Aviv area and elsewhere have had to get creative, working extra shifts.

The strike has seen many restaurant managers and bartenders back in the kitchen, washing dishes.
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