African refugee-owned businesses raided in TA

Activists, asylum seekers say action a "show of force" done for political reasons.

May 13, 2013 20:31
4 minute read.
Abdullah Mustafa, a refugee from Darfur, and Neve Shaanan restaurant owner

African business owner in Tel Aviv 370. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

Abdullah Mustafa, from Darfur, was hosting a few customers at his restaurant in the Naveh Sha’anan neighborhood, near the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, on Monday afternoon. A day earlier, health inspectors came, threw out nearly NIS 6,500 worth of meat, and poured chemical solutions into pots containing Sudanese fuul and stews.

On Sunday night, health department inspectors, Tel Aviv Municipality workers, Interior Ministry inspectors and Tel Aviv police officers raided Mustafa’s restaurant and six other African migrant-owned bars and restaurants in the city, leaving several of them shuttered on Monday.

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Mustafa, 38, has lived in Israel since 2007. He showed The Jerusalem Post a receipt for 206 kg. of meat bought on Sunday at the Carmel Market for NIS 6,453. “If this meat is bad, then why don’t they go to Carmel Market and shut down the place I bought it from?” he asked.

Mustafa has run the restaurant for four years and it has become a well-known establishment in the African community as well as a meeting place for activists who work with its members.

He said he has never had any problems from authorities in the past and showed a legal work permit he has to stay in Israel.

He added that, while his business doesn’t have a permit, he had filled out all the forms with the municipality authorities and was told he didn’t need to worry about being shut down.

He said the incident was a low point in a steadily deteriorating environment for African asylumseekers in Israel.

“Under the Olmert government, when we came here things were good, and now it’s become hell for us. The government is mobilizing the Israeli people against us, and the attacks from them against us are coming from the government.”

Other migrants present at the restaurant described Sunday’s raid as part of a larger effort by authorities to make their lives more difficult, so that they would leave the country, and also to deter other migrants from coming.

One migrant mentioned the recent spate of fact-finding tours by MKs and cabinet ministers in Naveh Sha’anan, who are taken around the pedestrian mall by Interior Ministry officials and shown African-owned businesses operating without licenses.

After the tours, they meet with Israeli residents who explain to them the problems brought to their neighborhoods by the influx of African migrants. In such meetings, the high number of African-owned businesses operating (both with and without licenses) comes up again and again as a central complaint.

Sunday’s raids came only a few hours after south Tel Aviv residents and anti-migrant activists met with Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein at his office in Jerusalem. One activist present at the meeting said that south Tel Aviv residents spoke to Weinstein about what they described as the country’s failure to enforce the law when it comes to illegal migrants.

Back at Mustafa’s restaurant, Orit Marom, from ASSAF, the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, called on supporters to dine there to show solidarity with migrants.

Marom said she believes the raids are a “show of force,” adding that “every week there are visits by politicians who come to hear the suffering of the [Israeli] residents of south Tel Aviv, whose suffering is very real, and they want to show they’re doing something.

“But what does bringing all these police and Health Ministry and Interior Ministry workers have to do with the suffering of the residents of south Tel Aviv?” she asked.

“If someone in the government thinks that the suffering can be solved by these shows of force they’re mistaken. The veteran residents are suffering due to the high level of asylumseekers in their neighborhoods, and the only way they will naturally disperse around the country... is if they have legal residency and work permits,” Marom said.

When asked about the raids on Sunday night, Einat Shimron- Greenboim, spokeswoman for the Health Ministry, said, “During a special operation held yesterday afternoon and evening, police along with inspectors from the Interior Ministry, the Tax Authority, the city of Tel Aviv and legal officials, joined teams from the Tel Aviv Health Department while they carried out their enforcement work in south Tel Aviv.

“As part of these operations, they discovered poor hygiene standards, food that was kept in unfit conditions, and temperatures and food products of unknown origin. Because of these findings, they made the immediate decision to destroy the food in question. As part of this process, they poured chemicals, which [is] appropriate for the goal... to safeguard the health of the public.”

The destruction of the meat, which could be seen in a photograph that circulated on Facebook on Monday of a health inspector pouring bleach into a pot of food, “is routine and is no different than how this destruction is carried out with other foods or meats,” Shimron-Greenboim said.

Responding to a press query, the city of Tel Aviv said the workers who poured the chemicals were not municipal inspectors, they were Health Ministry employees “working against businesses that were selling food without a permit or in unhygienic conditions.”

The city added that on Sunday night, municipal staff carried out operations along with the Israel Police against illegal businesses that operated without permits and violated closure orders near the central bus station in south Tel Aviv.

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