For the past year a Beduin policeman lived undercover in south Tel Aviv running a bar for African migrants and slowly recording dozens of drug, property and violent crimes committed in the streets and alleyways of the Neveh Sha’anan neighborhood, police said on Sunday.
The officer said it was “the longest period of his life,” hours after it all came to an end with the arrest of dozens of African migrants in a raid at his bar on Neveh Sha’anan Street, just north of the central bus station.
The men were arrested not long after they showed up for a party he had advertised at his establishment. Police who had been lying in ambush swarmed the building, with dozens more arriving by bus and hauling in 50 men. Police have arrest warrants for an additional 15 men who did not come to the party, but whom they expect to find in the coming days, they said.
The Beduin officer, who has 10 years experience in the force and was previously an IDF officer, has a dark complexion. He grew dreadlocks for his undercover work, and while the men who frequented his bar knew him as an Arab-Israeli bar owner, on the streets of south Tel Aviv the Israelis he interacted with saw him as an African migrant, giving him the feeling of walking in their shoes, he said.
“I started to understand what it’s like for them [African migrants]. You walk around and people look at the color of your skin and assume you are one of the people committing crimes,” the agent said, adding that there were times, including during the African migrant protests earlier this year when he said he worried that he would be assaulted by an Israeli resident of south Tel Aviv.
He also said that for a month-and-a-half he had serious trouble finding someone willing to rent him an apartment in south Tel Aviv, until he finally decided to use his Israeli ID. He was detained by police in public on a couple of occasions over the past 14 months, and said, “You just want to scream to them that you’re one of them, that you’re a cop, but you can’t. You have to play the role and keep quiet.”
The policeman feared he would be harmed if someone discovered that he was working undercover, though he had back-up at all times in the area and was followed by surveillance cameras to record his movements and protect him, Tel Aviv police commanders said.
The cop said the past year also gave him an understanding of what the Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv endure, seeing the crime in the migrant community from up close.
“Most of the [African] people are not committing crimes and the ones who do, the Sudanese ones, probably did back in Sudan too,” he said, adding that he learned that a lot of the Sudanese men had warrants for their arrest back in their home country and wanted to avoid extradition from Egypt.
Yiftah subdistrict Cmdr.
David Gez said the operation was planned two years ago when police realized that they were desperately in need of intelligence on the African migrant community, which had grown to tens of thousands in just a few years, with virtually no police sources working from the inside.
“With the massive influx of migrants [coming in] through Egypt we started to see a growing phenomenon of criminal activity among them and we realized that we needed to get agents operating within the community, to gather intelligence on their criminal activities, but also on their organization,” Gez said.
He added that they were keeping tabs on Eritrean migrant protest groups, including ones that had allegedly targeted the Eritrean ambassador. Gez believes the protests and violence are to some extent orchestrated in order to create the appearance that the migrants are refugees and opponents of the Eritrean regime.
Senior Tel Aviv police officers have said recently that they watched the January protests in the African migrant community closely, to prevent violence between Israelis and migrants, but also because they don’t have the manpower or capabilities to deal with mass acts of public disturbance by thousands of Africans, were they to decide to become violent.
Tel Aviv Police head Asst.- Ch. Benzi Sau said that the operation on Sunday and the undercover work was of great importance to the district and “an extension of the policies of the Public Security Ministry with the involvement of Interior Minister [Gideon Sa’ar].”
Suspects were brought for remand extensions at the Tel Aviv courthouse and further arrests are expected this week, police said.
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