The violent backlash against foreign workers that has been focused on south Tel
Aviv struck Jerusalem early Monday morning, after an arsonist attempted to burn
down a building housing 50 foreign workers in the downtown area.
people were injured in the blaze with minor burns on their arms and legs while
attempting to escape the building. The perpetrator also spray-painted “Get out
of the neighborhood!” on the wall outside the building, located at 88 Jaffa Road
next to the Mahaneh Yehuda market.
According to Jerusalem Fire and Rescue
Services spokesman Asaf Abras, the fire started around 3 a.m. in the hallway of
the building, when the arsonist attempted to break into the first floor
The arsonist emptied gas on the stairwell and set it on fire,
creating tall flames that filled the stairwell, police said.
injuries occurred in the bottom floor apartment, where 10 people lived in a
number of rooms with a shared kitchen. Due to the intense flames, several people
on the upper floors were trapped and could not exit the building.
fire blackened the entire first floor of the apartment and the stairwell on the
first two floors. Handprints were still visible in the soot, illustrating how
residents tried to escape down the stairs.
Abras called the fire “a death
trap” and warned that the outcome could have easily been tragic. The three
injured people were brought to Shaare Zedek Medical Center and released later
Due to the graffiti and other materials found at the site
of the blaze, fire investigators are nearly certain it was arson. The location of
the fire in the ground floor hallway also revealed that the intent was to kill
or seriously injure the workers rather than scare them.
Nir Barkat slammed the attack, and instructed Jerusalem Police Chief Nisso
Shaham to “act with a strong hand” against any violence of this type in the
Shaham responded by creating a special investigative unit to
determine who is behind the attack. Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby
said that nine police officers will work on the investigation.
months ago there was a similar arson attack, also on Jaffa Road closer to Zion
Square, in a building that was home to many African migrants. Firefighters
responded quickly and there were no injuries.
Molo, a Sudanese worker who
lived in the building, said he was awakened around 2:30 a.m. by the fire. The
building currently has no electricity and residents are being forced to sleep at
friends’ homes across the city, he added.
Despite Barkat’s condemnation,
a municipality spokesman said the city’s social service and welfare branch was
not offering any help to the residents, including temporary living arrangements.
Additionally, the city’s graffiti removal unit did not clean the building as of
In previous “price-tag” attacks against Christians and Arabs,
the graffiti removal unit cleared offensive graffiti in an hour or two.
South Korean couple who live on the top floor of the building said on Monday
they had been in their apartment for eight years and had no problems with anyone
in the neighborhood. The couple said they had no idea why anyone would target
their building, home mostly to workers from Sudan, Ethiopia and
An Israeli neighbor who refused to give her name confirmed that
aside from a few disagreements about loud music late at night or on Shabbat,
there were no conflicts between the foreign workers and the largely haredi
(ultra-Orthodox) neighborhood of Mekor Baruch.
“It’s very quiet here, I
have no issues with them,” said the woman. “But this [arson attack] doesn’t
solve any problems, it’s not okay.”
The woman added that the arsonists
probably targeted the building because it is the only one in the area that is
home to exclusively foreign workers. Many foreign workers live in the area
around the Mahaneh Yehuda market – but in apartments mixed with other
Condemnation for the attack was muted and slow in
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement, “There is no
justification for such a heinous crime that puts people’s lives in harm’s way.
Law and ethics prohibit any injury to the other, the guest and the
foreigner. Jewish history compels us to take exceptional caution on these
The Bright Tag anti-racism coalition is planning a
demonstration against the arson attack for 5 p.m. on Tuesday in Davidka Square.
A number of concerned Jerusalemites also dropped off food and other donations
for the building residents.
Violent attacks against African migrants were
previously concentrated in south Tel Aviv, where a number of people were
arrested for throwing Molotov cocktails at apartments housing Africans, or
pelting Africans on the street with eggs. Tensions are simmering after
anti-African riots that were held over the past two weeks, and the district
attorney charged 10 minors on Thursday with racially motivated attacks on
African migrants and their property.