“It’s quiet at the moment, but the first time anything happens here, it will all
explode again,” said Moshe Tzioni, 79, a lifelong resident of south Tel Aviv’s
Three nights earlier, residents of the neighborhood
ran amok following an anti-migrant protest, vandalizing and looting African-owned
businesses and attacking Africans caught on the street. Like the Shapira
neighborhood following a series of Molotov cocktail attacks on the residences of
African migrants in April, Hatikva instantly became the center of the clash over
the influx of African migrants.
First arriving in Israel in earnest
around 2006, the African migrant population is now estimated to number around
60,000, and is increasing by 2,000 to 3,000 per month according to Interior
The majority are from Eritrea, with the rest mainly
from Sudan. Most live in Tel Aviv, and are concentrated in the poor,
working-class neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv such as Hatikva.
sits in a small social club on Haetzel Street – the main thoroughfare of
Hatikva, named after the Irgun, the pre-state Zionist paramilitary organization
– while, under faded, framed photos of former Likud prime minister and Irgun
commander Menachem Begin, six middle-aged men play gin rummy for a small stack
of NIS 50 and NIS 20 bills.
Tzioni pointed at the sidewalk and counted
the passersby, most of them Africans, many of them families with baby strollers.
At night “you won’t see any Israelis anymore,” he said.
When asked who
was to blame for the situation, the government or the asylum-seekers, he said,
“The ones who are to blame are the Israelis who rent out their houses to them,
who want to make easy money by illegally splitting up the houses and cramming
them full of Africans.”
Pulling on a Kent cigarette, a toothless 64-year-old friend of Tzioni named Rahamim Cohen nodded in agreement but took a harsher line, saying how violence could
work to drive out the African migrants just as it worked during the second
intifada to clear Tel Aviv of Palestinian laborers.
The social club sits
a few dozen meters from a small bar run by an Eritrean named Amine that was
ransacked by an mob on Wednesday night. On Friday morning, the windows had
already been replaced, but Amine said he had no intention of staying in Hatikva
and would close the bar for good. He said that while he would lose all the money
he invested in opening the business, he feared for his life if he
The theme in the neighborhood, both now and for the past couple
of years, has been one of mutual fear and suspicion, mixed with an anger that at
times clouds reality. Both the veteran residents of Hatikva and the African
newcomers say they walk around in fear and are left with no protection by the
police and local authorities.
The native Israelis say that if they were
to get into a fight with an African, they could go to jail, while the
asylum-seeker lacks papers and cannot be prosecuted. They also say that many
crimes are never reported by police and never make the media.
Africans tend to say that as illegal asylum-seekers, they have to walk a very
thin line and cannot lay their hands on a native Israeli and risk the ire of law
In a common refrain among Israelis in neighborhoods that
have seen an influx of Africans in recent years, the men at the social club say
that after dark the streets become a no-go zone for Jews. Also, though Hatikva
and other neighborhoods like it have for decades had a reputation for crime and
heavy drug use, residents insist that the Africans brought a level of crime that
never existed before, mainly petty theft but also rape and aggravated
They easily throw out racist cliches, such as that at least a
third of the Africans carry AIDS, or that the neighborhood is becoming Harlem
before their eyes. At the best, they say that violence is not the answer, but
that something must be done by the government to get the Africans out of their
neighborhoods, and that otherwise, there will be more and more violent
Two doors down from the social club is a small kiosk run by a
29-year-old Eritrean named Effi. He said that each night he has his brother come
to the store a few minutes before 11 so that he won’t have to close up and walk
home alone. He said that on the night of the demonstration, he followed the
advice of friends, closed the store early and made his way home long before the
riot began. His brother was less lucky, he said, and when the crowd began
rampaging down Haetzel Street, he raced home, slamming his front door shut as
stones rained down on the house.
Like other Eritreans in Hatikva and
elsewhere in south Tel Aviv, Effi said that he and other Africans have been
attacked repeatedly by drunk Russian Israelis as well as by youth who ride up on
scooters and throw rocks, bottles or stun grenades before tearing off into the
night. Effi himself said that on three occasions young people on motor scooters
had thrown stun grenades at his store.
“I don’t know why they do this.
They say we rape their girls, we are stealing. Maybe they just don’t understand
our situation or that we are refugees,” he said, as two Sudanese came in and
bought a sack of flour, haggling over the price in Arabic.
Effi said that
his family back in Eritrea heard about the riots from Tigrinya-language news
outlets online and that they have implored him to stay safe.
worried, but they know I can’t go back to Eritrea or I’ll be killed,” he
On Friday, Tel Aviv police arrested an 18-year-old resident of the
city on suspicion of belonging to a gang that targeted Africans for physical
assault. Last week, police arrested seven minors and two adults on suspicion of
terrorizing the migrants with assaults, which allegedly included the use of
clubs and pepper spray.
If the neighborhood is on the verge of explosion
and renewed race riots, it is hard to see. With all the talk of mutual terror
and suspicion, several groups of Eritrean men sit in circles on Haetzel Street
and sip beers and laugh under the warm glow of the streetlights, and within one
hour, two Eritrean wedding processions walk down Haetzel and an adjacent street,
the groomsmen wearing bright white suits and red vests.
On the main
street and up and down the neighborhood’s charming alleyways, Israeli couples
and teenagers stroll freely, many of them making their way to synagogue for
Though police had beefed up their presence in south Tel
Aviv following Wednesday’s riot, by Friday evening there was no visible police
presence in the heart of Hatikva, and a deceptive sense of serenity hung in the
Unlike in Hatikva, nearly all native Israeli residents and business-
owners have left the Neveh Sha’anan neighborhood, especially the district’s
central pedestrian thoroughfare, which is today the center of Israel’s
population of African migrants and Asian and South American foreign workers.
Like every Saturday, the streets of the neighborhood were thronged with
Africans, and across Levinsky Park, hundreds lay out in the sun or played soccer
on the basketball court. It was toward Levinsky Park that a mob of over a
hundred Israelis began charging on Wednesday night, yelling “Sudanese to Sudan!”
before they were turned back by police.
On Salomon Street, haggard
prostitutes, strung-out addicts and Israeli Arab drug dealers loiter in the late
afternoon sun. Two Chinese workers begin brawling on the corner of Fein
Street, throwing bottles at each other before their friends pull them apart and
the group scatters. Further down the street, at 22 Salomon Street, sits
an Eritrean-run bar, where a 19- year-old woman was drinking on May 14, before
she was followed out by a group of African men she had argued with in the bar
who then raped her in a nearby parking lot, according to police.
main thoroughfare lies a shelter run by the Bnei Darfur organization, which
houses around 150 migrants from Sudan and Eritrea. One migrant, a 21-year-old
native of Darfur named Ahmed, said that he and others had heard about the events
in Hatikva, but that the building had not beefed up security.
that the residents of the shelter are not worried that Israelis will ransack the
building, which is inside an unmarked building deep within the pedestrian
thoroughfare, but that what they really fear are gangs of marauding drunk
Russian youths who after 11 p.m. begin to roam the neighborhood beating
He also insisted, unsolicited, that he and other African
migrants are happy to go back to their home countries, and that they bear no ill
will toward the Israeli government.
The Israeli and Russian youths who
allegedly target Africans in south Tel Aviv were also mentioned by several
Eritreans protesting outside the country’s embassy in Ramat Gan on Friday
“I’ve seen a lot of people get hurt, with bottles, chains,
fists. I just ran away every time I see them. All you can do is just run away,
because if you go to the police they just say, ‘There‘s nothing we can do,’ and
just go home,” said David Abraham, a 23-year-old Eritrean resident of Hatikva
protesting outside the embassy.
Numbering about 200, the protesters were
much more organized than held a year ago, when far fewer came out to demonstrate
at the embassy.
Also, due to recent events in south Tel Aviv, there was a
large press contingent on the scene, something that was also lacking at last
Holding signs calling for the release of political
prisoners, the protesters demanded an end to the dictatorship in Eritrea and the
torture and abuse of African migrants by Beduin smugglers in the Sinai
The theme of the protest was clear, the dictatorship must end
in Eritrea and Israel must stop supporting the ruling regime.
an oft-repeated sentiment that life in Israel had since last year’s protest
become perilous and nerve-wracking, but that no better option remains at the
“I want to go back home, no Eritrean wants to stay in Israel, but
we can only go back when the dictatorship is gone,” Abraham said, less than 48
hours after the first race riot targeting Israel’s African
community.Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.