Eritreans say Bnei Brak waging campaign to run them out

A number of the migrants said their electricity and in many cases their water was cut off without warning.

Eritrean 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Eritrean 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
A yahrzeit candle and two Shabbat candles cast the only light in the one-room apartment in Bnei Brak a few hours after sunset on Tuesday.
Sigi, a young Eritrean woman who lives by herself, has had no power since she woke up on Friday morning, when she discovered that her electricity had been shut off without warning or explanation.
The four-unit walk-up building on the city’s Rehov Jabotinsky includes one other apartment housing Eritreans and two with Israeli residents. Since Friday, only the Israeli-rented units have had power, Sigi said.
When she contacted her landlord on Friday, he told her to go to the Bnei Brak Municipality to solve the problem. Later, he told her that while he had no problem with her, the municipality had informed him that they had to leave.
Sitting on a sofa chair under a portrait of the Virgin Mary (which matches another poster hanging over the twin bed in the cramped apartment), Sigi spoke of the hardship the sudden lack of electricity has caused her.
“I’m scared to come home from work, it’s completely dark and all by myself. I can’t take a shower because there is no hot water, and I have no way to cook food or make tea. How am I supposed to live like this?” she told The Jerusalem Post.
Like Sigi, many Eritreans living in Bnei Brak say they are the targets of a campaign of intimidation on the part of the municipality, which they say wants them out of the predominantly haredi city as soon as possible.
A number of the migrants said their electricity and in many cases their water was cut off without warning, shortly before they were told by their landlords and/or clerks from the municipality that they must vacate the property in a matter of days.
One Eritrean, Aharon, said that when he asked his landlord why the storefront he rented from him was suddenly closed, he was told in no uncertain terms that the munipality would not allow the property to be rented to foreigners.
Aharon added that when he spoke to muncipal clerks about the closure, he was told it was carried out because he is not Jewish.
Aharon, who has lived here for three years and has been granted legal status, said he had a two-year contract on the property and had given his landlord a year’s worth of checks when he began renting it two months ago. He said he was told by clerks from the munipality last Wednesday that he would have to leave the property, which had been closed with steel panels.
The storefront housed the “Pardes Katz Restaurant,” serving Eritrean food since Aharon opened it two months ago. He said he invested tens of thousands of shekels in renovating the storefront and buying equipment and supplies, including hundreds of kilos of flour for making injera, a bread popular in the horn of Africa.
The flour, which is imported from Ethiopia for NIS 270 per 25 kilos, was left to fester inside the store, Aharon said.
“I’ve lost so much. Everything inside of here is mine and it’s lost. All they’ve told me is it’s because I’m not Jewish,” he said, standing outside the shuttered storefront.
The area in question is mainly the Pardes Katz neighborhood, which borders Ramat Gan and Petah Tikva. In recent years, the largely secular working-class district has seen an influx of haredim seeking housing that was cheaper than in the central areas of Bnei Brak.
Also in recent years, hundreds of Eritreans and Sudanese have moved into the neighborhood as their numbers in the Central region have increased. Many Eritreans said on Tuesday they chose to live in Pardes Katz because they worked in housekeeping or other menial jobs in Bnei Brak.
These action against the migrants in Bnei Brak come after the campaign launched last month by the municipality to convince people not to rent apartments to illegal immigrants, as well as a halachic ruling issued by six haredi rabbis forbidding residents from leasing property to illegal immigrants and African refuge-seekers.
That letter came a few months after a similar petition was issued by a group of Tel Aviv rabbis, mainly in the south of the city where the overwhelming majority of foreign workers and refuge-seekers live.
On Tuesday, municipal spokesman Avraham Tennenbaum denied that Bnei Brak was trying to drive Eritreans and other foreigners from the city.
“The reports in the media are pure defamation and nonsense. We aren’t trying to expel or run off anyone, we are trying to enforce the law,” he said.
“You have apartments in this city that have been illegally split into several units, housing 10 people to a room.
They then charge each person $200 per month and make far more than they would renting it out to an Israeli couple. We have to uphold building codes,” he said.
Tennenbaum said municipal clerks have no authority or involvement in matters of illegal immigration and that turning off the water or power is something that can only be done by the landlords.
“We don’t care if someone is Jewish or non-Jewish, all that matters is whether or not they are breaking building codes,” he said.
“All of these bleeding hearts can act like heroes when it’s Pardes Katz, but I’d like to see what they’d do if suddenly 1,000 Sudanese came and lived in Ramat Aviv,” Tennenbaum said.