More than 1,000 Israelis protested this evening (Wednesday) against the African refugees and asylum seekers who have settled in South Tel Aviv in recent years. According to eyewitnesses reports, the crowd grew angry and ultimately violent, following speeches from Knesset Members, including members of the government coalition.
It was one of the most violent protests Tel Aviv has known in recent years. Confrontations were continuing between police and Jewish citizens at around 10:30 p.m. local time.
Dozens of protesters tried to move from the Hatikva neighborhood, where the rally was held, towards Tel Aviv’s Shapira neighborhood, where most African refugees live. They were stopped by police. Protesters attacked a car passing by carrying African immigrants, smashing its windows. Shops associated with the African community were vandalized. [UPDATE: As of midnight, activists in Hatikva are still reporting looting and occasional attacks on Africans.]
In light of increasing violence and harassment in recent days, activists walked refugee childrenin Tel Aviv home from school on Wednesday in order to prevent them from potential attacks.
According to Maariv’s website, the mob chased a man from Eritrea, who took shelter in a storefront and was rescued by police. At least two journalists were attacked. One fled the area and the other, whose notepad was snatched by protesters, was sheltered by the cops.
Earlier, Knesset members spoke at the event. Some blamed government inaction for the “infiltration problem,” while others heaped attacks on human rights organizations helping the refugees. Knesset Member Miri Regev called the refugees “a cancer.” Regev, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said that “leftists” are preventing the state from deporting the refugees back to Africa. Knesset Member Danny Danon (Likud), who also spoke at the event, wrote in a Facebook status tonight that “Israel is at war. An enemy state of infiltrators was established in Israel, and its capital is south Tel Aviv.”
According to one of the eyewitnesses, the most inflammatory speaker was MK Michael Ben-Ari, a former member of Meir Kahane’s racist Kach party, who was a resident of south Tel Aviv himself before moving to a settlement. “The police commissioner wants to give the African jobs,” said Ben Ari, referring to a statement by Chief of Police Yochanan Danino, who urged the government to allow the refugees to work in Israel, in order to prevent the crime rate from rising. “This will bring another 50,000 people here,” said Ben Ari.
This video is shocking:
And here is Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, in the International Herald Tribune:
I’m a Palestinian who was born in the Israeli town of Lod, and thus I am an Israeli citizen. My wife is not; she is a Palestinian from Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Despite our towns being just 30 miles apart, we met almost 6,000 miles away in Massachusetts, where we attended neighboring colleges.
A series of walls, checkpoints, settlements and soldiers fill the 30-mile gap between our hometowns, making it more likely for us to have met on the other side of the planet than in our own backyard.
Never is this reality more profound than on our trips home from our current residence outside Washington.
Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport is on the outskirts of Lod (Lydda in Arabic), but because my wife has a Palestinian ID, she cannot fly there; she is relegated to flying to Amman, Jordan. If we plan a trip together — an enjoyable task for most couples — we must prepare for a logistical nightmare that reminds us of our profound inequality before the law at every turn.
Even if we fly together to Amman, we are forced to take different bridges, two hours apart, and endure often humiliating waiting and questioning just to cross into Israel and the West Bank. The laws conspire to separate us.
If we lived in the region, I would have to forgo my residency, since Israeli law prevents my wife from living with me in Israel. This is to prevent what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once referred to as “demographic spillover.” Additional Palestinian babies in Israel are considered “demographic threats” by a state constantly battling to keep a Jewish majority. (Of course, Israelis who marry Americans or any non-Palestinian foreigners are not subjected to this treatment.)
Last week marked Israel’s 64th year of independence; it is also when Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” during which many of Palestine’s native inhabitants were turned into refugees.
In 1948, the Israeli brigade commander Yitzhak Rabin helped expel Lydda’s Palestinian population. Some 19,000 of the town’s 20,000 native Palestinian inhabitants were forced out. My grandparents were among the 1,000 to remain.
They were fortunate to become only internally displaced and not refugees. Years later my grandfather was able to buy back his own home — a cruel absurdity, but a better fate than that imposed on most of his neighbors, who were never permitted to re-establish their lives in their hometowns.
Three decades later, in October 1979, this newspaper reported that Israel barred Rabin from detailing in his memoir what he conceded was the “expulsion” of the “civilian population of Lod and Ramle, numbering some 50,000.” Rabin, who by then had served as prime minister, sought to describe how “it was essential to drive the inhabitants out.”
Two generations after the Nakba, the effect of discriminatory Israeli policies still reverberates. Israel still seeks to safeguard its image by claiming to be a bastion of democracy that treats its Palestinian citizens well, all the while continuing illiberal policies that target this very population. There is a long history of such discrimination.