By Naima Abdi
Neighborhoods across Israel are swarming with race riots, protests and acts of brutality aimed at African immigrants after anti-migrant demonstrations resulted in violence last month in Tel Aviv then soon spread throughout other cities in Israel. As of now, its racial hatred paired with an overt-contempt that best defines the current sentiments of Israelis enraged by the use of their country as a safe haven for so many non-Jewish African refugees seeking asylum.
For nearly a decade, scores of displaced Africans fled war and poverty stricken areas in Sudan, Eritrea and South Sudan then entered into the south of Israel by way of the border it shares with Egypt to find freedom, employment and peace. At first the Israeli government tolerated their growing presence, allowing them to settle and their numbers to soar. But now with about 60,000 illegal African immigrants living across the country, Israeli nationalists, prominent politicians and the anti-migrant sect of citizens are fed up and determined to find a solution that will expel them from Israel, keep them out and restore the country’s reputation as the sacred Jewish holy land.
“If we don’t stop their entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a Jewish and democratic state,” said Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting. “This phenomenon is very grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity.”
As frustrations continue to mount, mobs of angry protesters flood the streets of their cities to take part in anti-migrant rallies while boasting signs that read “Infiltrators, Criminals, This Is Not Africa” and jeering “Blacks Out!” in unison. In a string of recent assaults related to the influx of turmoil, local Israelis vandalized and looted migrant owned businesses, physically ambushed any black bystanders in sight regardless of whether or not they’re actually illegal immigrants and set firebombs to buildings, including a nursery. Then last week in Jerusalem, arsonists attacked 10 Eritreans with a firebomb in their basement apartment, injuring four while the rest ran for safety. With the immense state of chaos and swelling aggression, there’s a universal fear in the African community causing them to go into hiding as to avoid being targets of the unprovoked violence that awaits them outside of their homes.
Up until now Israel’s remedy to the immigration debacle has been to build a steel fence on the Egyptian border with a large detention center nearby and to amend an old immigration law (the anti-Infiltration bill) that allows the government to detain migrants for up to three years. Still these developments have done little to curb the issue or pacify erupting tensions between native Israelis and those in the African community—which is made worse by local Israeli news stories claiming that African immigrants are responsible for a rise in rapes, sexual assaults as well as other crimes, but also by controversial comments made by high up members of Israel’s Parliament/Knesset with a hard-right stance like Miri Regev, who compared refugees to “a cancer in our body” at an anti-migrant demonstration in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood in May.
While Human Rights organizations along with tolerant Israelis urge the Israeli government to stop inciting hostility toward African immigrants and to start thinking of a more practical yet humane approach to deal with the impeding immigration problem, several politicians and government officials believe a more iron-fist approach is necessary to remove the country’s dense African population.
Earlier this week Israeli authorities raided African neighborhoods from various towns across the country and detained a total of 4,500 refugees that will soon be deported. This unprecedented refugee roundup is the result of a Jerusalem court ruling calling for the refugee’s expulsion from Israel and to speed the process of their departure, the Israeli government is offering a cash incentive of 1,000 Euros ($1,200) along with a plane ticket to any refugees that decide to leave willingly within the next two weeks. Officials indicated that so far 270 have been arrested and about 300 refugees have come forward and agreed to depart voluntarily.