Tel Aviv has been hit by the most violent protests in its recent history after more than 1,000 Israelis took to the streets in the city’s south to demand the deportation of African immigrants and asylum seekers.
The predominately black neighbourhood of Hatikva was ransacked by groups of nationalist protesters who had attended a demonstration on Wednesday night against illegal African migrants.
The protesters claim the Africans are responsible for a rise in crime, bearing signs saying “This is not Africa” and “Stop talking, start expelling”.
“Blacks out!” shouted demonstrators in the crowd, while others yelled “Send the Sudanese back to Sudan”, as other protesters derided the “bleeding-heart leftists” working to help them.
The mob set cans of rubbish on fire, smashed the windows of shops owned by Eritrean migrants and beat up Africans walking through the streets.
TJ, a 29-year-old migrant from Nigeria,watched the violent chaos from his rooftop having been chased and pelted with rocks when he attempted to leave his house.
“There were protesters everywhere smashing shop and car windows,” he said. “A group of about 10 or 15 boys stopped one black kid cycling on his bike. They pulled him off and were punching and kicking him in his head. The police just stood and watched until it got really out of control.”
Other witnesses described a gang assaulting a mother carrying a young baby so violently that she was forced to drop her child. Others stopped shuttle buses to search for migrant workers among their passengers.
The Israeli police confirmed they had arrested 17 suspects involved in “a protest against illegal African immigrants”. Extra police units were positioned to prevent further violence in the area last night.
Peace Now, an Israeli human rights organisation, is calling for an investigation into whether the speakers at Wednesday night’s rally, including Knesset ministers Miri Regev, Danny Danon, Yari Levin and Michael Ben-Ari, are guilty of incitement.
During her address, Ms Regev described illegal immigrants as a “cancer in our society”.
Danny Danon, a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, wrote in a Facebook status later the same evening: “Israel is at war. An enemy state of infiltrators was established in Israel, and its capital is south Tel Aviv.”
According to Israeli government figures, there are currently 60,000 African asylum seekers in Israel. The vast majority come from Eritrea and Sudan and were smuggled into the country by foot through Israel’s southern border with Egypt, many having been beaten and tortured by their smugglers in camps in the Sinai en route.
Israel terms any illegal immigrant through this border an ‘infiltrator’ and estimate 90 per cent are economic migrants coming to Israel to look for work – a stark contrast to the figures in England and Canada, where 66 per cent and 96 per cent of Eritreans who arrive illegally are granted refugee status.
The Israeli government currently does not deport Eritreans or Sudanese however Yehuda Weinstein, Israel’s attorney general, will appear before the Jerusalem District Court next week to argue that there is no longer a legal obstacle to expelling 700 Southern Sudanese refugees. If approved, Israel will be the first country to have reached this decision.
Defending her position on Thursday, Ms Regev insisted that while she does not condone violence, African immigrants pose a grave demographic threat to Israel. “Israel should adopt the US protocol of returning infiltrators to the border within 72 hours … Jews and Israelis are scared of living in their country,” she said.
Mr Danon’s proposition to prevent further violence was to deport the city’s African residents ” to detention facilities and remove Africans from population centres”.
Bracing themselves for a second round of nationalist protests on Thursday evening, the residents of Hatikva are struggling to resume normal life.
‘TJ’ says he is among the few who has left his home following the violence: “Black people have been too afraid to leave their homes to go to work today. Racism in Tel Aviv is not only getting worse it’s getting out of hand and the police are no help. We are terrified.”