Israel: Backlash against African immigrants

2012-05-25 11:04

Jerusalem – Three recent rapes blamed on African migrants have ignited a political and emotional backlash against their ballooning numbers, with Israelis and their leaders stridently - and in an alarming new development, violently - calling for their expulsion.

Israel, bound by an international refugees treaty it ardently promoted, doesn't seem to have that option, and the gap between rhetoric and reality threatens to send simmering social antagonisms boiling over into open conflict.

It has raised questions, relevant all over the developed world, about how much is owed to the impoverished migrants who manage to sneak in.

Over the past seven years, as many as 60 000 African migrants, most from Sudan and Eritrea, have slipped across Israel's border with Egypt, exploiting the lack of a physical barrier and widespread lawlessness in the Sinai Peninsula that has been one result of the fall last year of longtime Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Israel is erecting a barrier along the roughly 200km of border. While this work drags on, the migrants continue to arrive at a rate of about 1 000 a month, ragged and penniless, with some reporting being raped, tortured and extorted by the Bedouins who smuggle them through.

Some migrants are fleeing repressive regimes. Others are simply looking for a better life in a richer country. How many fit into each of those categories is a matter of deep disagreement between officials and migrant advocates.

Economic migrants

Some Israelis worry that their national identity as a Jewish state is being threatened by unauthorised African migrants, who now make up less than 1% of Israel's population.

"It's the crumbling of the Zionist dream," Interior Minister Eli Yishai warned on Thursday.

Officials claim the overwhelming majority of the migrants are not bona fide refugees escaping persecution and war, but economic migrants looking for jobs. Israeli leaders use terms like "infiltrators", "cancer" and "national scourge" to describe them, setting an inflammatory tone.

After the first rape was reported earlier this month, Yishai declared nearly all migrants to be criminals and said they should all be jailed pending deportation.

Days later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned, "60 000 infiltrators are liable to become 600 000, and lead to the eradication of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state".

The issue of how to deal with them has also caused introspection about whether Israel, after a century of conflict with Arabs, has become a racist society.

UN treaty

"What disturbs me most is the racist atmosphere," social commentator Tom Segev said. "For several years now, Israel society has been moving in that direction, with all the anti-Arab motions in the parliament. ... I think that this society is very sick now."

Others deny that the pushback is racist, finding it unreasonable that their country of about 8 million should be expected to throw open its doors to unlimited numbers of migrants.

Israel cannot simply kick out the Africans, as some politicians would seem to suggest. As an enthusiastic backer of a 1951 UN treaty drafted to address the plight of World War II refugees, it has pledged not to expel asylum-seekers to any country where they would be in danger.

"We're not going to pull back on our obligations under the refugee convention," said Daniel Solomon, legal adviser to Israel's population and immigration authority. "At the same time, other solutions will have to be looked for," like finding a third country to take them in.

Because most migrants come from Sudan, an enemy state, and Eritrea, a country with an abysmal human rights record, the line between refugee and economic migrants is blurred. So Israel has quietly allowed most migrants from those two countries to stay, without processing their asylum applications.

This status does not allow them to work openly or access social services, so the migrants scrounge for whatever underpaid and insecure employment and volunteer healthcare they can find.

Word of mouth

"Our objective is to have Israel host these people under proper conditions until the option arises for them to go home," said William Tall, the envoy of the UN refugee agency office in Israel.

The Africans began trickling into Israel after neighbouring Egypt violently quashed a demonstration by a group of Sudanese refugees there in 2005, killing at least 20. The numbers surged as word spread of safety and jobs in Israel, a prosperous and liberal country reachable from Africa overland.

The swelling numbers have spawned slums. Fear and intolerance is mounting among locals, who accuse the migrants of stoking crime, including the recent rapes - even though police records show crime among the migrants is lower than among Israelis.

Firebombs were thrown recently at two buildings where migrants live, and a protest against them on Wednesday in a poor southern Tel Aviv neighbourhood where many Africans live turned violent.

The crowd shattered windows of shops and cars belonging to Africans, police said, and a witness reported that protesters spat on migrants and cursed them. No one was hurt.

Bashir Abekker, aged 32, came to Israel four years ago to escape the war in Sudan's Darfur region. He thought he'd find safety, "but recently, I'm not safe here. I am afraid for my safety", he said. "After what happened [on Wednesday], I was afraid to go out on the street to buy food."

Residents terrified

On Thursday, Netanyahu condemned the violence. "I want to make it very clear that there is no room for the kinds of expressions and actions we saw last night," he said. "I say this both to public officials and to the residents of south Tel Aviv, whose pain I understand."

The Hotline for Migrant Workers advocacy group said the refugees are endangered by the "incitement" of politicians.

On the other side of the divide, neighbourhood activist Dror Kahalani said the government is neglecting his already poor community to provide services for migrants, whose rising numbers terrify residents.

"I don't let my daughters go out unless I go with them," Kahalani said.

Prominent author and social commentator AB Yehoshua came to the defense of the migrants' Israeli neighbours. "We have to distinguish between economic migrants whom we don't have to accept, and the bona fide refugees who are suffering and face death if returned," he said.

For some, the violence against the migrants and calls for their expulsion are difficult to accept given the legacy of the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were killed by German Nazis and their collaborators. They find it abhorrent that the Jewish state would expel people to face persecution elsewhere.

Others counter that following the mass murder of its own people as the world looked on, Israel has no more of an obligation to help others than the rest of the world does.

  • Fidel - 2012-05-25 11:58

    "The crowd shattered windows of shops and cars belonging to Africans, police said, and a witness reported that protesters spat on migrants and cursed them. No one was hurt." KRISTALLNACHT!!! Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it!

      Boom - 2012-05-25 13:57

      FIDEL: Who do you think African Sudanese are fleeing from into "apartheid" Israel? From Arab Sudanese who have committed genocide on them, killing literally hundreds of thousands, you racist moron.

      Gerhard - 2012-05-25 14:25

      Fidel does not understand his/her own insanity.

      Fidel - 2012-05-25 14:37

      That is besides the point. This is what is at issue here: "Israeli leaders use terms like "infiltrators", "cancer" and "national scourge" to describe them, setting an inflammatory tone." That is the language of Julius Streicher (what is it with Juliuses), ever heard of him? @Boom And you have the audacity to call me racist. I thought it was ONLY Africans who see racism where none exist. Muppetry of enormous proportions!

      Boom - 2012-05-25 17:41

      The point is you are calling Israelis nazis and yet the muslims arab Sudanese commit genocide against African Sudanese, you RACIST!!!

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-05-25 20:55

      Fidel is a bellwether for wrong thinking. This is his present function. Useful in some respects, regrettable in most.

      Fidel - 2012-05-26 09:30

      Boom, you sound just like Julius Malema!

      jowza1 - 2012-05-26 09:51

      people want their juice undiluted

      Larry - 2012-05-26 23:03

      And Fidel, you only read what is appealing to your bent.

      Cuteandbronzed - 2012-06-09 04:03

      I just have to add miss Fidel you speak well:)

      Sharon - 2012-06-15 18:41

      you guys do it here all the time

  • jaba.kov - 2012-05-25 14:09

    The heading is incomplete: Backlash against African immigrants after teenage girls raped by illegal aliens in an impoverished part of Tel-Aviv. Israeli people do not hate Africans – never have, never will. The heading is just more of the usual anti-Israel propaganda we have come to accept form the media.

      Fidel - 2012-05-25 14:45

      You want to be technical, there is nothing in the article that says that a teenage girl was raped by African aliens. "locals, who accuse the migrants of stoking crime, including the recent rapes - even though police records show crime among the migrants is lower than among Israelis."

      Fidel - 2012-05-25 15:21

      I am not excusing any criminality by anyone but am merely commenting on the behaviour of Israeli leaders and citizens, you know the supposedly beacon of light in the Middle East? You on the other are finding all sorts of excuses for this savage behaviour.

      jaba.kov - 2012-05-25 15:33

      No fidel it is you that is finding all sorts of excuses to justify your hate of anything Western; which obviously does include the democratic and free beacon of light in the Middle East - ISRAEL

      Iqbal - 2012-05-25 18:46

      A "democracy" with an appalling human rights record; with institutionalized bigotry; a policy of ethnic cleansing; murder, theft of land, racism, etc.etc.etc. A true epitome of evil. Now who would want this type on "democracy"? What is really frightening about Apartheid Israel being a "democracy" is that it has the support of most of its citizens (excluding the Arab Israelis and many other decent Israelis of course). It will take a while to civilize this country ... after all it only scrapped the abhorrent and notorious detention without trial last week).

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-05-25 20:58

      Iqbal, as has been pointed out previously, you have little idea of what is really happening in the Middle East, other than Ego-centric prejudices. You are harming the Palestinians without knowing it. Ironically this is your way out to a higher state of understanding and more positive impact. Forgive them for they know not what they do. However, first you have to realize your ignorance and arrogance.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-05-25 21:01

      Fidel, you only comment negatively on Israel, through your slanted, faulty and racist lenses.

      Iqbal - 2012-05-25 21:25

      And as I've said before Fred(stuck-record)Fraser. Your comments are too boring and monotonous to respond meaningfully to. Your paymasters are not going to be happy with you now that you've been exposed.

      Iqbal - 2012-05-25 22:20

      Another thing - do you and your circus (starring Jaba, Fred 'n Larry) realise how idiotic you sound when you call critics of Israel "racist". These kind of cheap recriminations are a yawn, especially when the whole world knows (though some won't admit openly) that Apartheid Israel is racist scum of the worst kind (ask any true SA anti-apartheid activist and he/she will tell you). Yet your circus will call Fidel "racist". Why? I have seen some anti-jewish/antisemitic comments on News24, but I cannot recall reading anything that remotely resembles racism in Fidel's (and others) posts. So who is Fidel racist towards if it is not jews? Zionism = Racism is an anathema - so does hating it and its institution (Israel) make you racist? This is really stupid logic! But then zionists = racists are ignorant and stupid anyway. I do know that zionists hate Arabs, muslims, non-whites, gentiles, etc. over and above the its racist ideology. But help me understand why a critic of Apartheid Israel makes one racist. Oh don't bother Fred, I know. It's because I "don't understand what happening in the middle east", I have an "ego", I am "arrogant", I am "actually harming the Palestinians", blah di blah di blah di blah, ho hum!

      Larry - 2012-05-26 23:04

      Also selective reading.

      Larry - 2012-05-26 23:09

      Iqbal, your arrogant statement that Israel needs to be civilised is rum. By civilised, do you mean Islamicised? Do you think you and your people are civilised? Maybe in a hundred years or more.

  • Rob - 2012-05-25 15:45

    It doesnt take them long to start their savage ways. No matter which country they " migrate " to. Israel has a real problem here. Mind you so do we.

      Fidel - 2012-05-26 09:28

      How far do you want to go to see who has acted in a savage way no matter which country they "migrate" to? Have you and your "kind" acted in a civilised manner in this country?

      Larry - 2012-05-26 23:11

      Most definitely, Fidel. all that is modern and democratic is civilised. Who is the savage, those who rape and pillage, or those who protest against such vile behavior?

      Fidel - 2012-05-27 09:46

      You really have no idea what "civilisation" is. As Ghandhi said, western civilisation is a good idea. Talk about pillaging!

      Larry - 2012-05-28 06:36

      Well, when we have different meaning for different words, we will always talk past each other, Fidel. We must agree to disagree on all things. I am comfortable with that.

  • Lynne - 2012-05-26 01:34

    The government has to clarify its immigration policy for these and future immigrants flocking here. If the immigrants already here are to be "grandfathered" as legal then the country has to create and manage employment, healthcare, education and social services for this population. Perhaps any new immigrants fleeing here could be served by the assistance of other countries. In the interim, this population has temporary/twilight zone status which means marginal access to what society offers. This is precarious for them and for you because that can lead to conflict, as you have seen. So, figure out how many immigrants you can assist and absorb and determine other countries who can help.

      Larry - 2012-05-26 23:13

      This is a difficult issue best left to the country who has to deal with it.

  • Jonathan - 2012-05-27 08:13

    If Israel is such a bad country why are the African fleeing there. My advice to Israel, charity begins at home- close you borders for these parracites and send them all back home. Let them go and sort ourt their own problems. Every body is sh$8ing on Israel but they are good enough to house, feed and support these people. This is BS.

      Dombolo - 2012-05-29 06:00

      housing and feeding people does not give you the right to lynch them. What I find quite shocking is the behavior of Israelis given their history. But then again, its only bad when its done to you, but if you are the perpetrator you are oblivious to your flawed actions. Human beings are only good at hating each other its a simple as that, i think we might as well all just go to war see how that will end up. I think i have an idea, NO MORE PLANET EARTH. shame...and for us to think we are more sophisticated in animal kingdom, its laughable.

      Larry - 2012-05-29 09:22

      Dombolo do not propagate lies. Nobody got lynched in Israel. That only happens in good old South Africa with black on black violence.

      Dombolo - 2012-05-29 22:13

      @Larry you've been smoking your socks or is it stockings? U dont like me, I dont like you so "Fight" ting!!!! Thats the order of this world

      Sharon - 2012-06-04 21:05

      - at least the israelis didnt necklace them,this seems to be a south african sport

      Sharon - 2012-06-15 18:43

      i dont see any arab countries stepping up to take them in,yet the mozzies are throwing low blows at israel,this is typical of them

  • edward.herbst - 2012-06-11 11:38

    it was not long ago at all that we had exactly the same happening in SA. Immigrants being attacked their homes burnt and people set on fire . but here it is not racism it is called xenophobia. EVERY BODY IS RACIST TO A GREATER OR LESSER DEGREE.. ps if they were not economic migrants then why did they not go to Ethiopia.Uganda.Kenya Congo ETC ETC. these country's are much closer to home . but do not assist foreigners in any way at all so before you point a finger remember those pointing back at you .

  • Michael - 2012-06-11 16:38

    Zionists..come on this is what has been fought so hard for to implement tolerance and intergration through your activists in all western rich nations...But when it comes to home???Any zionist is a blatant racist.

      Boom - 2012-06-11 17:09

      I suppose the suppression of the shia community by the allawites in Syria and the murder of over 10,000 people there is all just a conspiracy by those wicked Zionists, huh? By the way, they are called Israelis. I know you can't bear to say the name, but it exists, on a map and in real life too! I-s-r-a-e-l! Come on, you can do it. Or what about the genocide of the Kurds by the turks? Or the genocide of the African Sudanese by the arab Sudanese - where literally hundreds of thousands have been killed. I suppose that is not racism? I find it laughable that you call Israel racist when the only reason that African Sudanese and Eritreans fled there is because of arab/muslim genocide and violent islamist aggression in their own countries!!!!

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