Not Everyone in South Tel Aviv Wants the Asylum Seekers Out

In the past, veteran residents rejected their new neighbors, but times seem to have changed.

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Asylum seekers in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood.
Asylum seekers in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood. Credit: Alon Ron

If in the past, residents of south Tel Aviv had been adamant in their opposition to asylum seekers from Africa living in their neighborhoods, a tour of the south Tel Aviv Hatikva quarter on Tuesday evening that both preceded and followed that day’s High Court of Justice ruling on the detention of migrants paints a different picture.

The Africans have been living in the neighborhood for years at this point, and almost all are fully employed, which cuts down on the incidence of crime. They work morning to night, making reasonable incomes and buying merchandise in the neighborhood. In the process, they have become a major purchasing power in this impoverished place that has been so neglected by every Israeli government.

Nearly all of the merchants with whom I spoke, from sellers of sewing supplies to vegetables, expressed highly positive attitudes toward their neighbors from Eritrea and Sudan, who have become their customers and employees.

“They’re great people. It would be great if there were another 100,000 like them. They should build buildings for themselves and live here,” says a greengrocer named Yossi. “They’re fabulous workers.”

But for her part, a customer named Efrat picks out an onion and says: “I’m against them. I want Israel to have a Jewish character. The Hatikva quarter has turned into a Little Africa. They are violent and dirty, and they multiply here like street cats.”

But Yossi’s neighbor, a greengrocer by the name of Arbash, expresses explicit support for the migrants. “I’m employing six Eritreans and I wish them only well. They are reliable workers – not like the Jews.”

Shimon, a customer, has his reservations, however: “When I heard that they raped Jewish women, I just went and hit every Eritrean I met on the street. They have 200 stores here. Imagine Jews opening up all kinds of stores in one area in the United States.”

But Arbash retorts: “There’s no one like the Eritreans. They are perfect customers and perfect workers, not like the Israelis who buy two tomatoes.”

In the lower part of the neighborhood market at a towel and sock store, one Likudnik worker says he’s against detaining the migrants at the Holot detention center in the south.

“It’s the same as with us. One does something crappy and they accuse all of them,” and he adds: “People who don’t know them like I do think bad things about them, but I am with them a lot. Some of them are good people. Why should they suffer? They are tough customers on price, but it’s hard for them.

“I also don’t see any difference between them and Jews when it comes to shoplifting. Listen, their bad image comes from the news. The people writing in the media are not from here and don’t experience them at all. And if I weren’t from here, I would have said they should be kicked out of here. But there are a lot of very nice people. Six months ago a lot left for Europe, regular customers who came to say goodbye.”

But many people in the neighborhood continue to oppose the asylum seekers.

“You can’t walk around freely,” says Hatikva resident Nelly Rubin. “We are living in hell. I put up a beautiful fence and then they pee on it.”

Another woman, who sells parsley in the market, shows me an umbrella that she walks around with for self-defense.

And Kalifa Ohayon, who lives in the area of the old Central Bus Station in south Tel Aviv, warns: “We are facing a time bomb, a threat that is bigger than the one from Iran. Filipino women are going to bed with Israeli men and staying here. I’m familiar with this. It’s no less a danger than the infiltrators. The women have learned the system. It’s a demographic catastrophe. I would prefer a million drug addicts to one infiltrator, because the infiltrators have come to swallow us up.”

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