Fear and Loathing in Hatikva

Israelis scared and angry after riot; Africans just scared.

Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman
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Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman

A day after Wednesday night's mob attack on African migrants, the open-air market in South Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood wore a facade of "back to normal." But the hatred remained. Things that would chill the blood of any Israeli were they said about Jews were said without hesitation on Thursday about African migrants.

"Come back at 8 or 9 P.M., and you'll understand what the residents feel," said Yoram Bar-Natan, an egg merchant. "You'll see more than 300 people sitting on the sidewalks drunk, beer or hard liquor in hand, 100 meters from here. People are afraid to walk down the street. When you come see for yourself, you'll understand."

"For the last three years, our knees have trembled before entering the park in broad daylight," added Yehezkel Kuzarov, a shoe seller. "If you saw an Eritrean guy with no pants, would you go in?"

Bar-Natan has no solution to the problem, but says the government should: "Those who brought them need to solve the problem. They'd be better off if they weren't here. There's no space here, they live eight or 10 to a room; some come without women, and that's a problem."

Shula Levy said they should all be taken to North Tel Aviv. "Let them [the northerners] not sleep at night," she said. "I'd like to see how they'd react. In a week, they'd get rid of them."

"It will become Harlem here," Kuzarov warned. "You walk here on Shabbat and you don't see anyone our color. This was the happiest place in the world; now it's become a black grave."

Zion Dahari said he had heard people say "they'll stab [the migrants] with knives" if they aren't removed. "Who'd abandon his daughter to such people? They take jobs, they make apartments more expensive. ... They also run away and leave debts."

"I agree that they have to live, but not at my expense," he added.

The residents are afraid, and conversations with Eritreans in the market show the fear is mutual.

An Eritrean merchant who asked to remain anonymous said he closed his stand early Wednesday evening because of the angry crowd. "They could kill me," he said.

"In my country there's a dictator, there's no peace. I can't live there," he added.

Barha, an Eritrean boy of 14, said he was afraid to leave his house Wednesday night. "They can do things and no one would say anything to them, but if we do it, they'll take us to jail. Why do they hate? Who did anything to them? I go to school and come home, use the Internet and don't do anything [to them]," he said.

But they curse us and call us 'nigger,'" the boy added. "And we don't say anything."

"Israel isn't what we thought," the merchant said. "We left our country, which is a mess, and we got a mess here."

"We thought they'd respect us, but how they hate people!" Barha agreed. "If there were a war here and they came to our country, we wouldn't behave like that. ... Even at school, when we go, they call us 'black.' But God made us, what can we do? Change our faces?"

Siyum, an Eritrean shopowner, told of sitting in his locked shop with his one-year-old son Wednesday night as Israelis pounded on the protective bars. "Why all the violence? Why break everything?" he asked. "We have work, we sit here without [making] problems. ... What did I do? I go to work and go home. I opened a store for everyone."

That, incidentally, is one of Kuzarov's gripes: "I pay NIS 1,400 a month in national insurance! The man here opens a store, and the Israeli pays all the taxes!"

Nevertheless, Bar-Natan unequivocally condemned the violence. "There are Jews worldwide; what if there were demonstrations like that against Jews?" he demanded.

But Melly, another neighborhood resident, justified it. "There's no other way," she said. "There were several orderly demonstrations, but it went in one ear and out the other. No one cares anything about what happens here."

And she warned, "In my opinion, what happened here [Wednesday night] was still minor. I hear what kind of mood people are in. It won't end with this; it will get worse."

Cleaning up after Wednesday night’s protest in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood. 'It will become Harlem here,' says one resident.Credit: Moti Milrod



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