Leaders of the community of Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel on Monday condemned the knife attack Sunday by a Sudanese citizen on an Israeli soldier in Ashkelon, and said the man does not represent the community. Speaking at a press conference in south Tel Aviv, the community leaders said the assailant was mentally unstable, and that they feared the attack would be used to incite people against them.
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A small group of south Tel Aviv residents disrupted the press conference, making noise and singing at the top of their lungs. Police stood at the entrance to the building where the briefing was taking place and prevented the locals from entering, but did not ensure that the press conference could be held undisturbed.
Tom Alhadj, an asylum seeker from the Darfur region of Sudan, said the activists called the press conference to assure people that the act of one individual did not mean that everyone is part of the crime. He said they did not know exactly what happened and were waiting for the police report.
“Since yesterday morning our community has undergone a real shake-up,” said Mutasim Ali, a leader of the asylum seekers in Israel who is also from Darfur. Speaking in Hebrew, he added: “Exactly because of this it is important for us to convey to you a clear message about the terrible thing that happened yesterday: Kamal Hassan, 32, from Sudan, is suspected of attacking the soldier yesterday. He was sent to Holot [detention center] in April 2014. People interned with him said he suffered from psychological problems. He left Holot without a permit in May 2015 and since then has been wandering between Ashdod and other cities and finally Ashkelon. His mental condition deteriorated and he became a danger to himself and others.
“We still don’t know the real circumstances of the case and whether Hassan really did commit the stabbing,” Ali said, adding that the community would trust the report by the authorities. Ali said the community was certain Hassan did not commit the attack out of political motives. “He had no political agenda and certainly no political agendas that represent our community. ... These are not our values, not our identity and not what we represent.”
Ali said he hoped the soldier recovered quickly and that members of the community wanted to visit him.
Ali said a backlash against the community could already be felt. “Since yesterday some people are calling us animals, dangerous, a security threat. That is not our community. These terms are far from the truth and I don’t think that even those who use them believe in them. They’re simply taking advantage of the opportunity to increase hatred and fear.” Ali said he believed most rational people in Israel knew how to differentiate “between a mentally unstable person and a community of asylum seekers.”
At the end of the press conference, Ali addressed the matter of the noisy protesters outside. “On the one hand we can understand the pain of the residents when it comes to asylum seekers in Israel. At this very moment the Knesset is making a law against infiltration and we of course expect an amendment that will take into account the interests of the people demonstrating outside and our needs as asylum seekers,” he said.