Following Attack on Migrant Workers, Israeli Aid Group Says Receives Anonymous Threat

As tension between foreigners and locals increases, residents blame government of inaction and buy tear gas for protection.

Workers at a Tel Aviv aid organization for refugees, foreign workers and asylum seekers, said they received an anonymous threat on Sunday, in an apparent sign that recent tensions between migrant workers and locals, especially in the city's south side, continued to increase.

On Saturday, two firebombs were hurled at a house in south Tel Aviv, luckily no one was hurt. Police said it investigates whether the incident is linked to a similar attack two weeks ago that targeted African residents.

Protests in Shapira neighborhood, Tel Aviv, April 27, 2012.
Daniel Bar-On

On Monday, Mesila, an aid organization located in southern Tel Aviv, said it received a phone call from an unidentified man on the previous day, saying they would be the next firebomb target. Every day, tens of foreign workers, refugees and asylum seekers visit the center to receive humanitarian aid, legal services and more.

According to a source in aid organizations, the unidentified man told the aid workers that "because of you there are foreign workers here; you are at fault because you receive foreign government funding." This is despite the fact that Mesila is funded exclusively by the Tel Aviv municipality.

The man also reportedly added that someone should throw Molotov cocktails on the workers and "burn all of you along with all of the foreigners."

Following recent incidents, Mesila asked the Tel Aviv municipality to place guards in the building, but it has yet to do so. Workers at the aid group said they had already become accustomed to being harassed, but after the phone call they filled a formal complaint with the police.

The municipality said that the possibility of placing a guard at the NGO was being examined.

Following recent tensions in the southern neighborhood of Tel Aviv, a local neighborhood committee said it decided to purchase and distribute pepper spray kits to the residents.

The chairman of the southern Tel-Aviv neighborhoods committee, Shlomo Maslawi, who is also a member of the Tel Aviv city council (Likud) sent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a letter requesting him to address the issue.

"We, the concerned neighborhood residents, decided to act and take care of our security. On the next few days we will purchase pepper spray kits in order to improve personal security," Maslawi wrote.

According to Maslawi, "rape, mugging, violence and harassment are occurring on a daily basis without any response from the authorities. Police keep saying it can not deal with the situation. The state of Israel is sentencing the residents of south Tel Aviv, as of neighborhoods across the country, in the conditions of a refugee camp; crowdedness and unsanitary conditions, in a failing and violent atmosphere."

Maslawi was not the only one asking the government to take action. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai also sent Netanyahu a letter on Sunday regarding the matter, repeating his claim that it is not the municipality's job to find a solution.

"Tens of thousands of work immigrates and infiltrators already live here, thousands join them every month and no one in the government takes the responsibility. It's impossible to ignore their basic needs and expect them not to turn to crime," Huldai said.

Huldai also warned that violence in the southern neighborhoods could escalate. "A powder keg, literally, is blowing up today in our face," he wrote, referring to recent attacks targeted at foreign residents. "Danger is already here," he said, "Israeli government has to address the issue and decide on practical measures to deal with it before it is too late."

Residents of the southern Tel Aviv neighborhoods met on Sunday and decided to organize protests across the country on the May 23 against the absence of action on the government's part.

According to the Interior Ministry's population registry, in 2011 more than 17,000 unauthorized foreign nationals - mostly from Sudan and Eritrea - crossed from Egypt into Israel illegally. After their identities are checked at the Ketziot detention center, most are bused to the Tel Aviv central bus station, in the south of the city.

Municipal officials estimate that around 40,000 labor migrants and more than 20,000 asylum seekers live in south Tel Aviv at present. Most are in the disadvantaged Shapira, Hatikva, Neve Sha'anan and Kiryat Shalom neighborhoods, as well as the area surrounding the Tel Aviv central bus station.