“In the struggle between the High Court of Justice and the Knesset over the fate of the work-seeking migrants from Africa, I’m more interested in the fate of the residents of southern Tel Aviv. While the migrants are also important, they come second. The residents of Hatikva quarter and the old central bus station area come first – they once lived in a normal, although problematic environment, but in the last five years they have found themselves in ‘Southern Hell’”, wrote Nehemia Strassler (Haaretz Hebrew edition, Aug. 14).
Strassler, who suggested sending the asylum seekers to the upscale neighborhoods where judges and human rights activists who ignore their own people live, is emulating the rhetoric of right-wing cabinet members, including Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, the most vociferous participant in the violent demonstrations taking place in south Tel Aviv. Following the High Court’s decision to limit the time of incarceration at the Holot detention facility to one year, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan blamed the left of “being blind to their own needy population,” while Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who took pride in having an office in the poor Shapira neighborhood of Tel Aviv, opened a hotline of incitement on her Facebook page the day the court handed down its ruling.
I’m not a judge living in upscale Rehavia or someone born in the hardscrabble Hatikva quarter, but my life has been linked to southern Tel Aviv. I live close to Hatikva, work close to the old bus depot, and twice a week I pass through the Shapira neighborhood, close to Shaked’s office, which is now up for rent. The office is closed. Incidentally, I’ve never seen her there.
At the end of the 1990s I served in the IDF, in a unit that was located on Hagra Street, the heart of darkness within the poor neighborhood of Neveh Sha’anan, years before it was flooded with African migrants. Commerce in women prospered there at the time. Beat-up prostitutes from Ukraine and Moldova could be seen stealing a smoke though small openings or windows. Stabbed clients lay in the streets. Foreign workers, mostly from Eastern Europe, drank themselves to the point of unconsciousness. Miserable drug addicts froze to death during winter and were beaten throughout the year. The well-known rule was that no female soldier goes out alone after dark. I was stuck there once at night, and our unit’s driver was good enough to drive me so I wouldn’t have to sleep alone in the building or risk waiting at a bus stop.
On July 3, 1996, Avirama Golan wrote in “Haaretz” (“Ghost Children”): “Taxi drivers refuse, for example, to drive to Neveh Sha’anan late at night, saying ‘I don’t drive to Haarlem.’ The children of foreign workers attend a preschool right beside a drug-selling location. They climb the stairs leading up to their ‘home’ through hallways littered with used needles and condoms. Through their windows they see sex parlors and kiosks that sell only alcohol, drunkards strewn in the streets, prostitutes, drug addicts and violent pimps. Some of them have been gazing at this landscape for seven years or more, and it’s all they know.”
If such a reality can be described as a “normal environment,” I find it hard to understand Strassler’s standards.
I also find it difficult to understand the gall of right-wing representatives who’ve done nothing to assist the residents of southern Tel Aviv in their afflicted neighborhoods. The dire situation in Neveh Sha’anan, Hatikva and Shapira, in which most of the migrants are concentrated, is what brought them there in the first place. Of course, among them there is also crime and violence, as there is in any poor population. It’s also clear that the residents of these neighborhoods cannot carry on their backs tens of thousands of people who have no means of making a living, no work permits and no supportive welfare system. The fault is with the government, which is doing nothing except trying to bend the court until it legitimizes the abuse of these asylum seekers.
The wave of romantic solidarity with the residents of southern Tel Aviv is also no less of a hollow placard, if not more so, than the hypocrisy attributed to those who worry about the world’s poor as long as they don’t sleep in their own back yards. This isn’t concern for the welfare of these residents – it’s pure racism.