'Team Marzel' targets Tel Aviv migrants
Extreme rightist arms volunteers with tear gas, krav maga, uniforms, and Kahane-brand ideology in battle against foreign workers' Tel Aviv 'takeover'
They stand in a big yard in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Kiryat Shalom, forming a circle around a large punching bag. They hold stickers and signs supplied by extreme rightist Baruch Marzel, and wear shirts that say: Israel is ours.
The object: Southern Tel Aviv's migrant community. The weapon: Tear gas and krav maga training. The inspiration: Rabbi Meir Kahane.
Two months ago MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union) opened an office in the nearby Hatikva neighborhood, and was immediately swamped by southern Tel Aviv residents complaining of the wave of migrants swamping the area.
The residents claim the migrants are violent and often involved in crimes such as theft and even attempted rape. They claim they are living in fear while police stand by.
But Ben Ari had an idea. He was reminded of the Jewish Defense League, which Rabbi Kahane established in the US in the 1960's. The league of vigilantes served as protection for American Jews, and its members were often said to have used violent means to achieve this aim.
The MK decided to appeal to Marzel, who heads the Our Land of Israel organization and was previously a member of the JDL.
The latter took up the cause immediately and decided to establish a local neighborhood watch. He organized lessons in the Israeli martial arts form krav maga, equipped volunteers with tear gas and uniforms, established an emergency phone line and distributed a volunteer list. He also promised the occasional assistance of other right-wing activists, his followers.
The first patrol, which will mobilize some 200 volunteers, is scheduled to take place in the coming days. "We have a lot of ex-soldiers, and unlike the police we will establish order," says Haim, one of the volunteers.
In addition to the means at their disposal, the volunteers also plan to make use of citizens' arrests in order to detain those caught committing a crime until police arrive. "If needed, we will use reasonable and minimal force," Haim explains.
"We don't want fistfights, but rather to make migrants despair of being here. We will show up with 20 people, knock on their doors, and make it clear that we want them to leave," says Meir Turjeman, a member of the Hatikva neighborhood committee.
In addition to southern Tel Aviv, Marzel plans to establish units in other cities with large migrant populations, such as Eilat and Arad – "any city in which there is a need", he explains.
Members of neighborhood watch team (Photo: Tzvika Tishler)
"We are living in fear," says Suzy, a resident of Kiryat Shalom. "In the past month alone there have been more than 20 break-ins and many attacks – so as a last resort we are taking matters into our own hands."
But police are less enthusiastic. "This is a group of provocateurs with the sole aim of igniting the area," said a police officer familiar with the matter.
But Marzel believes the "rules of the game" are changing. "Those who should be afraid are the infiltrators," he says. "Anywhere in Israel where people are afraid – of migrants or Arabs – will know that there are people to rely on for security. As a former member of the Jewish Defense League I can say that the passion here is reminiscent of what was there, and even more."
The volunteers' slogan – "those who believe do not fear" – hints at their proximity to the ideology of Kahane's Kach movement, which enjoyed great success in the '80s.
"With this shirt I am not afraid," says Suzy. "Now I have the strong support of the watch and Baruch Marzel, and his political views do not interest me in the least."
Lev Melayev, also a member of the team, tries to explain his fears as well. "My friend, a soldier in basic training, went to the central bus station this week and on the way saw an Arab and a Sudanese man who cursed him off and yelled, 'Hey Jew, come over here'," he recounted.
"The Arab tried to take his phone and when he objected pulled a knife out and stabbed him. He has a cut on the side of his stomach and only a miracle saved him from being stabbed in the heart."
Karin Galili, whose mother was killed by a drunken migrant, also expressed her frustration. "Lives are destroyed every day here, and we will do everything we can to stop it," she says.