20,000 asylum seekers, supporters, protest in Tel Aviv
Some 20,000 on Levinski St. in south Tel Aviv gather to oppose the government's plan to expel African migrants; Speakers point out bitter irony of expulsion set for Passover, Holiday of Freedom, say government abandoned local residents decades before migrants arrival; Small right wing counter-protest nearby supporting expulsion.
Under the banner: “Anti-expulsion, pro-south Tel Aviv,” some 20,000 people gathered on Levinski street near the Tel Aviv bus station Saturday night to demand the government find a humane solution to the difficulties facing the neighborhood and oppose the expulsion.
Tugud Omer Adam from Sudan addressed the crowd: “We did not choose to come to south Tel Aviv. They are not handing out maps to Levinski Street in the Sinai Desert. When we arrived in Israel, we were handed a one-way ticket to the New Bus Station.”
He continued: “I ask myself: How the hell will I survive the militias? The human traffickers? The desert? How will I find the strength to survive? You are giving us hope. Because of you here tonight I have faith in the Jewish heart,” Tugud told the protesters.
Expulsion scheduled for Passover, Holiday of Freedom
The protest was organized by Shula Keshet, a resident of the southern neighborhood of Neve Sha’anan and activist in the movement “South Tel Aviv Against the Expulsion. Keshet said: “They say the expulsion has not yet begun, well it already has. They say that it will begin on Passover, and I say that the Holiday of Freedom will be stained with the disgrace of the expulsion. South Tel Aviv is for renewal, for public housing, for spreading the refugees throughout the country and for a dignified life for all. Anybody hears us? Anybody see?
“For many years, the municipality and the government have allowed this neighborhood to become an ex-territorial space; a center of drugs and prostitution; a crowded ghetto through sending tens-of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers here, to a violent place for women and children and the elderly.”
She went on: “They say that the expulsion will be our (neighborhood’s) renewal and I am saying that the expulsion will only add insult to the injury and serve as another step in the process of destruction.
“They say: your city’s impoverished take precedence to the foreigner, and I say: what is actually happening is that (the government policies dictate that) the wealthy take precedence to the poor and the asylum seekers.”
The event was chaired by the journalist Merav Betito who said at the opening: “On Passover, when we are celebrating, the expulsion will be in full swing. We will dress in white and they will be hungry and lacking on the way to the unknown. They, who are desperate for rescue and shelter, are doomed to be disregarded.
“This is not the way of the Jewish people,” Betito declared, “This is not a matter of left or right. We are here to remind our leadership of what kind of Jewish leadership we expect of them. We are in solidarity with the residents of south Tel Aviv, so do not call us leftists, call us Jews.”
MK Dov Henin (Joint List) also participated and he said that he is protesting tonight against the expulsion and the “Chaotic policy in south Tel Aviv. The government offers incitement and hatred instead of solutions; we are demonstrating together that something else is possible.”
A local resident, Zehava Vaknin also spoke: “Our daily difficulties did not begin with the arrival of the asylum seekers. Instead of the mayor and prime minister taking care of the residents of the southern neighborhoods, they are building towers for the wealthy. Why jail people who have fled war? I was scared to walk the streets, not because of the asylum seekers, but because the streets are so dark in the neighborhood.”
Police said that the protest permit was valid until 22:30. “The police will work to ensure the well being, security and safety of the protest participants and just as importantly, will ensure that the protest does not exceed the permitted times, does not cause undue harm to the routine of the general public and goes according to the law,” they said.
Police also said that there would be zero tolerance for those seeking to disturb the public order or attempt to harm demonstrators. They called on protest organizers to be responsible and ensure tempers do not flare.
Nearby, a simultaneous counter-protest took place under the heading “People for the expulsion, remembering Esther Galili.” It was attended by a few hundred people. Galili, 70, was killed near her home by an asylum seeker from Sudan.
Ayala Sinuani, Suzi Cohen and Sheffi Paz are leading the pro-expulsion campaign. They said: “This year, on the anniversary of the death of Esther Galili, the extreme left is holding a protest in south Tel Aviv. One can see the depth of their brazenness and hypocrisy. They are not for south Tel Aviv, they do not even recognize south Tel Aviv. The residents here have lost their sense of security, of mobility, and now they are trying to take the last thing that is left, our identity.”
Doron Avrahami, a resident of south Tel Aviv who came to support the expulsion said: “This is our home. We live here, this is the center of our life. We came out with flags to show who the real residents of south Tel Aviv are. They are not the leftists who came from all over to support the infiltrators although they do not live here. Galili was killed by an infiltrator who was sentenced to eight years. An Israeli citizen who attacked an infiltrator because he thought he was a terrorist was sentenced to 10 years. What kind of justice system do we have?” he asked.
An activist from the right wing Im Tirtzu organization, Alon Schwartzer, said: “Once again we see today who is for the people of south Tel Aviv and who is against the State of Israel. It is time the people of the New Israel Fund and their friends stop harassing, together with thousands of infiltrators, Israeli society and residents of southern Tel Aviv especially. Whoever makes comparisons between Israeli society and Nazi Germany is participating in a campaign against the State of Israel.”
Two arrested for threatening to harm protesters
Police have detained for questioning two suspects who issued threats to harm protesters during the anti-expulsion of African migrants event, in Tel Aviv. The two had posted inflammatory messages on Facebook and police have confiscated a pistol from one of them who wrote “I am armed.”
Police stressed that it was forbidden to enter the protest area armed.