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Tel Aviv’s forgotten district suffers racist attack

Asylum seekers targeted in Tel Aviv neighborhood
Aid organizations file complaint after Molotov cocktails are thrown at apartments where asylum seekers are currently residing in southern Tel Aviv. Police confirm they received complaints

Omri Efraim, Ynet news

Aid organizations in Tel Aviv filed a complaint on Thursday night claiming that Molotov cocktails were thrown at four apartments where African asylum seekers reside as well as an apartment that is being used as a daycare center, both in the Shapira neighborhood in southern Tel Aviv.

No one was hurt in the attack and police have confirmed that they received the complaints.

One local resident told Ynet that at around 1:30 am a fire broke out in the back yard of the apartment beneath his, where Eritrean asylum seekers live. “They sleep in the backyard too because of how crowded it is… one of the beds was on fire.”

According to the eyewitness, police forces arrived within a few minutes. “There were pieces of broken bottles at the scene,” he said.

“Apparently there was another building on the other side also belonging to asylum seekers that had Molotov cocktails thrown at it, and a few hundred meters away I saw two more apartments and an apartment that’s used for a daycare center where there were arson attempts and bottle shards.

In light of the incident, social activists intent on demonstrating in the neighborhood on Friday afternoon. “These people are the most impoverished in our society,” said activist Nit Nader. He added: “We will go out and protest in order to support their rights.

“Yes, there are problems in Tel Aviv’s poor neighborhoods but you can’t solve those problems at the asylum seekers’ expense. The anger should be towards the government.”

The Tel Aviv District Police said in response: “We did receive attempts in connection with attempted arson attacks. One, on a slide in a park and two others at home entrances.”

Eli Senyor contributed to the report

Social activists rally in support of refugees

Some 200 activist protest against hurling of Molotov cocktails at houses of asylum seekers in Tel Aviv’s Shapira neighborhood. ‘This place has been forsaken in the hands of racist KKK groups, who wish to terrorize innocent people,’ says activist

Gilad Morag, Ynet news

Some 200 social activists on Friday protested in Tel Aviv’s Shapira neighborhood after Molotov cocktails were thrown at four apartments where African asylum seekers reside, including an apartment used as a daycare center for children.

Maya, one of the activists who rallied in support of the asylum seekers, said: “We came here to try to calm the spirits down, and help the victims of these attacks feel that there are other people who do not carry messages of hate.”

Another activist noted that Thursday’s incident “stemmed from a feeling of frustration and helplessness harbored by the residents of the neighborhood, who are rightfully angry at the government for neglecting their neighborhood. But on the other hand there are the refugees, who are also suffering.

“This area is becoming hell,” the activist noted, adding that “the two sides need to level their criticism at those who are responsible, instead of blaming each other. The government needs to give alternatives and address these problems – otherwise the situation will deteriorate,” he said.

Shapira resident Lior Levy said he came out to show solidarity with the refugees. “Many of the residents demand to have them deported, mainly for racist reasons. These are helpless people. This neighborhood was forsaken in the hands of racist groups like the KKK, who wish to terrorize innocent people.

Baso, 26, from Sudan, said he does not believe the police will do anything because “they think in the same manner as the people who did it. They probably think we shouldn’t be here,” he said.

Another neighborhood resident, who is originally from Ethiopian descent, told Ynet: “I am a Jew, but I look Sudanese because of my skin color. I notice the stares every time I walk down the street. There is indiscriminate racism around here. The establishment screwed over the veteran residents, and now they have someone to blame it on – it’s like a vicious cycle – a barrel of explosives that will eventually detonate.”

Meanwhile, other residents said that while they don’t condone the act, they themselves are the true victims of the situation. “We are the ones suffering from violent acts, not them,” said veteran neighborhood resident Dorit. “We are scared to cross the street or send our children to the playground on their own. There is a lot of violence going on between the refugees,” she said.

Another resident added: “We are not a sewer, where you discard of all the refugees. Scatter them all over the country and let us live in peace.

“We object to violence and racism, but these activists have the nerve to come here and accuse us of racism. The residents here suffer from rising levels of crime and violence. This has nothing to do with racism – it has everything to do with the fact that the government threw all its problems on us. As it is this neighborhood has been neglected for many years,” she said.

Omri Ephraim contributed to this report

Community shaken after night of arson attacks on African refugees
Haggai Matar, 972mag

Four houses and one kindergarten in south Tel Aviv, all serving the African asylum seeker community, were hit within the same hour by Molotov cocktails. Testimonies from asylum seekers and Israeli neighbors indicate a coordinated pogrom.

“Somebody is trying to get rid of these damn Sudanese,” said an Israeli resident of Shapira neighborhood in south Tel Aviv this morning. The term “Sudanese” is commonly used by Israelis to describe all African asylum seekers. The house adjacent to the house of this Israeli was hit at around 1:30 a.m. by three Molotov cocktails: two were thrown through the window, and one into the entry hall. No one was hurt, as residents and neighbors quickly awoke and extinguished the fire. Another fire bomb was thrown into a neighboring yard, where five asylum seekers sleep outdoors. Furniture was badly burned, but none of the residents were hurt. All of the cases are probably linked, as Mya has noted.

“Whoever did this is right, but he’s doing it the wrong way,” says the neighbor. “This fire almost burned my car, and also – there is a small girl in that house. He should have waited until nobody was home, and then blown the place up to send them a message”.

Shortly after the first two attacks, two more houses were hit in the center of the neighborhood. “My brother and I were sleeping, and we awoke from the sound of the fire – which started right next to my bed,” says Maskala Masgene, an Eritrean asylum seeker. “They opened the window and threw the bottle in through the bars. When I saw it I took the bottle and threw it right out to the street. I couldn’t go back to sleep since. I’m too scared. I understand they were not caught yet, whoever did this. I’ve experienced hate talk on the street before, but nothing like this.”

The apartment next door was the fourth place hit. Here the bottle exploded on the frame of the window. Another Eritrean woman and her four children were sleeping inside, right under the window.

The fifth attack, at around 2:30 a.m., targeted a kindergarten that also serves as a home to the Nigerian couple who runs it. The burned playground equipment was still visible in the morning. “We didn’t wake up from of the fire, but actually from the knocks on the door by the firefighters,” says Balsin Baraka. “They told us to stay inside, and now the children are coming and have no games to play with outside. I have no idea who could have done this but it’s terrifying.”

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai condemned the crimes. Acknowledging the hardships suffered by the Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv as a result of the refugee influx, he said in a statement that “the Tel Aviv municipality is investing many resources in order to make life easier for the residents, and I call on the Israel Police to do everything to catch whoever is behind this horrible act.”

All five locations were visited by police forces, who also located unused Molotov cocktails. Police say that they have not yet identified suspects in the attacks.

While refugees are uncertain about the identity of the attackers, Israeli residents of Shapira are all very certain that this was a racial attack. In addition to the neighbor interviewed above, several other neighborhood activists said that this is a culmination of a dangerous process that’s been going on for quite some time. “There is racist propaganda that comes down from the government, through members of the Municipal Council, and to the street – and this is the result,” accuses Nir Nader, a resident who is planning a solidarity vigil later on today. “People preaching violence should be in prison, and if the state doesn’t stop them – we shall.”

On Friday afternoon, a demonstration against violence and in solidarity with the asylum seekers took place in the impoverished Shapira neighborhood of south Tel Aviv, where much of the refugee population is concentrated. As asylum seeker bystanders looked on from the side, screaming matches erupted between refugee advocates potesting against violent racism, and angry residents blaming the protesters for turning their backs on their fellow citizens.

“These anti-Israeli leftist anarchists came here to make a mess. You don’t even live here!” one woman from Shapira yelled, although many of the demonstrators were locals. “Go demonstrate in north Tel Aviv! Why do we have to accept all of them in Shapira? Why not in north Tel Aviv or Herzliya?” said another, referring to wealthier areas in which refugees are less likely to live.

As the exchanges grew more heated – with some Shapira residents tearing signs from the hands of protesters – police separated the residents and the demonstrators behind barricades, on separate sides of the street. One demonstrator was arrested.

In recent years, conflicts often break out between lower class Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv and activists in refugee rights’ groups. Calls to “send the refugees to north Tel Aviv” are commonly heard, charging the upper class with hypocrisy for their purported lip service to liberalism while the poorest sectors of society must deal with the difficulties of absorbing refugee communities. Over the years, left wingers and NGO activists have started to incorporate the hardships of those residents into their agendas. Activists now tend to emphasize how better treatment of refugees by the government would also ease the pressure on locals.

Noa Yachot contributed reporting to this post.

A Tale of Two Cities
Jewish Virtual Library

Both images of Tel Aviv — its own and that held by the rest of Israel — ignore fully half of the city. By many indices, Tel Aviv really is two cities. The north and center correspond to the myth, while south Tel Aviv is more like a development town out in the hinterland.

The north is predominantly Ashkenazi, middle class, politically liberal, and secular. This Tel Aviv is epitomized by the Olympia restaurant, where so many power-lunchers in industry, politics, and the military have swung their deals, where VIPs from abroad are hosted. Owner Moshe Francis’s guest book bears the signatures of Jean-Paul Sartre, Pelé, Walter Cronkite, and even, in an entry dated May 4, 1968, Idi Amin. There’s Dizengoff Street, which tourists and Israeli squares still think is the hot spot of the city, not knowing that it was abandoned to tourists and squares decades ago, and the Agam fountain in long-since déclassé Dizengoff Circle. There’s Florentine — geographically south, sociologically north — the latest word in bohemia, hipper by far than Sheinkin, derided as a place for poseurs, while Florentine is the real thing: cheap, rundown flats in buildings where the laundry is still draped outside the windows, where the storefronts are those of metalworking and electrical-fixture shops, and, most of all, where there are real artists and writers and actors and directors, not little mama’s boys and girls who merely know how to dress correctly.

South Tel Aviv is the demographic antithesis of the north. It is dominated by poor and working class Mizrahim (although many poor immigrants from the former Soviet Union have moved in during this decade), politically right-wing and traditionally religious—with a growing number of newly religious Jews. The neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv—the Hatiqva Quarter, Ezra, Shapira, Kefar Shalem, Argazim (which means “crates,” and takes its name from the large, heavy crates that served as the neighborhood’s first “homes” in the 1950s)—bear the telltale sign of a poor Mizrahi area: The bulletin boards and the walls of empty storefronts are covered with posters advertising Jewish spiritualists, faith healers, and upcoming revival meetings. On one block in Kefar Shalem stand three little synagogues; a shocking contrast to the situation on the north side. This is a Tel Aviv that few Israelis, and fewer tourists, know.

The main drag southside is Etzel Street in the Hatiqva Quarter, a hopping place with great Mizrahi food. One of its landmarks is Shipudei Hatiqva, which was the starting point of the funeral cortege for its slain owner, Yehezkel Aslan, one of the drug kings and local heroes of Hatiqva. Another is Beit Dani, the vast community and sports center, the pride of south Tel Aviv, with its statue marking the spot where the Scuds fell during the Gulf War.

The new Central Bus Station, said to be the largest such terminal in the world, is the crossroads of the country’s poor and lower-middle class (the crossroads of the middle and upper classes being Ben-Gurion Airport).

Nearby is the old Central Bus Station, around which tens of thousands of foreign workers live in squalor, 12 to an apartment. On weekend nights one can see drunken Romanians (who tend to be here without families) sitting everywhere, in outdoor cafes and on sidewalks, surrounded by piles of empty beer bottles, before or after spending what’s probably the better part of a week’s pay at one of the aforementioned “health clubs.” One out of every seven people residing in Tel Aviv is a foreign worker, from Africa, China, the Philippines, Thailand, South America, and just about everyplace else. About half are in Israel legally; the rest live “underground” and try to avoid being picked up by the police. This area, despite being the crime hotbed of the city, is sparsely patrolled. Except for periodic raids to please those elements in the Government who consider the foreign workers a “ticking demographic bomb” and have nightmares of the Jewish state being overrun by aliens, the police tend to leave that side of town alone. Labor and Social Affairs Minister Eli Yishai (whose Shas party is one of those elements) once toured the parts of south Tel Aviv where the foreign workers are concentrated and said, “You walk around here and you think you’re in Africa, not Israel.” With Sunday a work day, African laborers (many of whom have managed to smuggle their families in) can be seen dressed in their best and going to church on Saturdays.

Until it closed down a few years ago and the neighborhood became an almost extraterritorial enclave of gastarbeiter, the old Central Bus Station was about the funkiest place in the country, certainly in Tel Aviv. The surrounding streets were famous for their concentration of ultrafast-food joints (serving mainly falafel [deep-fried chickpea fritters] and burekas [envelopes of flaky pastry filled with potatoes, spinach, cheese, or what have you]); cheap dives where old, slow-moving men sat silently in front of a beer and watched soccer on television; bargain basements; and, most of all, music stores blaring Mizrahi “cassette” music over loudspeakers.

Tel Aviv’s forgotten neighborhood
By Maya Sela, Haaretz

Hasdai Crescas Street in Tel Aviv’s Shapira quarter exemplifies the neglect, or at the very least carelessness, with which Tel Aviv treats its southern neighborhoods. In “Neither in Jaffa nor in Tel Aviv: Stories, Testimonies and Documents from the Shapira Neighborhood,” architect Sharon Rotbard demonstrates the absurdity to be found in a stroll down the street. Rotbard is the founder of Babel Publishers, which recently issued his latest book.

The philosopher and rabbi Crescas was a leader of 14th-century Spanish Jewry, but in Shapira he is variously Hasdai of Crescas, the Hasidim of Crescas or even the Hasidim of Caracas. His name is spelled differently on nearly every building, and it is not the only street name with this problem.

In “White City, Black City” (Babel, 2005, Hebrew), Rotbard, who also teaches architecture at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design writes that cities, like history, are always made by the victors and ultimately always in accordance according to the victor’s history, and are not equally welcoming to all.

To change the city, Rotbard says, one must first change its story.

To a large extent “Neither in Jaffa,” which he edited together with Muki Tsur, is an attempt to change the city, to provide entree to the history books to the Shapira neighborhood and to tell a story that no one else had bothered to tell. The book was published in collaboration with the Bina Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture, associated with the United Kibbutz Movement.

According to Tsur, a historian, a member of Kibbutz Ein Gev and a teacher at Bina’s secular yeshiva, Shapira embodies all of Israel’s social problems: the multiplicity of communities and of opinions, and of imaginary conflicts – between foreign workers and Palestinian collaborators resettled by the security agencies in Israeli neighborhoods; between ethnic groups, between synagogues, between religious and secular Jews.

“Since the neighborhood was neglected, no one fought for it. It received little publicity due to its marginality but it has many interesting things to teach about the difficulties within Israeli society.”

In its early days Shapira was not a part of Tel Aviv; it belonged to the periphery of Jaffa. In an advertising poster from the 1920s, developer Meir Getzl Shapira exhorts potential buyers: “Buy lots in the Naomi Miriam Shapira neighborhood and build the land. The best lots for factories, no need to pay taxes and there are no impediments to construction. The plots do not belong to Jaffa and Tel Aviv, the terms are very convenient and the downpayment is small…”

Meir Getzl Shapira was born in Lithuania in 1881. At the age of 14 he left his parents and sailed to America, where he worked in real estate. In 1922, at age 41 years old, he came to Palestine and bought plots along the seashore, on Salameh Road (Shapira neighborhood) and Samuel Road (King George Street). He met and married met Sonia Moselbuts, his junior by 23 years, with whom he had three children. They lived in the legendary house that he built for her Sonia on Simta Plonit, a tiny dead-end street perpendicular to King George.

Shapira invested little in developing Shapira, which for him was mainly a business venture. Rotbard moved into the neighborhood nine years ago, and founded Babel there.

“When we moved here questions about the location came up, naturally. I found nothing about the neighborhood in the books. It didn’t seem right that in a canonical book on Tel Aviv there’d be one paragraph on Shapira and 15 pages on a water tower in the center of Tel Aviv. It’s part of what I call ‘the black city’ – all the areas that are overshadowed by ‘the white city.'”

Lost world
In 2001 a joint project of the neighborhood’s community center library and Bina began. Residents and former residents met once a week to swap stories.

“Much of the material in the book came as stories, oral history,” Rotbard says.

The project continued at the library for about four years, coordinated by librarian Yossi Granovsky, Bina activists Itamar Gil, Dana Halevy and Ayelet Kestler and Rotbard.

“At first, neighborhood residents came, then people who had grown up there and were glad to return and meet with childhood friends. Before our eyes an entire world of which there’s no trace was recreated,” Rotbard related. Recordings were made, and then transcribed, and intensive archive research was conducted.

Tsur, who has always been particularly interested in the area and in pre-State history, pushed the project along. “People came as educational volunteers. We wanted to study the neighborhood because we can’t do educational work in a place with nothing to teach us,” Tsur said.

As a result of his research, Tsur has concluded that the entire state of Israel is paying a heavy price “for thinking that if it has an excellent air force then society will develop in its wake. This hasn’t happened. There’s a lot of neglect and irresponsibility. The fact that the municipality enabled this project obligates it in some way.”

Ifat Tehrani, 35 and a Shapira native, heads the neighborhood scout troop, the same one she belonged to as a girl. It was shut down in 1999, but in 2003 Bina volunteer Yoni Meshal suggested she revive it for a group of teens, the children of illegal migrant workers.

Today the troop has about 100 members, from Colombia, Peru, Thailand, the Philippines, Morocco, Turkey, Congo, and Nigeria, as well as Palestinians and Israeli Jews. Recently the troop has taken in refugees from Darfur.

The troop also joined the struggle to obtain citizenship for the children of foreign workers. The troop members who applied were granted temporary citizenship, which will become permanent when they complete their military service.

Citrus groves, not sand
Tehrani describes Shapira as unique place. “It doesn’t resemble any other neighborhood in Tel Aviv, but embodies all the characteristics of Israeli society, all the tensions that Israeli society is grappling with. Migrant workers, Jews, Arabs, a new population that has only come here recently and has good economic potential versus a disadvantaged veteran population. It is for the most part coping not badly at all. In certain places, such as the scout troop, which is multicultural, it represents an alternative and shows that it is also possible to do things differently.”

Tsur questions the image of Tel Aviv as a city of sand. “Chronologically this is a late neighborhood, based on the groves and vineyards that are the core of Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is not the city of sands, it’s the city of groves. When you look at it through the lens of the Shapira neighborhood you discover that the image of Tel Aviv as a city of culture and leisure is only one side of the coin. This side is full of irresponsibility, and this book is a call for responsibility.”

Tehrani believes that the Shapira neighborhood is not a part of the urban narrative of Tel Aviv. “I am glad that at long last the residents realize we need to create our own narrative. It’s a little sad, because Tel Aviv has achieved a status that enables it to look at its margins without feeling threatned.”

Rotbard speaks of the difficulty in defining a city and its boundaries. “At the start of the decade we sat with a municipal official who laughed when we asked for the mayor to visit the neighborhood. No mayor had ever visited. Once Chich (former Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat) was asked to come and he said outright that no one there voted for him so he wouldn’t. But [Mayor Ron] Huldai has come, several times. So in that respect there has been a big improvement.

Rotberd argues that Tel Aviv is still positioning itself within its historical, pre-1948 boundaries. “That’s what creates the border between north and south, the white city and the black city and so forth. It comes out in the most basic things such as sanitation and development. But relative to other southern neighborhoods, Shapira has succeeded in resisting developers’ plans or redevelopment initiatives, and I believe a lot of this is because people realize that there is a place here, and a story that must be respected.

For now the book is available only in Shapira, at places such as supermarket Alon, at 139 Salameh St., Moshe Hut Paint and Home Store at 143 Salameh St. (NIS 75 for outsiders, NIS 50 for residents and former residents). As a special gesture, it will also be sold at the Bauhaus Center, 99 Dizengoff St. in central Tel Aviv.

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