Some 20,000 people took to the streets in south Tel Aviv Feb. 24 to protest against plans to arrest and deport thousands of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to pit Israeli workers against the asylum-seekers, calling them “infiltrators” and charging that refugees are the cause of high crime, drug addiction and prostitution in the working-class neighborhood.
There is growing support for the fight against the deportations. El Al pilots have campaigned for airline personnel to refuse to fly any plane used in the operation.
“We did not choose to come to south Tel Aviv,” Sudanese refugee Tugud Omer Adama told the protesters. “When we arrived in Israel, we were handed a one-way ticket” here.
“We are all victims in this story — the older Israeli residents and the asylum-seekers,” he said. “We all live here and for so long they have tried to make us fear one another.”
The demonstration was organized by Shula Keshet, a south Tel Aviv resident and leader of Residents of South Tel Aviv Against Deportation.
“South Tel Aviv is for renewal, for public housing, for spreading the refugees throughout the country and for a dignified life for all,” Keshet said. “Does anybody hear us? Does anybody see?”
“They say your city’s impoverished take precedence over the foreigner, and I say what is actually happening is that the wealthy take precedence over the poor and the asylum-seekers,” she added.
“Our daily difficulties did not begin with the arrival of the asylum-seekers,” Zehava Vaknin, another local resident, said. The government is “building towers for the wealthy. Why jail people who have fled war?“
Some 38,000 Sudanese and Eritrean refugees are in Israel today. They arrived between 2006 and 2013, until the Israeli government completed a wall along the Egypt-Israel border.