While Palestinians have borne the brunt of Israeli aggression and Apartheid policies, African refugees and migrant workers have sparked violent debates among Israel’s leadership. Prompted by fears about the supposed threats these groups present to the “security and identity of the Jewish state,” the community of 60,000 migrants and refugees has been blamed for rising crime in southern Tel Aviv, where many African migrants live. This despite recent statements from a police spokesman that overall crime rates in Israel have fallen.
“If we don’t stop their entry, the problem that currently stand at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a Jewish and democratic state,” said Benjamin Netanyahu at a recent cabinet meeting.
In 2010, more than 13,500 people entered Israel illegally and were granted refugee status. The majority of these are Africans fleeing war and famine, who are smuggled through the Israel-Egypt border by Bedouin tribesmen. The Israeli state is building a steel fence 150 miles long across the Sinai desert to halt the flow of refugees. Just in case the steel fence isn’t enough, Israel is building the world’s largest detention center for asylum seekers and illegal migrants.
Netanyahu has said that Israel will embark on the forced withdrawal of migrants. In response to fears from human rights organizations about the dangers refugees may face if returned to their home countries, Interior minister Eli Yishai said: “I’m not responsible for what happens in Eritrea and Sudan, the UN is.”
In Israeli cities with high African populations, tensions have risen with some buildings housing asylum seekers and migrants being attacked and NGOs working with them receiving threats.
One would think, given Israel’s own history, it would be more sympathetic to the plight of refugees fleeing persecution. But, as Palestinians have come to know all too well, sympathy is reserved for the privileged few in the Jewish state.