African migrants meet angry backlash in Israel
Los Angeles Times
TEL AVIV — The first Molotov cocktail ignited a backyard fence, just a couple of feet from where three Eritrean refugees were sleeping outdoors on makeshift beds of wood planks atop old TVs. One man burned his arm trying to extinguish the flames with a blanket.
Moments later, a second firebomb was tossed through an open air vent into the adjacent apartment, where another family of African asylum-seekers was sleeping. It exploded in the shower without causing injury.
The post-midnight attacks last month by unknown assailants continued across Tel Aviv’s dilapidated Shapira neighborhood, striking another refugee house and a kindergarten catering to African children.
“We’re just looking for some peace in our life,” said Berhun Gergrehra, 60, a former Eritrean soldier who fled poverty and repression there two years ago, arriving in Israel after walking through Sudan and Egypt with his teenage son and daughter. “But everyone here just hates us. Why?”
Israel is a nation founded by refugees, mostly Jews escaping persecution in Europe and the Middle East. It grew and prospered thanks to additional immigration from Russia, Ethiopia and other nations.
But now Israel’s identity as a refuge is being challenged by an influx of tens of thousands of Africans, who also see the country as a haven from oppression in their native lands. Since 2006, more than 60,000 Africans – mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, including the latter’s Darfur region – have poured over the border from Egypt’s Sinai desert, taking advantage of Israel’s proximity as one of the nearest modern democracies accessible to African refugees.
But unlike past waves of Jewish immigrants, the flood of Africans is triggering an ugly and sometimes violent backlash in Israel. Refugee activists say some government leaders are fostering the intolerance and anger toward Africans, who are accused of committing crimes, stealing jobs from Israelis and potentially undermining the Jewish character of the country. Continue reading