Stories from South Tel Aviv

Information, photographs, and art centered around the Eritrean, south Sudanese, and Darfuri refugees who fled trauma to live in Israel.

Here is Israel, a country of refugees who gathered here from all over the world after having suffered for hundreds of years from racist persecution, discrimination, blind hatred, pogroms and death camps…Along come the members of the third generation after the restoration of this nation and they are amassing now against other refugees because of their difference, because of the color of their skin, because of their own economic and social distress, and they are behaving exactly the way the members of the host countries that hosted their parents and grandparents behaved.

Shai Golden, a columnist in the Maariv newspaper

An African migrant drives his car with a shattered window after protesters saw him on their way back from a rally against the flow of African migrants into Israel, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, May 23. Hundreds of people gathered in south Tel Aviv Wednesday to protest against the government’s handling of the flow of African migrants into Israel.
(The Associated Press/Ariel Schalit)

An African migrant drives his car with a shattered window after protesters saw him on their way back from a rally against the flow of African migrants into Israel, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, May 23. Hundreds of people gathered in south Tel Aviv Wednesday to protest against the government’s handling of the flow of African migrants into Israel.

(The Associated Press/Ariel Schalit)


Social and Political Climates Towards Asylum Seekers

  • African refugees endure escalating societal hostility and discrimination, encouraged by much political discourse which labels refugees as threats, criminalizing them in the minds of many Israelis. Politicians like the Minister of Interior Affairs Rabbi Eli Yoshai are outspoken in claiming that African refugees threaten Israel’s Jewish majority.
  • Israelis often mistakenly group African refugees with foreign migrant workers and illegal, hostile infiltrators.
  • While some refugees have good relations with their Israeli neighbors and several Israeli NGOs work hard to provide aid for refugees and battle anti-immigrant sentiments perpetrated by the media, these efforts are exceptions to a general trend of alienation of refugees.
  • In recent months tensions between refugees and their Israeli neighbors have turned increasingly violent. On May 6, two firebombs hit the South Tel Aviv home of African asylum seekers. Less than two weeks earlier, several crude firebombs hit four homes and one kindergarten in Shapira, a refugee neighborhood. Anti-racism protestors demonstrated immediately following the attacks, showing solidarity with African refugees.
  • Refugees have experienced smaller-scale violence, and have reportedly been attacked on the street. Israeli residents have accused refugees of crime; refugees and activists dismiss these accusations as exaggerated and absurd.
  • On May 23, there were violent protests against African refugees in Tel Aviv in response to recent crimes against Israelis linked to the refugee community (including the rape of an Israeli minor, of which two Africans were accused). Knesset member Danny Dannon called to remove asylum seekers from populated centers in Israel, saying to Ha’aretz “the infiltrators must be distanced immediately. We must expedite the construction of temporary detention facilities and remove Africans from population centers.”. Protestors were beating African passerbys, looting, and shattering the windows of refugee businesses. Car windows of Africans were shattered, and demonstrators pounded on bus windows, looking for refugees inside. Knesset members spoke, inciting crowds against refugees; Knesset member Miri Regev called the refugees “a cancer.” Recently, many minors have been arrested in South Tel Aviv for attacking refugees with clubs and pepper spray.
  • In early June, attacks continued with arsonists setting fire to asylum seeker homes, injuring residents and marking the first attacks in Jerusalem.
  • Anti-refugee sentiments have also been shaped by state-employed Rabbis, who urge realtors to not rent homes to refugees.
  • In April, real estate agents and landlords signed a petition vowing not to rent apartments to asylum seekers, falsely labeled as infiltrators. The petition was published a month after 25 Rabbis signed a petition appealing to their followers, urging them not to rent rooms to asylum seekers. A Tel Aviv councilman and Shas representative wrote both petitions after appeals were made by Israeli residents. 
  • Social sentiment towards refugees harshened dramatically under Netanyahu’s administration. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, his administration, and the media spread messages of positive attitudes towards refugees; Olmert granted citizenship to hundreds of Darfuris in 2007. Israelis in the poor neighborhoods of Shapira and Hatikvah have been accused of using refugees as scapegoats for their pre-existing problems; they claim that the government has placed an unfair burden on the local community.
  • Governmental figures repeatedly refer to African asylum seekers as “infiltrators,” using the name that was used to describe armed Arab terrorists crossing the border from neighboring countries to Israel. Members of Knesset will also use militant language in describing refugees living in Israel, instilling fear in the Israeli public.
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu has referred to refugees as threats to Israel, and has enacted legislation against “illegal, job-seeking infiltrators” that targets asylum seekers, despite his rhetoric referring to migrant workers, not those who come to Israel with the purpose of preserving life, not wrenching jobs from Israelis. Illegal foreign workers are foreign nationals who come to Israel for the purpose of working, or have overstayed their visas or came with travel visas. Asylum seekers are those who carry government-issued visas that provide temporary legal protection. Though Netanyahu has condemned violence against asylum seekers, he also promises to deter, detain, and deport them.
  • The government has allocated almost 5.4 million dollars to construct a fence along the Israeli-Egyptian border and 3 million dollars annually just to maintain a new, 10,000 person detention center in the Negev; both initiatives are aimed to deter asylum seekers from continuing their lives in Israel.
  • In the first weeks of 2012 the Knesset approved an amendment to the Prevention and Infiltration Act that allows for immigrants from enemy states to be detained indefinitely and for asylum seekers to be detained for three years without charges.
(Arutz Sheva. “Minister Yishai Promises to Deport Infiltrators.” Israel National News 8 Dec. 2011. Print.)
(Bayu/The ARDC, Yohannes. “Israel’s Violation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination with Regard to Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Israel.” The African Refugee Development Center (January 30, 2012). Print.)
(Cabinet Secretariat. “Cabinet Communique.” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The State of Israel, 4 Dec. 2011. Web. 28 May 2012. <>.)
(Fenwick, Gallagher. “Dealing with the influx of illegal immigrants.” France 24 International News. 30 Aug. 2010. 21 May 2012 <>.)
(Ferber, Alona. “From asylum-seeker to community leader.” Ha’aretz 4 May 2012.)
(Friedman, Ron. “South Tel Aviv realtors: We won’t rent to ‘infiltrators’.” The Jerusalem Post 4 Aug. 2010.)
(Guarnieri, Mya. “Week after attacks, another African residence firebombed.” +972 6 May 2012.)
("In Israel, African migrants under attack." Aljazeera. 16 May 2012 <>.)
(Katzoff, Allen. “From Africa to Tel Aviv, Part Three: Demonizing Asylum Seekers.” The Times of Israel 10 Mar. 2012. Print.)
(Kershner, Isabel. “Israeli Leader Pledges Hard Line on Migrants.” The New York Times[Jerusalem] 4 June 2012: n. pag. Print.)
(Mitnick, Joshua. “Israel, Land of Jewish Refugees, Riled by Influx of Africans.” The Christian Science Monitor [Tel Aviv] 24 May 2012. Print.)
(Sheizaf, Noam. “Africans Attacked in Tel Aviv Protest; MKs: ‘infiltrators’ Are Cancer.”+972 24 May 2012. Print.)
(Silver, Charlotte. “Tel Aviv is no haven for asylum seekers.” Aljazeera 23 Feb. 2012.)
(Weiler-Polak, Dana, and Yaniv Kubovich. “Day after Violent Anti-African Protest, Likud MK Calls to ‘distance Infiltrators’ Immediately.” Ha’aretz 24 May 2012. Print.)
(Weiler-Polak, Dana, Yaniv Kubovich, and Ilan Lior. “Firebomb Attack on Asylum Seekers’ Buildings Sparks Clashes in South Tel Aviv.” Ha’aretz 29 Apr. 2012. Print.)

We are living in Israel but are in Eritrea inside of Israel. We don’t share in their technology, development, culture, and way of life. We are only working for them. It doesn’t feel good. I had an idea to change my way of life, academically and ideologically. But I am here with exactly what I had before.

An Eritrean interviewed in a report by the Feinstein International Center.

(Furst-Nichols, Rebecca, and Karen Jacobsen. “African Migration to Israel: Debt, Employment and Remittances.” Feinstein International Center, Tufts University Jan. 2011. Print.)

(Anna Meixler/oil on canvas)

(Anna Meixler/oil on canvas)

(Anna Meixler/oil on canvas)

(Anna Meixler/oil on canvas)

(Anna Meixler/oil on canvas)

(Anna Meixler/oil on canvas)

Our life has already been like that. Since our creation or since the time I know as a human being, I have been in sadness, mess, crisis, anger, and already my brain is adapted to this stuff.

An asylum seeker interviewed by Maya Paley in a report for ASSAF.

(Paley, Maya. “Surviving in Limbo: Lived Experiences Among Sudanese and Eritrean Asylum Seekers in Israel.” Assaf June 2011. Print.)

Psychological Suffering in Israel

  • When refugees arrive in Israel, most already have severe cases of psychological trauma because of their experiences in their home countries and the torture they endure along the route to Israel. 
  • Israel’s policies towards asylum seekers are growing harsher to deter more from coming and to encourage those already in Israel to leave. Governmental policies are having increasingly severe impacts on the psychological health of refugees in Israel.
  • Refugees express that they’re depressed, confused, and stressed when they think about their futures. 
  • Asylum seekers refer to Israeli detention centers as prisons and feel like they’re treated like criminals, are distraught about the rights that their conditional release visas allow and their frequent need to renew them, and fear deportation and the subsequent violence they’ll experience in their home countries.
  • These fears and anxieties cause refugees to abstain from involving themselves in community organizations and political advocacy, not wanting to draw attention to themselves.
  • Many are losing hope about their situations in Israel after finding education too expensive. Some have sought resettlement through UNHCR in other countries, but were told that it was not possible.
  • Refugees deal with their stresses by avoiding talking about their problems; Eritreans believe that one should keep his/her problems to his/herself as not to burden others. Many sleep all day to avoid their current anxieties and sadness about family members killed in their countries of origin.
  • Darfuri women are typically more open to discussing their problems, and Darfuri men are typically more involved in political action for change in Darfur.
  • There are many community networks and groups through which Sudanese people express their woes, and many Sudanese and Eritrean people find comfort in their churches and religious practices.
  • Though not having enough food and sleeping in the park are difficult for asylum seekers, they consider these problems minor in comparison to their complicated and uncertain futures, the turmoil in their countries of origin, and their inability to see their family members who are in danger.
  • Alcohol consumption is not culturally inherent for Sudanese or Eritrean people, but has increased in Israel as it is used as a coping mechanism. Many unemployed, single men drink daily. Many asylum seekers have also started smoking cigarrettes to calm themselves down and keep them awake during long work shifts. People also smoke and drink rather than eat. There is a growing hopelessness in asylum seekers, particularly seen in single men, that’s manifested in a lack of concern for one’s physical health.

(Bashar, Adam. Personal interview. 23 Mar. 2012.)

(Olivier, Oscar. Personal interview. 26 Mar. 2012.)

(Paley, Maya. “Surviving in Limbo: Lived Experiences Among Sudanese and Eritrean Asylum Seekers in Israel.” Assaf June 2011. Print.)