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Hate Crimes Against Refugees in Israel Go Unabated

Written by: Noam Weiss and Elizabeth Tsurkov

Hate crimes against asylum-seekers rarely receive media coverage or public attention in Israel, but they continue unabated and most of the perpetrators are never brought to justice. The victims are afraid of filing complaints with the police or feel that there is no point in doing so, and policemen at times belittle the victims. In addition, because asylum-seekers in Israel don’t have medical insurance, victims often don’t go to hospitals in the first place, and those who do are denied necessary procedures such as removal of casts and stitches and many procedures required for rehabilitation.

Waleldin, a survivor of the genocide in Darfur, was a victim of a hate crime in late August 2014. Waleldin arrived in Israel in May 2012 and gives lectures to bridge the gap between the Israeli public and refugees and also participates in tours given by the Hotline in which he shares his personal story. During the genocide in Darfur, Waleldin’s village was torched by the Janjaweed militias that operate on behalf of the regime and his family fled to a refugee camp. He describes his escape from Sudan: “In Darfur, there’s a genocide that has been going on for over a decade. In Sudan, I took part in political activism against the dictatorial government. I left Sudan to gain protection and freedom.” Like many other asylum-seekers, Waleldin misses his homeland: “When it’s safe in my country and the regime changes – I will go back.”

Waleldin at a protest for refugee right. Photo courtesy of Danielle Shitrit

On Saturday night, August 23, Waleldin was attacked by an Israeli he never met before. He recounts: “We were in Levinsky Garden, playing the guitar and singing. I walked home alone around 2:30 AM. When I was close to my flat, an Israeli ran toward me and approached me. He asked me where in the area he could by Coca Cola. I explained, but he kept standing next to me in an intimidating way. I asked him ‘what do you want?’ and asked him to leave me.” In response, the Israeli didn’t leave: “he forcefully butt-headed me in my face. I hit him back and he attacked me and I fell to the ground. He left, probably to find something to hit me with, but I escaped to my flat in the meantime. He left and shouted many things in Hebrew, which I did not understand, but what I did understand was his scream ‘go back to Africa!'”. He adds: “At first I thought he may have attacked me because he wanted to steal my cellphone, but after what he shouted, I understood that it was because of racism.”

The next morning, after he felt strong pain in his arm, Waleldin made his way to a hospital. “They said that I have a fracture in my arm and put a cast on me,” he recounts. Waleldin continues to suffer from the consequences of the assault: “what happened made me sad and made it tough for me, and I don’t feel safe walking in the streets. I came here to protect my life and I don’t have a sense of security here. Now that I have a broken arm, I cannot even defend myself.” His ability to support himself has also been affected detrimentally: “I used to work at a place in Neve Shaanan street and now I cannot work because of my broken arm. I don’t have money for rent or even food.”

Waleldin with his broken arm

In 2005-2006, when the first Darfuri refugees arrived in Israel, Israeli officials referred to them as ‘refugees’ and ‘survivors of genocide’ and the treatment of the Israeli public followed suit – Israelis opened their homes to the refugees and helped them get acclimated in Israel. As the flow of refugees into Israel grew and refugees began arriving from the Eritrean dictatorship, the treatment of authorities and public statements changed. In the past few years, those statements became clear incitement: Israeli officials present the asylum-seekers as “work infiltrators”, and Israeli politicians including the Prime Minister present the asylum-seekers (who make up only 0.6% of the Israeli population) as a demographic threat. In addition, Israeli elected officials claim that the ‘infiltrators’ spread disease, are prone to criminality and are a security threat – claims that have no factual backing.

Lack of government assistance to refugees ensured that they would move to the most impoverished neighborhoods in Israel, mainly in southern Tel Aviv, increasing the population density in the neighborhoods, driving rent prices up and augmenting the burden on the already-shaky infrastructure and insufficient public services in those areas. Government incitement in addition to those real problems resulted in a significant rise in hate crimes against people suspected of being ‘infiltrators’ (the victims were sometimes Ethiopian Jews). Molotov cocktails was thrown on apartments and a kindergarten of African children, the Jerusalem apartment of refugees from Eritrea was torched, refugees were forcibly expelled from Kafr Manda, and an angry mob carried out a pogrom against refugees and their businesses in the HaTikva neighborhood in Tel Aviv following a rally during which members of Knesset incited against refugees. The rally is now infamous due to a statement by one of the speakers at the rally, MK Miri Regev (Likud) who shouted from the podium: “The Sudanese [a general name for non-Jewish Africans in Israel] are a cancer in our body!

Unlike most refugees who fell victim to hate crimes in Israel, Waleldin decided to file a complaint with the police. “A few days after I felt better, I went to the police to file a complaint. I showed them the place of the incident and they said that they’ll try to find the assailant with CCTV. I haven’t heard anything from them since.” Waleldin knows that he’s not alone: “I know many stories of asylum-seekers who were attacked by racist Israelis. It happens all over Israel. I know that it’s because of our color. This is the first time someone attacked me. Once, someone spat in my face, he was an old man. But it happened many times that people yelled at me: ‘black, go back to Africa’ or ‘go back to Sudan.’ This has become something normal.”