Violence against asylum seekers in Tel Aviv continues

Natasha Roth

Towards the end of May, some rare good news for Israel's asylum seekers emerged - the Eritrean Community Women's Centre in Tel Aviv had received the most votes in a New Israel Fund UK-sponsored initiative, gaining funds to help with its crucial work.  Desperately under-funded as asylum seeker-focused projects in Israel are, the overwhelming popularity of the center in the NIF's vote was encouraging indeed.

Yet events at the ARDC's shelter for vulnerable women and children just a few days prior to this news served as a reminder that a lack of resources is the least of the problems faced by such organisations.  Leaving the shelter to head to the beach for a picnic, the residents came under attack from a volley of missiles thrown by their neighbours.  Bottles, cassette players and other objects went flying, along with swearing and racist insults.  The shelter residents were forced to return indoors, leaving behind a street littered with the debris of what had been aimed at them.  The police arrived, having been phoned from the shelter, and took the two main offenders (who had initially resisted arrest) away in separate police cars.

This horrendous attack follows a string of previous abuses by the neighbours towards shelter residents.  Racist abuse and threats have been consistent, along with a number of more disturbing incidents.  A dead rat has been left on the front doorstep of the shelter as a 'welcome' token; young children have been physically assaulted by teenagers (including a 7 year-old girl having her hand stood on, and a 7 year-old boy being told to hit his 5 year-old brother, or face being hit himself - the queasy reminscences of which  do not need expansion here); and the theft of the security camera that had been installed precisely in response to such attacks.

There has been no shortage of attempts by the ARDC to foster good relations with the shelter's neighbours, including distributing food to other needy families in the area.  The abuses are, simply, racially-motivated and not predicated on anything other than the neighbours' hostility to the idea of sharing their 'area' (read: country) with asylum seekers.  Such attacks against any population would be deplorable, but the fact that they are taking place against women and children (and those who are there because of the traumas they have suffered previously) makes them even more reprehensible.  The shelter and its residents and volunteers are fortunate to have received professional and sympathetic responses from the local authorities, but that is solely a palliative remedy for a far deeper and more distressing issue.  The arguments of our duty to care for those seeking our help, and the references to Exodus and all the other Biblical exhortations and reminders are well-known and well-worn.  But it seems that in a country whose founding appeared to have finally ended a nation's listless wandering, the mark of Cain still glows under the veneer of citizenship.  The only difference is that now we've outsourced our fugitive status.