Tel Aviv — A crime wave blamed on Africans, including two recent rapes, has stoked long-standing hostility toward the country’s estimated 60,000 illegal African immigrants and sparked an ugly wave of retaliatory violence against them.
Tel Aviv police say that on May 15, several African men sexually assaulted a woman. Two days later, authorities announced the arrests of two African immigrants suspected of raping a 15-year-old girl in Tel Aviv on April 25. A third man allegedly held the girl’s boyfriend as the rape took place, police said.
The arrests sparked a major outcry among ordinary Israelis about a supposed crime wave engineered by Africans, and a racially tinged debate about the role of immigrants in Israeli society. In recent weeks, several Molotov cocktails have been tossed at African targets in Tel Aviv, including an apartment block and a kindergarten building. No one was hurt.
After touring south Tel Aviv neighborhoods where large numbers of Africans live, Israel’s police chief, Yohanan Danino, on May 16 blamed a perceived uptick on crime squarely on illegal African immigrants.
“Every time I come here, I see the numbers keep growing,” he said. “They have caused the surge in crime.”
Harel Locker, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, accompanied Danino and said that the immigrants pose a “security and strategic problem.” Press reports quoted unnamed officials as claiming that 40% of Tel Aviv crimes are committed by illegal immigrants.
On May 22 a few dozen south Tel Aviv residents held a demonstration calling for deportation of all illegals and criticizing aid organizations that help them.
One woman who has lived in south Tel Aviv for 27 years held a banner declaring “They rape girls and elderly women, murder, steal, stab, burglarize. We’re afraid to leave home,” according to Haaretz.
Ismail Abdelrassu, who arrived in Tel Aviv five years ago from the Darfur region of Sudan, said that some Africans are frightened by the hostile rhetoric and attacks. But most are determined to stand their ground.
“People here have fled far worse things than this,” Abdelrassu said, talking about the climate of fear.
It’s not clear whether any facts back up the hysteria. Neither the police nor the Ministry of Internal Security would confirm the 40% figure with the Forward and it’s unclear where it came from.
Official police data presented in the Knesset in March indicates the crime rate among foreigners is less than half that of Israeli citizens nationwide. Foreigners committed 2.24 crimes per 100 people in 2011, less than half the 4.99 figure for Israeli citizens, the figures show.
There is no question that Israel’s African population is growing quickly. Tens of thousands of Africans have slipped over Israel’s border with Egypt since 2005. Approximately two thirds come from Eritrea, where a harsh regime continues to commit severe human rights violations. A quarter come from Sudan, where tribal violence, ethnic cleansing and human rights violations are rife.