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Today, they took their cause to the embassies, protesting in front of America’s and France’s diplomatic headquarters opposite the beach. They waved Eritrean, U.S. and Israeli flags.
“I wanted a good life in a state that could take care of me,” said Danny, 27, who arrived in Israel five years ago from Eritrea and now works in a pastry factory in the southern Israel town of Yehud. “They think I’m an infiltrator. If we’re strong and we continue, things will change.”
A handful of Jewish Israelis stood in the crowd, most but not all of them representing migrant aid nonprofits.
“What’s happening here is distressing,” said Elana, 22, an art student from the central city of Petach Tikva. “There are very few Israelis lending active support. I think it’s amazing that [the migrants] are taking things into their own hands.”
But not all Israelis present were supportive. A woman watching from across the street muttered “God keep us,” while three electricians taking a lunch break near the scene all said they wanted the government to send the migrants back to their home countries.
And on the edge of the crowd, former far-right Knesset Member Michael Ben-Ari stood arguing with migrants.
“You’re all robbers, thieves,” he said. “Go back to Africa. Israel needs to defend itself. Israel is a Jewish state.”
Current government policy will satisfy neither the migrants nor Ben-Ari. Speaking to his Cabinet Sunday about the first day of the strike, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would continue to prevent migrants from entering the country, and would encourage those who have entered to voluntarily self-deport.
“I would like to emphasize that these are not refugees, but people who are breaking the law and whom we will deal with to the fullest extent of the law,” he said. “We will continue to deport the illegal migrants from our cities.”