While residents of south Tel Aviv, the Tel Aviv Municipality, and the national government are struggling with ways to contain the burgeoning population of illegal African immigrants, a political party that will be running in the Tel Aviv municipal elections sees dialog with the illegals as the best solution to the problems their presence engenders.
Asma Agbariyah Zahalkah, a Jaffa lawyer, has established the “City Without Limits” list specifically to find ways to work together with illegal Africans – and on the list, as a candidate for City Council, is an illegal African immigrant.
According to Zahalkah, “the refugees are part of the problem, so they need to be part of the solution. We want to hold an open dialog between them and all the elements involved in solving the problem. We will develop solutions on the basis of mutual respect and solidarity,” ensuring that the concerns of all are met.
Last week, the High Court declared illegal a program under which illegal Africans could be detained for up to three years while their status as refugees was sorted out. According to international conventions, countries must accept refugees from political persecution, a status nearly all the illegal Africans in Israel claim. However, most experts believe that the vast majority of Africans came to Israel as economic migrants, and as such can be deported back home. Israeli courts are forced to consider the refugees on a case by case basis. The government had been hoping to detain most of the illegals in camps in the Negev while their cases were sorted out, but the court's ruling has dashed that hope.
The vast majority of illegals have taken up residence in south Tel Aviv, where Jewish residents say their lives have been made a living hell. Jewish residents of the area complain of being assaulted, attacked, robbed, intimidated, and worse by the illegals, who, many long-time residents say, seem to have made it their objective to turn parts of south Tel Aviv into an “Africans only” zone.
In protest over the court decision, and the likely influx of thousands more illegals into their neighborhood, residents of south Tel Aviv last week staged a march decrying the 9-0 court decision canceling the law. The protesters blocked roads and loudly marched through the neighborhood shouting slogans about how, once again, they were being “shafted” by the powers that be. Some protesters carried signs saying: "We are refugees in our own neighborhood!"
According to Zahalkah, “the refugees also suffer from violence. The refugees are not looking to displace anyone from their jobs or their neighborhoods, they are simply running away from a war and seeking to get political asylum. The city is obligated to give them social benefits, including education, health, and the ability to earn an income. We want to open a dialog with the municipality, and this needs to be done with the cooperation of refugee community leaders, not over their heads.”
Mutsim Ali, the illegal African candidate on Zahalkah's list, agrees.
“I did not choose to come to Israel,” he said. “The terrible war in Sudan continues, the genocide against a people continues, the mass murder of women and children by the government of Sudan continues.” Israel was the closest, best choice for the refugees, said Ali; Egypt and the other Arab countries surrounding Sudan would just hand them back to Sudan, where they would doubtless be killed. There was no organized movement to come to Israel, he added.
“No one is helping us to deal with life here,” Ali, who has been in Israel since 2009, said. “I lived with 15 people in one small apartment, in the winter I slept in the park. This is not something I choose to do – I do it because I have no choice.”
With Zahalkah's help, he hopes, illegal Africans will have an easier life, and become a part of the Israeli landscape.