Vigilante violence reminds us how little #BlackLivesMatter in Israel

Vigilante violence reminds us how little #BlackLivesMatter in Israel
Comment: People are finally speaking out against Netanyahu's migrant expulsion policy, but they must also insist the government rolls back its decade-long propaganda campaign against refugees, writes David Sheen.
8 min read
02 Mar, 2018
Residents of Tel Aviv protest against the presence of African refugees and asylum seekers [AFP]
In recent weeks, mainstream Jewish groups in the United States and Canada have finally begun to speak out against the Israeli government's efforts to deport tens of thousands of non-Jewish African refugees from the country and back to the tortures from which they fled.

Their sudden concern can be partially attributed to the expulsion's sped-up timetable, which Netanyahu announced in November 2017. At long last, IfNotNow, an activist group that calls itself part of a "Jewish Resistance", began to post news about the refugee's plight on its Facebook feed.

The dam of silence had been broken, and within weeks, it became acceptable even for liberal zionist leaders to criticise the Israeli government, for its refusal to fairly evaluate the Africans' asylum requests and to grant them refugee rights in keeping with international standards.

So much so, in fact, that even some of Netanyahu's most ardent defenders, such as Alan Dershowitz, took to Israeli TV to urge that the expulsion be annulled.

While the organised American Jewish community's recent outpouring of concern for African refugees in Israel is to be welcomed, it comes at the stroke of midnight, after Netanyahu has already ethnically cleansed over a third of the refugee community.

What was the reason for their silence until this late hour? Could they have been unaware of Israel's decade-long war on African refugees up to that point?

Seven years ago, I began publishing viral videos of the regular anti-refugee race rallies though the African neighbourhoods of Tel Aviv.

In both cases, locals tried to justify the lynch by falsely claiming the black male had sexually harassed white females

Six years ago, I published a report to the United Nations' Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination about the Israeli government's war on African refugees. These warnings, and many more, were totally ignored by organised US Jewish community.

And since that time, the situation on the ground for African refugees in Israel has only gone from bad to worse.

Whenever Israeli racists have felt that the government is not expelling the Africans rapidly enough, they have physically attacked refugees in the streets, and threatened to make them hurt far worse.

The Israeli authorities, for their part, have continued to treat the perpetrators with kid gloves, sending citizens the message that additional attacks on Africans will be tolerated.

Read more: Israel's war on African refugees is inspiring white supremacists

In April 2012, a group of Israeli men firebombed multiple homes of African refugees, and even a nursery for the babies of African refugees. Israeli police first kept the news to themselves, explaining later that they didn't deem the incident to be of any public interest. Authorities then deported the African man who ran the nursery, and never punished any of the Israeli firebombers, save one, who received no jail time at all, only community service.

These warnings, and many more, were totally ignored by organised US Jewish community

The following month, a thousand Israelis spilled out of one of those Tel Aviv anti-African race rallies, fired up by a ruling Likud party member of the Israeli parliament who called the Africans a "cancer". They spent the night scouring the south of the city in search of black folks, beating any African man or woman they could find and smashing any African shop they came across.

Four years ago, an Israeli man approached an African refugee on a Tel Aviv street and repeatedly stabbed in the head her one-year-old baby daughter who she was holding in her arms. The stabber never served any jail time, as he was determined by the court to suffer from psychological problems. Meanwhile, Israeli authorities refused to cover the medical costs of the African family.

A European country eventually interceded and granted the family refuge status, in part because they had fled the repressive regime of Eritrea, and in part because of how horribly they had been treated in Israel.

Three years ago, an Israeli man approached an African refugee at a bus stop in a Tel Aviv suburb, and without provocation swung a machete at his head, attempting to chop it off. The refugee raised his hand to block, and managed to protect his head, at the cost of his hand, which was lopped off. Doctors were later able to restore some function to the hand, but police never arrested the attacker.

Two years ago, during a terrorist attack at the central bus station of the southern city of Beersheba, a security guard shot an African refugee as he crawled across the ground, fleeing the terrorists' gunfire, like all the other innocent bystanders. Israelis then took turns kicking him in the head and smashing furniture down on his bleeding body. When first aid responders arrived at the scene, Israelis prevented them from treating the refugee.

And just over one year ago, two Israeli teens lynched an African refugee right outside the city hall of Petach Tikvah, a Tel Aviv suburb, beating and kicking him in the head for an hour and a half. Israeli police characterised the incident as "the definition of sadism" and compared it to the 1971 Hollywood film 'A Clockwork Orange'.

The murder last November of Darfur refugee Babikir Ali Adham-Abdo in Petach Tikvah, Chicago's Israeli sister city, bore many similarities to the 1955 murder of Chicago teenager Emmett Till in Mississippi.

In both cases, a black male's face was pummelled to mush, until he was utterly unrecognisable. And in both cases, locals tried to justify the lynch by falsely claiming the black male had sexually harassed white females, knowing other racists would believe the smears.

CCTV footage from Petach Tikvah City Hall proved that Adham-Abdo couldn't possibly have sexually harassed the group of white teens he talked to seconds before he was assaulted. And Adham-Abdo's brother was only able to retrieve his body for burial after identifying him by his missing fingers, which had lost back in Darfur, in the horrors he had fled to Israel to escape.

In both cases, a black male's face was pummelled to mush, until he was utterly unrecognisable

In response to the racist attack, Petach Tikvah Mayor Itzik Braverman did nothing to reassure his city's African refugee community that they would be protected from further vigilante violence. Rather, he assured Jewish residents that he would do everything in his power to kick the rest of the African refugee community out of town altogether.

"Their share of Petah Tikva's crime is small. Most of them are here legally and do no harm," Braverman admitted to his constituents, but noted that he empathised with their racist reason for wanting all the refugees gone: Resenting having to see non-white non-Jewish people in public spaces. "You walk through Founder's Square, you see blacks drinking beer. It's not nice."

Braverman then followed through on his word, and ordered his municipal inspectors to begin shutting down electricity and water to the apartments of African refugees, in an effort to drive them out of the city limits. An Israeli court ruled that he could continue to cut basic services to the African refugees, who were then forced to travel to Tel Aviv to bathe in the Mediterranean Sea.

Last week, an Israeli court convicted the two young Israelis who beat Adham-Abdo to death of manslaughter and assault causing grievous bodily hard, respectively.

As a result, the older of the killers will serve a maximum of 10 years in jail, and will likely be released far sooner. The younger killer's sentence has not yet been announced.

The two were able to lynch a black man in the town square, be caught on camera, and still evade murder convictions

Although it was clear that brutal blows from both had snuffed out Adham-Abdo's life, each killer contended that the other delivered the deathblow. In this way, the two were able to lynch a black man in the town square, be caught on camera, and still evade murder convictions.

The verdict was just the most recent reminder of how little black lives matter in Israel, and how much vigilante violence Israel directs against non-white non-Jews, male and female, young and old. It is also a reminder that the crisis facing non-Jewish African refugees in Israel is so much worse than Zionist groups are making it out to be.

Africans in Israel are put in peril not only by upper echelon Israeli politicians, who smear them as sick criminals and terrorists. They are also put in peril by the widespread racism in Israeli society itself. A recent poll found that a full two-thirds of Israeli citizens support the government's expulsion plan, and among Israeli Jews, support for it is even higher.

With so much at stake, increased advocacy for Israel's African refugees is to be welcomed, no matter which quarter it comes from. It will take enormous pressure from all sides, if there is to be even a small chance of annulling the expulsion plan.

But those just-arriving advocates must also insist that the Israeli government not only tolerate the presence of the refugees, but also roll back its decade-long propaganda campaign against them, and even publicly embrace the community, in order to discourage further racist violence against them.

Because as long as Israel's political leaders instead incite racism against the African refugees, there will be Israeli Jews – some racist, some crazy, and some both of those – who will try to maim and murder them, hoping they will all flee the country in fear.

David Sheen is an independent journalist originally from Toronto, Canada and now based in Dimona, Israel. 

Follow him on Twitter: @davidsheen

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.