The Women of South Tel Aviv Speakout: “The Infiltrators have Destroyed our Lives”

Residents of the south Tel Aviv neighborhoods talk about life in the shadow of the illegal migrants, the fear on the streets and the hope that the situation will improve. “We live in hell”.

Refugees in their own homes - Sophie Menashe and Elisheva Gidon (Photo - Amir Levi)

While the disingenuous campaign to keep the illegal infiltrators in Israel is gaining momentum from various media outlets, the voice of the people whose daily lives are most effected by the situation, has received almost no attention at all.

The residents of the neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv have been those most affected by the phenomenon of illegal infiltration since it started ten years ago. They pay the steepest price for life next to the infiltrators, while all proposed solutions are stuck in a legal quagmire.

One of these women is Sophie Menashe. She made Aliyah from India at the beginning of the fifties and moved to Levinsky Street next to the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station in 1979.

“The neighborhood was a normal neighborhood, many families lived here. I had three young children and they would roam the neighborhood without problem, even at night,” she said in a conversation with Mida about those days, that seem very far away as compared to the neighborhood’s current state.

According to Menashe, Neve Sha’anan was never an upscale neighborhood and there was always crime and poverty. However, when the large numbers of infiltrators arrived to the area, the character of neighborhood began to change.

“As the years passed, the adults died and the children left, the apartment owners started renting them to the Africans.” In the building where Sophie lives today, there are only two older Israeli women. Infiltrators live in the rest of the apartments, all of which are illegally divided into a number of living spaces.

“They simply split every apartment into a number of rooms with different entrances. In every room, four or five people live. I turned to the municipality and they told me that it is impossible to do anything because the original plans for the building were lost,” she said.

At the very entrance to the building, a club for foreigners operates without license. The municipality closes the club every few weeks and then it reopens.

The building itself is neglected and dirty, trash gathers in the stairwell. It seems that the foreign residents of the building do not care. “They simply throw their trash into the courtyard from the balcony, they go to the bathroom everywhere. There are a few infiltrators who live on the roof. Periodically, an official comes to give fines due to the accumulating trash. Because there is no official address for anyone in order to receive a fine, he issues the fines in my name.”

In the building next door to Sophie’s home, a church for foreigners has been operating for a number of years including mass prayers every Shabbat morning. “Every Shabbat there are many people. They play loud music on big speaker systems that shake the walls of my house. I feel like I’m in hell – for this I made Aliyah? To the Jewish country?”

Sophie’s building. (Photo – Amir Levi)

The deteriorating environment also affected Sophie’s personal and mental state. “I would never have been afraid to walk down the street. Today, when I want to go out at night to buy milk, I have to call and order a police escort because you know you may be assaulted.”

She tells of an incident in which infiltrators tried to break into her apartment. “I sat in the room and suddenly I heard someone trying to break through the door and enter. I started shouting and blocking the door. On the other side was a seemingly drunk man who shouted at me: ‘This is my home.’ it was scary.”

The pressure and stress Sophie copes with over this long period have exacted a price. Her medical condition has deteriorated in recent years. “I have heart problems, I underwent several operations and a series of treatments, and I was hospitalized for weeks. I live on a high floor. It’s hard for me to go up the stairs and it’s hard for me to leave the house. If I had a financial option I would leave, but where will I go at my age?”

Menashe also does not spare  harsh words for the extreme left organizations that are now conducting the campaign for the infiltrators. “None of you ever came here to take care of me when the infiltrators ruined my life, and now you suddenly worry about them? Take them home to North Tel Aviv and then we’ll see. Once a week I go to the Tel Aviv municipality, beyond Allenby Street there is no infiltrators and when I get home I feel that I have crossed the border to Sudan. You are hypocrites. “

Although it seems that the government has finally begun implementing the plan to expel the infiltrators from Israel, Sophie finds it difficult to be optimistic. “A lot of politicians came here and made promises. Even the prime minister visited me at home and said it would be all right. I very much hope that they will resolve the situation, but until I see [the infiltrators] leaving, I don’t believe them.”

 “Am I not a Human Being?”

Another woman who expresses hope mixed with concern is Elisheva Gideon, a resident of the Hatikva neighborhood. “I very much hope that the government will not give in to the pressure to change their decision to remove the infiltrators. This is a completely legal decision, and I expect that in a state of law it will be upheld,” she said to Mida.

Elisheva experienced the worst part of the infiltration phenomenon when she was physically assaulted by an infiltrator from Eritrea two and a half years ago. Her voice begins to tremble as she reconstructs the painful event that traumatizes her even today. “A group of several women and I came to clear things from a friend’s house. We stood waiting in the street next to the garbage we had removed and there were foreign children who were running and playing nearby. I asked a boy not to approach the planks so that he would not get hurt, and then suddenly his mother attacked us and began beating us with a large board.”

Although the attack was fully documented, the lawsuit against the infiltrator was dragged on for months with the women’s lawyers using various pretexts. The lawyers worked on behalf of a radical leftist organization. Finally, the court ruled that Elisheva was entitled to financial compensation, but the assailant was smuggled out of the country by her helpers and is now apparently living in Sweden.

In addition to the physical damage, Elisheva spoke of the emotional toll that remains with her. “The attack affected me in a terrible way. It caused injuries to my hands and back. Beyond that was the feeling of humiliation and distress. I had a problem with my heart and it has become very serious since then. I can hardly work because I suffer from pain constantly.”

Elisheva did not think that this would be her life when she moved from the city center to the south 14 years ago. “The atmosphere in the neighborhood was very friendly. The neighbors took care of each other, we cooked and ate together, the doors were open and there was no fear of walking around the street even at night. For me it was just like a family,”she says.

According to her, the situation in the neighborhood began to change in recent years when large groups of infiltrators came to the neighborhood and developed a mentality that they owned the place. “There is a feeling of insecurity among the Israeli residents, in contrast to the increasing confidence of the infiltrators. Once the neighborhood was Israeli, but today they took over and we can’t go outside even for a walk. Their children are brazen and curse old people. They urinate on the doors of houses. The women walk in the middle of the road deliberately holding up traffic. As people who are supposed to be guests here in Israel, their chutzpah is simply amazing. If I had done in Sudan what they were doing here, they would have killed me.”

Elisheva also points to the great hypocrisy of the leftists who support the infiltrators and ignore the suffering of the Israeli residents of the neighborhoods. “All the doctors, pilots and intellectuals who have signed petitions against deportation instead of taking an interest in people who live and suffer here, have no right to determine that the infiltrators should stay. They teach the infiltrators what to say and treat us like garbage.” She told us of an incident she experienced at the demonstration for infiltrators near the Habima Theater. “There were boys who stood with signs supporting the infiltrators who started cursing and threatening me. Where have you been all these years when we were fighting for our lives?”

Like many residents in the south of the city, Elisheva also seems tired of the struggle and life in the shadow of fear. “I just want to live my remaining years quietly and confidently, without looking around anxiously every time I open the door, without walking around with mace in my bag and without being worried all day. I feel like a refugee in my house. The leftists say that a person is a person, but what about me – am I not a human being?”

 “They Feel Like this Place is Theirs”

The fear and anxiety of simple daily actions that seem trivial to most is a recurrent theme in our conversations with the women of southern Tel Aviv. When Miriam Ozeri, a resident of the southern part of the city for over fifty years, is asked about the current situation in the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood, she replies in one word: “Fear”.

Miriam Ozeri (center) with residents of south Tel Aviv (Photo – Amir Levi)

According to Miriam, the situation in the neighborhood has only begun to deteriorate in recent years, with the arrival of infiltrators in the area. “I used to come home from work at night and would walk alone in the street without any fear, the state of the neighborhood was reasonable. Today I am afraid to walk in the streets late in the day. It’s very scary. There is no way to know if a madman will suddenly come and attack you. If I have to go home in the evening, someone always accompanies me, or I keep updating where I am and if I got home on my phone. I always have some pepper spray.”

In the building where Miriam lives, she is the only Israeli left, with the rest of the nine apartments now occupied by infiltrators. At the entrance to the building a Hamara, a kind of improvised pub and gathering location where alcoholic drinks are served, has opened. “At the entrance to the building there is a terrible smell of hookahs all the time. It’s just disgusting. In the evening they go out and talk on the phone at the top of their lungs. They sit and play music, which I hear in my room, disrupting my sleep. I have called the police to close the place, but [the infiltrators] reopen it every time.”

Miriam says that the phenomenon of Hamaras has become widespread throughout the neighborhood in light of the authorities’ helplessness in handling the matter. “They open new places in every corner.  Municipal inspectors come and close them and they open back. They break the law freely. If an Israeli would do that they would arrest him immediately. “

Miriam, who knows the infiltrator community well, is unsure if they will be removed from Israel. “If only, but I do not think they will go easily. They like to live here and they already feel that this place is theirs. From their perspective, we have no part in the country where we were born,” she concludes.

Another phenomenon that occurs under the surface and is not sufficiently exposed, is the displacement of the Israeli business owners from south Tel Aviv and their replacement by the businesses managed by infiltrators. Y., who has owned a business in Neve Sha’anan for over four decades, says that most business owners in the area have given up on the situation and abandoned it. “Slowly, many businesses left. Some because they could not compete with the rental rates and some simply out of fear. The infiltrators enter business, make threats and beat people. They are trying to terrorize you so that you will leave and they will be able to take over the place.”

Neve Sha’anan, south Tel Aviv (Photo – Amir Levi)

He points an accusatory finger mainly at property owners in the area who are tempted to rent to infiltrators for large sums. “There are many apartment owners and greedy businesses here. Infiltrators come and offer a high rent and get the places. It destroys everyone’s life. Infiltrators live in the apartment above my business. They blocked the sewage pipes and everything floods my office”

Y. himself has experienced a number of attacks against him and his workers, and now has weapons in his office for self-defense. “I have suffered a lot of losses and there is barely any work, but I’m not going to give up. This is the business my father set up and I will not give it to infiltrators so they can build a church or a Hamara,” he says.

*(Translated from Hebrew)


Amir Levy is an Editor with Mida Hebrew edition

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