‘Israelis won’t rent to us, they’re disconnecting us from electricity’

The Petah Tikva municipality disconnected dozens of apartments where African asylum seekers were living from electricity, the mayor doesn’t like seeing black people in public, and casual racism has a common occurrence. Faisal, a refugee from Darfur, describes what it’s like to live in a city where he is unwanted.

By Yael Marom

Israeli security forces hold back right wing protesters as a press conference was held by the Sudanese community in southern Tel Aviv, on February 8 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israeli security forces hold back right wing protesters as a press conference was held by the Sudanese community in southern Tel Aviv, on February 8 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The following testimony was sent to us by Faisal, an asylum seeker who came to Israel in 2008, and who now lives in the Israeli city Petah Tikva after spending two years in Holot detention center in southern Israel. His testimony comes on the heels of a new campaign of persecution by the Petah Tikva municipality against foreigners with the wrong skin color.

The current wave of anti-refugee actions began after the municipality announced that in order to decrease the number of “infiltrators” in the city, dozens of apartments that have been split by landlords and are rented to asylum seekers will be disconnected from electricity and water. Mayor Itzik Braverman took to his Facebook page to make the announcement, writing that he had warned that “should the authorities not take every action necessary, the municipality will be forced to take action as it sees fit. The patience of the residents is decreasing in the face of the authorities’ apathy. I do not intend to lend a hand to this apathy, and if necessary I will forcibly prevent the entry of foreign workers to the city.”

These messages came just four months after Babikir-Adham Uvdo, an asylum seeker from Darfur, was beaten to death by two Israeli teenagers. The reason the for the beating: Uvdo dared to speak to a group of Jewish Israelis. The two teenagers kicked him in the head for an hour and a half, leaving him for unconscious. He was found gravely wounded, and was transferred to a hospital where he was pronounced dead after four days. The two boys were indicted for manslaughter — not murder — since the according to the prosecutor, it could not be proven that their intention was to kill Uvdo, and that they were not motivated by racism.

Last week, Mayor Braverman’s threats became a reality, and 30 apartments were disconnected from apartment and water, rendering them unlivable. Dozens of people found themselves in the winter cold without anywhere to live. In the meanwhile, they took showers in the sea.

A day before the mayor’s decree went into effect, Israeli news website Walla! published a recording of a meeting between Braverman and the city’s parents’ council, telling them it is “unpleasant to see black folks drinking beer in the square.”

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Here is Faisal’s testimony:

My electricity was not disconnected today. But it may still happen. I heard about families that were left without heating, without a refrigerator, without food. Life in Petah Tivkva is difficult for asylum seekers. From the moment we were released from Holot, it has been hard for us to life, we are suffering.

Faisal: ‘Israelis believe the news more than what they see with their own eyes.’
Faisal: ‘Israelis believe the news more than what they see with their own eyes.’

The hardest thing is finding a livable apartment. Landlords do not want to rent to us because our visas say we are not allowed to work, even though in practice we are able to work, and they fear that we won’t be able to pay them on time. Apart from that, we face a lot of racism: landlords say they don’t want to rent to Sudanese and Eritreans because we are black.

The refugees who live here do jobs that Israelis don’t want to do, including menial labor — in restaurants and hotels. We make very little, pay taxes like everyone else, and rent pitiful rooms for 2,500 shekels. Do the math: how much do you think we really make? How does one live off that? How can we afford food? How can we pay for water and electricity?

Even on the streets we feel the racism against us. Yesterday I left my bicycle next to a store, and heard the seller tell someone else that “a lot of foreign workers come here in order to steal.” They always say that we are thieves, but everyone has their bikes stolen. I had my bike stolen — by an Israeli.

A press conference held by the Sudanese community in southern Tel Aviv, February 8 2016. The press conference was held following an in Ashkelon in which an African man stabbed an Israeli soldier, for reasons that are yet to be determined but suspected as nationalistic. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
A press conference held by the Sudanese community in southern Tel Aviv, February 8 2016. The press conference was held following an in Ashkelon in which an African man stabbed an Israeli soldier, for reasons that are yet to be determined but suspected as nationalistic. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

People say horrible things. But I think that it is the result of what they see on the news and read in the papers, where everything is politics and everyone wants to use Sudanese and Eritreans as part of a political game. They say “I don’t want blacks or Africans here,” and Israelis go along with that. They believe the news and the websites more than what they see with their own eyes, despite the fact that they are being lied to. After all, we are not bothering anyone.

We are not here because we want to remain. We came here because we had to. I came to Israel from Darfur because of the war. They murdered my uncles and my grandfather. I left my family there and came here alone through Sinai. I submitted a request for asylum many years ago, but have yet to receive an answer. We have been suffering for so many years and there is no one who will help us. They only look at us and say “we don’t want you.”

They want to expel us to other countries where people are being murdered. The state knows this, but covers its eyes on purpose. All we are asking is to be recognized as refugees. Nothing more.

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where this article was originally published in Hebrew.