African 'infiltrators' targeted by mob and Netanyahu's party

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The Independent Online

Amine Zigta is not a timid man. If he was, he would not have risked his life by escaping indefinite enforced army service in Eritrea, or making the hazardous journey through Sudan and the Sinai desert to Israel. Nor would he have kept open his corner bar in south Tel Aviv after 15 local hoodlums shouting "what do you care, you black son of a bitch?" broke off table legs in March after he refused to serve teenagers below the legal drinking age. "But now," Mr Zigta, 36, says in fluent Hebrew, "I am afraid, all the time. At night I can't sleep. I am in danger."

Given subsequent events, his fears are understandable. On 23 May, with a demonstration against African refugees planned for the evening, he locked up at around 4pm. Hours later, residents phoned to say demonstrators were breaking in. When he arrived, he found the plate glass windows smashed by bricks, tables upturned and all his stock stolen by looters. An Eritrean woman working there was threatened by two men who said "her stomach would be cut open with knives", he says.

Mr Zigta's experience is extreme. But otherwise he typifies the 60,000 African men and women who have crossed the still-porous Egypt-Israel border since 2005.

Of the 50,000 "infiltrators" (the official term) still here, Eritreans and Sudanese cannot be deported because the dangers at home qualify them for "collective protection" under international conventions.

But with a suspended deportation order hanging over them, the remaining African asylum-seekers are in legal limbo, unable to secure refugee status and access to health and social services. A new law permits detention of refugees for three years, and so Israel is constructing a 12,400-place desert prison camp – along with tented facilities across the country. "I was shocked. I thought Israel would give us our human rights," says Abdo Omar, 32, a university graduate who is one of around 200 Darfuris living at a grubby shelter.

Israel says that, as the nearest democracy to Africa with a first-world economy, it is uniquely vulnerable to a migrant influx. The Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, claimed "most" African migrants are criminals.

Miri Regev, a Knesset member in Mr Netanyahu's Likud party, told the May protest that African migrants were a "cancer in our body". That evening, rampaging demonstrators attacked Africans and ransacked businesses – including Mr Zigta's bar.

Kidane Isaac, 26, an Eritrean community activist, says that if he returned to his homeland he would face torture or even execution after escaping from the army and then from jail. Of Israel's government he says: "They are forgetting their own history."