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The Siege of the Tel Aviv bus station

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African refugees sit outside of Tel Aviv's central bus station. (Photo: picture-alliance/dpa)

African refugees sit outside of Tel Aviv’s central bus station. (Photo: picture-alliance/dpa)

It’s high noon at Tel Aviv’s central bus station. By ten-thirty in the evening the Magav, a Special Forces unit of Israel’s border police usually on patrol for riots not public transportation passengers, was at its new post. In one busy corner Israelis in stereotypical fashion shoved each other as they dogged the uniformed men.

“We are required to put the light there so other police can see we are here,” said an officer standing next to a post that looked like something to hang a coat on, except for the rectangular blue light at the head. It was a mobile, fold-able siren beam. His M-16 dangled between his legs like it was a sacred ornament from birth. Five other seemingly uninterested Special Forces paced nearby. But blocks away there were more Magav police, only they were on horses trampling African refugees. A money exchange transaction had gone awry. An Israeli employee ripped off an African for 8,000 Shekels, or so said guys in the street rubbernecking at the protest that had mounted outside the shop.

The troopers who were then called to rein in calm are part of the new 550 police Benjamin Netanyahu ordered to stand guard in African asylum-seeker neighborhoods at least until the end of the year when an estimated 3,920 will be deported. Maybe they will go to Uganda, where Israel has struck a deal with the African nation to take the refugees in exchange for financial compensation, weapons, and agricultural training for the new residents of Uganda, or maybe they will go back to their countries of origin.

Yet the amplified pseudo-military presence isn’t just real-life reenactments from Israel’s version of Do the Right Thing. Most mornings the young officers line up behind the bus station and practice calisthenics. And inside the concrete walls shops sell high heels for around $5, packages of thongs, and savory pastries. It’s a mini-village. There is a pharmacy, one sex-toy shop, and a McDonald’s. In the afternoon elderly men gather at the tables in front of a booth that makes standards like schnitzel and meatballs. And everyone smokes inside, ashing on the floor. But beyond the doors with police checkpoints and metal detectors, the bus station has become both the Magav training and operating ground.

Adding to the atmosphere of bus station siege, over the weekend the Israeli government said it would offer heftier incentives to urge African self-deportation. “We are determined to deport the tens of thousands of illegal migrants who are here after having reduced to zero the number of illegal labor migrants who enter Israel’s cities,” said Netanyahu at the Sunday meeting. He continued, “The steps that we unanimously approved today are proportionate and necessary for maintaining the Jewish and democratic character of the state and will restore security to Israel’s citizens.”

In the past asylum seekers could receive $1,500 if they returned to their home countries. But on Sunday that number jumped up to $3,500. And for those that don’t self-deport, a desert detention facility is being constructed in the Negev. The total operation will end up costing the state $124 million to compel the emigration of approximately 60,000 Africans. That’s about $2,000 per African.

But the African detention center is not a jail. It’s a warehousing outpatient center. Refugees can come and go during the day so long as they show up for a roll call administered three times daily. Furthermore, working is forbidden. The goal is to move all of the refugees out of the country and for those who have legal standing, kick them out of Tel Aviv and dump them in the desert.

Israeli activist Maya Paley wrote in the Forward yesterday that the Israeli high court already ruled against this type of detention without change, but the state is moving forward with it anyways. “The judge even quoted Deuteronomy” in her decision, wrote Paley:

This ‘open facility’ will be run by the Israeli Prison Service and detainees will be required to report to the facility three times a day in order to ensure that they are not working, which they are not permitted to do, or fleeing detention. On top of all that, detention will once again be indefinite, as the legislation sets no limit on the length of residence in this ‘open facility’.

Despite the violation to Israel’s high court ruling, Israelis are not decrying the detention facility or the Magav troopers. The lunch counter men, the vendors of the bus station went on with their business as if the Magav were not there.

Yet the same night where I first saw the bus station clad with police, elsewhere in Tel Aviv angry Israelis did spar with officers. “Yossi, Yossi, Yossi, come join us for a drink,” shouted enraged Ashkenazim in a bar off of Allenby St. The police had shown up at the Bulgarian beer garden to confiscate a sound system. A few blocks away a similar operation was underway. The Bulgarian bar did not have a permit for music, but the Israelis happy for their night out wouldn’t stand for it.

“This is not a police state!” chanted the entirety of the patio in unison. Two young women pulled out camera phones and recorded the police—they’re not going to get away with this, we’ll show everyone, the whole world is watching, their filming seemed to say.

“Yossi, Yossi, Yossi, we don’t want a police state!!” bewailed the Tel Avivians to the Mizrachi officer, until finally, the speaker was returned. Everyone clapped and jeered. The camera girls put away their phones and sat down for a drink.

Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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21 Responses

  1. Ecru on November 28, 2013, 8:23 am

    Don’t know if anyone else has seen this in the Guardian but Israel isn’t just sinking deeper and deeper into the mire of xenophobia, it’s strapped 100lb weights to its belt and is happily diving at full speed.

    “Israel to stop issuing birth certificates to babies born to foreigners”

    • amigo on November 28, 2013, 9:30 am

      I read that article. ECRU.

      “The issue was raised at the United Nations committee on the rights of the child in June. According to minutes of the meeting, the committee “received information that the children of migrants were not issued with official birth certificates, but were instead given a copy of a handwritten birth notification that did not have a personal identification number and did not even include the name of the father. It was reported that families that insisted on the inclusion of the father’s name had to pay nearly $2,000 for a DNA test.”

      The UN convention on the rights of the child, which Israel has signed, says full birth records are a fundamental right.”The Gaurdian.

      What,s this , Israel ignoring UN Conventions.


      Blood libel, anti semitism, pogroms, blah blah blah.

      • Eva Smagacz on November 28, 2013, 6:03 pm

        Additionally, the birth “note” must not contain immigrant woman’s married name – only her maiden name, thus obliterating any connection with a father.

    • Krauss on November 28, 2013, 12:50 pm

      I was actually surprising so little coverage was made of this at this website.

      I wasn’t surprised, of course, that the NYT wouldn’t touch it.
      Instead they made a front-page story about Ashkenazi women and their travails having breast cancer in Israel.

      But this just goes back to the point of Max Blumenthal; even if Israel had a 2SS deal tomorrow, it would still be a prime example of a Jim Crow state.
      It’s not a democracy within the green line, hence why Zionists like MJ Rosenberg and others should come clean why they support Jim Crow as long as the victims of it are not Jews.

  2. Walid on November 28, 2013, 8:24 am

    Not to derail your thread, Allison, but it should be noted that Israel’s expulsion of the 50,000 to Uganda is small change in comparison to the 4 million illegal migrants being expelled from Saudia that started Nov. 4th when the declared 7-month amnesty period ended. One million packed and left voluntarily during the 7 months but the remaining 4 millions are without papers, without passports and without any other recourse to avoid being rounded up and jailed. Most had sneaked into the country on a Haj visa and simply ended up staying there illegally and working, some since decades and were tolerated by the authorities. Now with 5 million labourers suddenly off the labour market (the 4 MM are staying home in hiding) there’s a massive employment problem in the country. Saudia took these drastic measures supposedly to create employment for unemployed Saudi nationals but nobody believes that Saudis would ever take these jobs of cleaning streets and other cleaning jobs and as housemaids.

    There has to be some Israeli connection or other behind this story because both (Saudia and Israel) actions were undertaken at just about the same time.

    • Allison Deger on November 28, 2013, 8:30 am

      They have nothing to do with one and another. Israel started planning the Uganda deal a few months ago, and it’s not the first country to do these third-party deportations.

      • benedict on November 28, 2013, 10:54 am

        The point of this strange post is unclear.

        I don’t really understand how Deger got from a Magav soldier with “His M-16 dangled between his legs like it was a scared ornament from birth” (what is that even supposed to mean??) to illegal African immigrants to a police officer by the name Yossi confiscating somebody’s sound system (and then giving it back!).

        Obviously there are some heavy literary pretensions going on here but they are to profound for me.

        Anyway, if the point was to criticize Israel’s treatment of illegal immigrants it might be useful to see how other countries deal with this problem. For instance Australia.

      • Walid on November 28, 2013, 12:17 pm

        Australia is turning back illegals; its doors were wide open to refugees fleeing war zones, but because this was abused by racketeers, Australia tightened its laws and began stopping illegals out to sea. Nothing wrong in what Australia is doing.

        On the other hand, Israel went into Africa with its usual bells and whistles to “repatriate” and “rehabilitate” the descendants of Solomon, which of course was a load of PR bullshit as these Falashas were treated worse than slaves once the cameras stopped rolling after their arrival in Israel. But the noise was enough to create interest by other poor Africans to get to Egypt and cross the Sinai to illegally enter Israel. Isreal didn’t appear to mind because the illegals were a source of dirt-cheap employment. Now that they are no longer needed, Israel is shipping them off to Uganda where a worst fate awaits them as they are going directly to UN camps. that’s one of the points.

      • Shingo on November 28, 2013, 4:15 pm

        Nothing wrong in what Australia is doing.

        It’s still pretty disgusting the way the right wing has made this issue front and center of politics, when it was such an insignificant issue.

      • Mayhem on November 28, 2013, 6:00 pm

        Quite frankly Walid you don’t know what you are talking about.
        The immigrants coming to Australia and Israel are illegal immigrants and both countries are taking very similar measures to stop the flow of such immigrants. To call these people ‘refugees’ when you are speaking about the Israel context and to refer to them as ‘illegals’ when talking about Australia is very dishonest.

        the noise was enough to create interest

        Of course many Africans are attempting to get into Israel as in their region Israel offers the best opportunity for a better life.
        Israel was very successful with its Operation Moses followed by
        Operation Solomon. Today Israel celebrates the out-of-Africa contribution to its culture
        – see

      • just on November 28, 2013, 8:33 pm

        I read it as a sacred and scary “ornament from birth”………….

      • Shingo on November 28, 2013, 8:40 pm

        The immigrants coming to Australia and Israel are illegal immigrants and both countries are taking very similar measures to stop the flow of such immigrants.

        Rubbish. There is nothing similar about it.

        While the right wing clearly is trying to whip up xenophia and racism, Australia’s policy is based on the fact that those travelling on boats to get to Australia are rising their lives, with many dying out at sea.

        To call these people ‘refugees’ when you are speaking about the Israel context and to refer to them as ‘illegals’ when talking about Australia is very dishonest.

        No it’s not, because Australia has implemented a system whereby the refugee status of those coming to Australia is assessed. Many are legitimate refugees (ie. persecuted and fleeing personal danger) , while there are others who are simply trying to escape from a poverty trap in their home country.

        Israel was very successful with its Operation Moses followed by Operation Solomon.

        That was for PR reasons. Israel couldn’t claim to be a Jewish homeland for all Jews while allowing black African Jews to perish. Today, those Jews live as 23rd class citizens and suffer enormous racist and discrimination.

      • tree on November 28, 2013, 9:08 pm

        I think the piece could use a good proofreading. “Scared” instead of “sacred”, “anyways” instead of “anyway” and “spare” instead of “spar” are the few typos that I noticed.

        I did get the point though. Israeli bar goers were calling Israel a “police state” for attempting to confiscate a bar sound system that didn’t have a permit. Meanwhile they were oblivious to the police state surrounding the African immigrants in Tel Aviv, and the concentration camp in Israel’s Negev.

      • Walid on November 29, 2013, 3:53 am

        Mayhem, this story you posted of the celebration doen’t do much to erase the evil done to these Ethiopians by Israel. It was only a few months back that the story broke on how Israel had been sterilizing the Ethiopians with shots of Depo Provera every 3 months, without their knowledge or consent. Between neutering those Africans and dealing in illegal trafficking of human organs, Israel’s picture is not good. Israel practically dragged those Ethiopians out of Africa, made them into Jews (that some religious authorities still don’t recognize), installed them in ghettos or on the Golan, called them “nigger”, rejected their blood donations, prevented them from sending their children to some schools, refused to employ them, and now here you have the effrontery to call your treatment of these people a “success”?

        Israel gave birth control to Ethiopian Jews without their consent

      • bilal a on November 29, 2013, 2:01 pm

        What would be the consequence for the domestic indigenous Arab population if Israel permitted massive immigration to Israel/Palestine?

        Economic AND cultural?


    • Erasmus on November 28, 2013, 11:19 am

      Israel and Saudi Arabia – the new allies

      To prove the new Alliance – here you are:

      Both democracies see eye-to-eye: Kick them out, them Infiltrators!

  3. amigo on November 28, 2013, 9:19 am

    “The steps that we unanimously approved today are proportionate and necessary for maintaining the Jewish and democratic character of the state and will restore security to Israel’s citizens.”nietanyahu

    He means Israel,s Jews.Right.

    The other 20% are the next lot to be exported.

    Ah, yes.The light unto the nations shines again.

    • Walid on November 28, 2013, 11:43 am

      “The other 20% are the next lot to be exported.”

      They wouldn’t be deported, amigo, Israel is waiting for Abbas and the gang to sign their acceptance that Israel will for ever be a Jewish state and when that happens, the fun and games of eliminating the Arabic language would really begin. These citizens are already treated as second class, so maybe they’d reduce them to even lower to have them leave voluntarily.

      But they wouldn’t kick them out; that wouldn’t look good on the 7 o’clock news.

  4. mariapalestina on November 28, 2013, 4:02 pm

    “…….maintaining the Jewish and democratic character of the state…” An oxymoron if I ever saw one.

  5. just on November 28, 2013, 8:28 pm

    The cabal of Zionism makes me retch.

    And it’s becoming increasingly exposed and very desperate.

  6. DICKERSON3870 on November 29, 2013, 3:10 am

    RE: “angry Israelis did spare with officers”

    MY COMMENT: I assume that was meant to be “spar”.

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