Lost in Africa, Israel

by Brian on August 15, 2012

in In the News,Only in Israel

We were on a guided tour of South Tel Aviv to get an in-person look at what dominated the news a few months back when my friend Eliot and I got lost. We were visiting the Central Bus Station and we had to use the bathroom. When we came out, our group was gone. As we high tailed it through the bus station, at times an empty ghost town, at others a claustrophobic bazaar, the group was not to be found.

Our guide had said at one point we’d be walking down Neve Sha’anan Street, so that’s where we headed. But as soon as we crossed the street from the bus station, I found myself transported back to Arusha, Tanzania, which I had visited a few years back when our family went on two-week African safari.

Some background: Neve Sha’anan Street is the central boulevard of the area where most of the estimated 60,000 migrants, primarily from Sudan and Eritrea, live. It was once lined with shoe stores; today the pedestrian midrachov is filled with clothes, chochkies, broken electronics, cell phone cases, and flip flops – just as I’d seen in Arusha (minus the liter sized Coca Cola bottles filled with gasoline).

There is a mix of restaurants serving African fare, along with the ubiquitous Israeli schwarmastands. And nearly everyone on the street, walking or on bicycles, was from somewhere in Africa or – surprisingly – China (we passed what I dubbed “Very Little Chinatown” with a Chinese grocery store and a couple of Chinese restaurants).

The tour was organized by Lisa Richlin, who has worked with the migrant community for many years; she now offers tours so that Israelis who have only read in the newspaper about what’s going on in South Tel Aviv, but have never been there, can gain first hand knowledge.

Before we got separated, we were aware that we constituted a conspicuous klatch of white tourists and we tried in vain not to look too out of place. Lisa told us that taking pictures of people’s faces was forbidden. I snapped a photo of a church instead.

We learned an enormous amount from our gregarious guide, and the tour included a half hour presentation from one of the first Sudanese to arrive – he is also one of the few to have temporary resident status. The rest are “undefined” – they have a paper indicating they are allowed to live in Israel but not work and that they must “cooperate with the authorities” (when they are being deported, presumably). Lisa explained the different terms used for the migrants (they are nearly all “asylum seekers” – they only become “refugees” if their host country grants that status, something Israel has not done).

We passed by the community library; a make shift outdoor soup kitchen; the old Central Bus Station (now completely demolished – an art school is slated to be build on the site); and Lisa pointed to the area where the prostitutes and sex shops are (“you can take a look after the tour if you want,” she said; we didn’t).

We stopped in at a few migrants’ shops (“these are the ones who’ve made it,” Lisa explained) although none actually have permits to run such businesses.

We eventually caught up with our group at Levinsky Park, filled with bored looking men (there are virtually no women). You hear various African languages, Arabic and English but very little Hebrew.

I signed up for the tour for the same reason I’ve visited Hebron and Gush Katif (before the disengagement) in the past: to understand what’s happening on the street first hand, not just from what some pundit or politician proclaims. Lisa runs these visits once a month or so and I can highly recommend them. Contact her at: lmrichlen@gmail.com.

I first got lost in Africa on the Israelity blog.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Susan Bregman August 17, 2012 at 5:20 am

Great report Brian. Thank for sharing this information. What a dilema for Israel.
Hope you are all well.
Love, Cousin Sue

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: