Wednesday night’s race riots were the culmination of years of simmering tensions between native residents and a growing number of immigrants from Africa, a mixture of asylum seekers and those looking for work.
Over the past month, tensions have spilled over into violence with a spate of arson attacks on apartments housing refugees as locals lashed out following reports that a number of African refugees were being held on suspicion of raping Israeli women.
Resentment and anger were the dominant emotions among Israelis shopping in the market on Thursday, less than a day after demonstrations on the nearby Etzel Street descended into violent rioting.
“There are 70 per cent fewer blacks here after the demonstration,” said one 24-year-old stallholder with a degree of satisfaction, while refusing to give his name.
The Africans, he said, had brought a growing number of thefts and sexual offences to the area, and instilled fear in the veteran residents.
“My grandmother left after an African broke into her apartment,” he told AFP. “Even I’m afraid.”
As well as fear, there was also real anger on the street, with people lining up to vent their frustration over the government’s lack of action to deal with what they said was a growing instance of violence and crime on the streets.
“We’re afraid to leave our homes,” complained an agitated woman called Eti who was buying tomatoes at the neighbouring stall.
“Out of their frustration, they do terrible things,” she said.
“I’ve never seen such violence. The solution is only to send them back to their countries.”
But the fear is felt by both sides, with very few of the African migrants willing to speak to the press, much less identify themselves.
“Everything is fine,” insists an Eritrean shopkeeper working a short distance from the market, refusing to talk about the overnight violence.
Speaking in Hebrew, he explains that he slipped across the border from Egypt four years ago and is one of the fortunate few who has won refugee status — which gives him medical benefits and a coveted work permit.
A grim picture
Married with two small daughters, he has no plans to stay in the Jewish state.
“I want to stay only until my country works things out. I have family there, everything,” he said.
A short distance away in Levinsky Park, where homeless African immigrants live, Sudanese Abdul Abed Abdullah paints a grim picture.
“We’ve been here for a long time, I’m without hope, there’s no work,” the 29-year-old said. “I escaped violence and war, and now I’m here on the street with the constant fear that police will check me. I dream about America.”
Back in the market, the stallholder said even he could understand the immigrants’ need to eat.
“Once they’re illegal, and hungry, of course they’ll do anything,” he said. “If your child was hungry for bread, wouldn’t you steal?”
But affording the Africans work permits, while solving one problem, would create another one.
“We’d all lose our jobs,” he said. (AFP)