Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday night, March 24, to protest against the government’s racist plan to deport African refugees and asylum seekers. The rally was organized by a coalition of Sudanese and Eritrean groups, along with the “Stop the Expulsion” movement, “Standing Together” and the group “South Tel Aviv against the Expulsion.” Several Communist and Hadash activists participated in the protest, among them MK Dov Khenin (Joint List), a resident of Tel Aviv.
Protesters flocked to Rabin Square in the center of the city to voice their opposition to the government’s plan to begin deporting refugees to third-party countries (widely reported to be Rwanda and Uganda), with jail time facing those who refuse to go.
The deportations were set to begin April 1, but the Supreme Court suspended the plan amid legal wrangling. At the protest, demonstrators hoisted signs that read: “No expulsion, no Holot [detention center] – rehabilitate the neighborhoods” – a reference to how thousands of African refugees were sent to south Tel Aviv without the state investing more resources in the area. Other protesters carried signs declaring: “We shall neither expel nor kill the stranger and refugee.”
“I want to ask the Israeli government,” said speaker Monnim Haroun, “a person who escapes from forced labor under a dictatorial regime – is he not a refugee? A person who is persecuted because of his religion and ethnic origin – is he not a refugee? A person who has undergone violence, rape and torture in his own country – is he not a refugee? A person whose village was burned and family killed in front of his own eyes – is he not a refugee? A person who survived genocide – is he not a refugee? So, who is a refugee?”
Shula Keshet, the leader of the “South Tel Aviv against the Expulsion” group and a resident of the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood in southern Tel Aviv, backed Harun’s assertion, saying that referring to asylum seekers as illegal immigrants is racist, as is imprisoning or deporting them. Keshet called for the state to invest funds for the rehabilitation of asylum seekers and south Tel Aviv, claiming that apathy and the power of capital in politics (real estate tycoons who want to take over the area and build for the well off) had prevented this so far. “Routing tens of thousands of migrant workers and asylum seekers to one place and creating inhuman population density is racist, and so is deporting them, whether it be ‘voluntarily’ or forcefully. “A voice is raised from the neighborhoods — ‘Dismantle the ghettos!’ A voice is raised in the neighborhoods — ‘Stop the expulsion policy of asylum seekers!”; stop the policy of evacuating residents from their homes immediately; stop the gentrification process in the neighborhoods,” she appealed.
After the rally MK Khenin told journalists: “The tens of thousands who have come here have shown the far-right government that there is another way… It is imperative to rehabilitate south Tel Aviv, and it is imperative to grant asylum to those who request it from us. We can win this battle.”