a different side of Israel

Tag: Violence

African Migrants in Israel Face Backlash

A surge in African immigrants has sparked a flurry of backlash from Israelis who feel that the new migrants are not welcome and pose a threat to Jerusalem’s identity. Some Israelis are now taking the law into their own hands and resorting to intimidation and violent attacks.

By law and an international refugee treaty, Israel is required to provide a place of safety for migrants who come to escape oppression and war from their home country.

An estimated 60,000 African migrants, primarily from Sudan and Eritrea, have managed to sneak past Israel’s border that it shares with Egypt. The absence of a fence and border patrol agents has made it easy for refugees to slip through unnoticed.

While Israel is steadily building a fence to seal the 125 mile border, migrants continue to flood the country at a rate of approximately 1,000 every month. Most migrants come with nothing but the clothes on their back. Most report being abused and badly mistreated by the Bedouins who smuggle them.

While African migrants still make up less than one percent of Israel’s total population, some Israelis feel the refugees are harming the country’s identity as a Jewish state.

Even top Israeli officials have used derogatory terms to describe the migrants, using names such as “cancer” and “infiltrators”. Even Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has taken a firm stance against the refugees and said that their increasing numbers can lead to the demise of the Jewish state.

Due to a 1951 U.N. treaty, Israel cannot deport refugees back to their country where their lives may be in jeopardy. Other options are being considered, such as looking for a third country that is willing to give them asylum.

Israel has been slammed by the U.S. State Department for granting asylum to only one of the 4,603 people who applied in 2011. Without legal status, migrants will not be able to work or receive health care.

Cracking Down on Ultra Orthodox Violence

“There is no reason on earth for a person to raise a hand – let alone on helpless girls.” Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul said Tuesday in reference to Na’ama Margolis, the seven-year-old girl who was spat on by a haredi man who claimed she was not dressed “modestly enough.”

Addressing the recent acts of violence against women in his city perpetrated by local ultra-Orthodox, the mayor said “there is no pardon for those who behave provocatively. Rioters should be dealt with a firm hand.”

Abutbul spoke to reporters at his office just hours before a mass demonstration is expected to take place in the city against the exclusion of women from the public sphere. “Beith Shemesh denounces such behavior. Violent men belong behind bars. I urge Israel Police to act with a firm hand against all the rioters, and I call on you (the press) not to put all (the ultra-Orthodox) in one basket,” the mayor said.

The mayor’s office rejected claims that municipality was backing the exclusion of women in the city. City officials mentioned that since Abutbul took office five women – all secular – were appointed to senior positions in the municipality.

“The exclusion of women may exist on some streets or in some neighborhoods, but it has nothing to do with the municipality or its policies,” one official said. Jerusalem Police has completed its preparations for the mass rally, with hundreds of officers being deployed to maintain order and secure the demonstrators.

Mayor Abutbul said he welcomes the protesters to Beit Shemesh “to send a clear message against violence perpetrated by a few (members of the Sicarri sect) who shame the city and all of Israeli society.”

On Monday the City of Beit Shemesh announced that it would install between 300 and 400 surveillance cameras throughout the city as part of the effort to curb the growing violence.

Underworld Crime Boss Gets 13 Years

Netanya crime boss Asi Abutbul appears to be finally going “up the river” following his being sentenced to 13 years in prison for his role as one of Israel’s top criminal gang leaders. The former resident of Netanya’s Ramat Poleg neighborhood, and nephew of slain underworld figure Felix Abutbul (who was gunned down outside his casino in Prag, Czech Republic), may have run out of luck in regards to his being able to “beat the rap” on a number of criminal charges that had been brought up against him, including extortion, money laundering, and other crimes that are now listed under the framework of a new criminal justice law, designed to catch such high profile criminals.

Besides 13 years in the slammer, he was also sentenced to another two year suspended sentence, as fined NIS 500,000 ($125,000).

Asi AbutbulAbutbul has been in trouble with the law for a number of years, especially in the areas of extortion, where he and his fellow “associates’ have use all kinds of violent tactics to get “protection money” from business people, including wealthy immigrants from France.

Assi has also escaped a number of attempts on his life, including an attempt to hit his car in Ramat Poleg with an anti-tank missile. Besides the death of his uncle Felix, another uncle, Charley Abutbul, was seriously wounded when he was shot down in his Netanya restaurant by rival gang members a couple of years ago.

The State Attorney’s Office was trying to put Assi away for a lot longer, and had originally asked for a much longer sentence (25 years), which Assi’s lawyers managed to get whittled down by half. Still, 13 years is a long time for a guy who used to bee seen eating in local restaurants, surrounded by bodyguards. State Attorney spokespersons noted that Abutbul’s name was often used as a way of threatening local people to either pay large sums of “protection money” to Abutbul or “face the consequences”. He has a “long list of violations” according to Israeli criminal law, many of which have added to his notoriety over the years. His top legal “mouthpiece”, Yoram Chacham, was “permanently removed” (killed) a year ago.

Other Israeli crime bosses, including Ricco Shirazi, and Yitzhak Abergil, are also frequently mentioned in the news; as well as Zeev Rosenstein, who was recently returned from being a “guest” of the U.S. Federal Penitentiary in Miami Florida, for his role in a large international drug deal. Rosenstein is now a “guest” of Israeli prison authorities.

Haredim Clash with Police in Jerusalem

In what appears to be the worst outburst of ultra-orthodox Jewish violence in Jerusalem in nearly two years, thousands of the city’s Haredim community took to the streets on Saturday to clash with police over the opening of a parking lot by the city municipality to give visitors a place to park their cars while visiting the city on the Sabbath. Shouting “Shabbos, Shabbos”, and with many throwing rocks and other missiles at a large police contingent, the protestors created a mayhem that resulted in six policemen being lightly injured along with dozens of protestors, some of whom fought violently on a day when observant Jews are supposed to be at prayer and rest.

The police were so fearful that the mob would storm the city municipality building (where the parking lot is located) that they had to resort to using water cannon to disperse the rioters, as well as put out several fires to garbage dumpsters after the end of Shabbat. The opening of the parking lot on Shabbat was legally authorized after the city agreed to have it run by a non Jew. The Haredi community had other ideas, however, and the rioting not only involved the area of the parking lot but the ultra-orthodox Meah Shearim neighborhood as well, where most of the dumpster fires were later set.

Seven rioters were arrested on charges of committing a public disturbance (i.e. a riot) and one policeman, who was hit in the head by a rock, had to be hospitalized. The mayhem was the first big public disturbance in the administration of newly elected secular Mayor Nir Barkat, whose office denounced the disturbances on Sunday, and declared that the lot will remain open on the Sabbath. The city officials had been trying to find a solution to the parking problems in the city on the weekends, when thousands of tourists and other visitors come to Jerusalem, especially the Old City. It was agreed not to charge money for the parking, but this apparently didn’t matter to the Haredim, who still consider the lot to be a desecration of the Sabbath, and who had posted ads in religious newspapers beforehand saying to “be prepared for a battle for Jerusalem.”

A small group of secular people held an opposite protest with signs saying “this is not Teheran – the Haredim have no shame!”

The last big Heredim sponsored riot in the Capital occurred when the country’s Gay Rights groups tried to stage a march in the city on International Gay Pride Day.

“Bumpy” Burma Road Gets Even Rougher

Protest demonstrations in the Burmese capital of Yangon (Rangoon) took a turn for the worse on Wednesday when soldiers of the ruling military government began wide scale arrests of monks and others, and began to use brute force to put down demonstrations that have been ongoing in the country for more than ten days. Known as the Republic of Myanmar since the army took over and declared martial law in 1988, the country has become one of the most oppressed and isolated countries in the world; second only perhaps to North Korea and possibly Iran.

The wave of protests, are the largest since the failed uprising in the late 1980’s. Led by National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1988 uprising was forcefully put down by force. Ms. Suu Kyi, who later won the Nobel Prize for her efforts toward peaceful opposition to military rule; has been under house arrest for most of the 18+ years since her party won a sweeping political victory in 1990. Not only were she and other NLD party members never allowed to hold office, she was denied travel to Oslo Norway to collect her prize.

The recent demonstrations have resulted partially from a series of economic and social problems on behalf of the ruling junta.

The protests in Yangon, were first initiated by Buddhist monks, who have suffered immensely under the brutal military regime. Their large numbers on the streets of Yangon were soon joined by ordinary citizens whose chants and written slogans said that they had all had enough of military rule and are now demanding their rightful opportunity to participate in the running of their country’s affairs.

After keeping a low profile for more than a week, the army finally began to take a much firmer stand, and began arresting people and shooting at them with tear gas. Soldiers also broke into several monasteries and began to arrest and beat up monks, many of whom were taken away in military vehicles to unknown destinations. The mood on Thursday became even uglier, when soldiers began firing heavy amounts of tear gas, as well as live ammunition into the still protesting crowds. Although the junta had been successful in preventing most of the monks from continuing their protest, large numbers of private citizens were out on the streets, and were hit by more tear gas and live ammunition. At least 9 people were reported by witnesses to have been killed by gunfire, including a member of the Japanese press corps stationed in Yangon.

The entire affair has escalated into an international crises; and the U.N. is sending special envoys to Yangon to try to mediate in the affair. In the 1988 uprising, more than 3,000 people were reported killed by troops firing into demonstrating crowds. In the severe crackdown that followed, thousands more were taken away to detention camps; and many were never heard from again. While the rule of the military junta has not been as bad as the genocidal nightmare of the Pol Pot led Khmer Rogue regime in Cambodia during the 1970’s, it still ranks as one of the most oppressive; and has literally isolated this former British colony from the rest of the Free World. I say ‘free world’ since the only real allies of this beautiful S.E. Asian country are countries like China and North Korea. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi became world famous during the former uprising for her non-violent stand against the military; who never let her and her NLD party cronies take over leadership, despite her resounding victory in the last held free elections. Many of her countrymen managed to escape Burma and are now languishing in refugee camps in Thailand, which shares a large eastern border with Myanmar.

Unless some immediate and tough intervention is made by either the U.N. or by neighboring countries like India or Thailand, the result of this latest uprising will no doubt be as bad or worse as the one in 1988. The moral we can all learn from this sad and unfortunate episode is that personal freedom and democracy must never be taken for granted. For one day, it could be lost; as it was in this beautiful land made immortal by books by authors such as Josef Konrad; whose literary works such as Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim are still being read and enjoyed today. The kind, gentle Burmese people portrayed in these books deserve better than what they are having to endure in this country of golden Buddhist shrines, elephants, and teak forests.

The Israeli Wild Life

Attacked Park Ranger Israel (Hat Tip: Nature & National Parks Protection Authority)

Upper Galilee Head park officer Offer Yaacov of the Nature & National Parks Protection Authority could feel something was wrong. With his men he traced down a dubious group of people, suspecting them for performing illegal porcupine hunt. When Yaacov succeeded to block the suspects’ car, one of the (alleged) hunters approached him and hit him in the head with a bludgeon. Sometime during the confrontation Yaacov’s gun fell down. The hunter did not think twice – he reached down to it, held the gun to the park officer’s head and said: “You’d better get your car off the road.” The young hunter and his two companions left with Yaacov’s gun, and although they were arrested by the police that chased them down, they were released that very night to a partial house arrest.

It didn’t take long before Yaacov got a phone call from the audacious hunter, who threatened him to keep silent, “I know who you are and where you live.” Yaacov too knew the person on the other side of the line: the son of a herdsman whom Yaacov had given professional advice.

Apparently this is not the first case of violence manifested against nature reserves officers – lawbreakers have tried to fend off officers on duty by drowning them, running them over and hurling bricks at them. These are not just porcupine or partridge hunters (recently labeled as protected animal in Israel), but also local villagers who run their illegal businesses on the account of the country’s natural resources – selling dug earth, cutting down trees, polluting, you just name it.

The park officers, who are well aware of the dangers of their occupation, feel discriminated; “but what if a gun was pointed at some cop’s head, would they still release the offender the same night?”

It’s about time that criminals in Israel – of all stripes – get punished for their wrong-doings. No wonder they feel free to take the law (and the law-keeper ‘s gun) into their hands. There’s no other way out – but to fight fire with fire!

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