In the past fifteen years, tens of thousands of Africans, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, have crossed into Israel. The majority of these people now live in south Tel Aviv.
Shapira, a traditionally blue-collar area, is one of the neighbourhoods they have ended up in. Hipsters have also begun to move into the area, complete with fixie bikes and yoga lessons. These newcomers have come into conflict with Shapira’s original inhabitants, most of whom are religious Jews from Uzbekistan, Turkey and Greece.
Add lady-boy prostitutes, drug addicts and several hundred Philipino care-workers to the mix and it’s easy to see why Shapira, a neighbourhood that isn’t much more than a square kilometre in size, is a microcosm of so many problems relating to identity, tradition, immigration and crime that countries across the world are facing today.
During the past twelve months, I interviewed people in Shapira to see how they wound up there and what they think of the things happening in the neighbourhood. Here’s what one young woman had to say.
Julia, 19 years old
I work in Shapira but I don’t live here. I live close by in Kfar Shalem, near to HaTikva and Shapira. Kfar Shalem is better. Shapira is a poor neighbourhood. I can’t say that it’s an area with a lot of crime now, like it was in the past. It’s not an area with crime like the Central Bus Station is. I lived here for more than 12 years. When I first came to Israel, it was 2000. We moved close to here but after that, we moved off to a better neighbourhood.
When I came to Israel, the neighbourhood was already like this. All of this area was filled with immigrants. I remember when I was a kid, you would see lots of different people in the street. All these different people being here is not a new thing.
Back in the past this area was shitty, today it’s even more shitty. There are so many drug addicts. It’s disgusting to see it. Every day, when I finish my work, I go to the bus stop and you can always see drug addicts and stuff like that. It’s just disgusting. I hope this area will soon be better because they’re going to destroy the Central Bus Station and build something new. I worked here for five years already, one year in this shop and four years on the floor below. I like my job, yes. But, the place, no.
I’m originally from Moscow. I lived there for maybe a year and a half. From the time I was six until I was seven. So I remember all the buildings and everything there. We came here to Israel first and then moved back to Moscow afterwards then back here again. I think I’m more Russian than Israeli. First of all, I’m not Jewish. My mum is pure Russian. We’re only here because of my father. So no, I don’t feel that Israel is my country. Russia is my country. Even though I was born in Uzbekistan, I still feel that way.
When you are Russian and you live here for a long time, you feel even more Russian than in Russia. Because you see how Israelis behave and you see that you are not like them. You feel this from a young age. You start to differentiate yourself from Israelis from the time that you are little.
I don’t want to live in Russia, though. I want to get my education here because the army is going to pay for it. Then I’d like to move to the USA or maybe move back to Russia. Right now, the army is going to pay me to study mechanical engineering for two years. So in two years, when I’m finished, I’ll have to give them four years of my life, instead of [the normal] two and something. I’m not happy to do it but they’ll pay for it. When you come from Russia to Israel, you just know that you have to work hard and do something to support your family or something like that. Even if you don’t like it.
I want to move to the USA because it’s a higher standard of living than here. Because I don’t have any family or anything here in Israel, it’s just me and my mother – that’s it. When I get my education, i’ll have a skill that’s needed everywhere in the world so I think I can do it. Life in Russia is hard too, so I don’t really want to live there and I think in the USA I can make my life better. In the US, it’s financially better. You know Russia is a strong country but not economically. There is no money in Russia. There is no work in Russia. There are too many people there and half of them live below the poverty line.
I really don’t like it in Shapira. There’s so many people coming here with a bad life and you see them all in one place. What you see here is some people that are trying to survive in Israel when they are like me, they don’t like this place, but have to stay because they don’t have another choice. I don’t like to see it. I don’t like Shapira. But I will escape. I have two years and then I’ll be in the army. Then I’ll fly away from here.