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.
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 Arab woman had to say.
I’m from Shapira. I’m 20 years-old and I lived my whole life here in the neighbourhood. All of this here, this park and everything, all of this is new. It wasn’t here when I was a kid. It’s maybe five or six years old. Also the buildings, all of them are new too, from maybe five years ago. Before there was nothing here – only a small park but not really anything.
Everyone is the same from the time I grew up. It’s not true that in the past the neighbourhood was so bad or something like that. There are fewer crackheads, that’s true. But everyone here helps one another. One time, my sister fell in the street and everybody came to help here. We help one another, there’s no racism between us or something like that. In this neighbourhood, there’s no racism. We’re all here together.
There are a lot of Arabs like me here in the neighbourhood. Really a lot. Some people moved [after the Africans came] but if they are racists, that’s their problem.
Of course the people that left did so because they are racists. There is no other reason. If someone lives here and lives their life in the neighbourhood, then someone else comes and he leaves, you wish him a good trip, right? That’s all you can do.
The rent here is very expensive. You get an apartment that’s like a small toilet and you pay 2,500 shekels a month. A tiny house and you have to pay that.
When we were kids, we didn’t have all the craziness that we have now – with all the racism and that bullshit. Against the Arabs, against the blacks because of all the wars and things like that. It wasn’t like that before, you understand? We were all here together. Jews, Arabs, everyone, we were all together. Now everyone is afraid. After eight or nine in the evening, everyone stays at home.
Do I stay in? No! I go out with my girlfriends. I know how to defend myself but other people don’t know how to defend themselves. My parents don’t care about my friends. If you are a good person, then you’re welcome. It doesn’t matter if you are Jewish, African, Muslim, Christian – come home with us and we’ll all be together. I have friends that are Eritrean, Ethiopian, Jewish, Russian – whatever you like! I don’t care what other people think. The racists don’t interest me. But if someone is racist to me, for example, then I know how to respond to it.
In the neighbourhood, we have a graveyard, an Arab graveyard. I have family buried there from years and years ago. People here don’t care. They just throw garbage [into the graveyard]. We go and clean it up though. We have days, me, my father and all my family, we go to clean the graveyard. There’s also a group in Jaffa – a Muslim group – and they go to clean it once a month. I guess the Jewish people throw garbage because they don’t care. And also the Arabs are scared about it.
Would my parents have a problem if they saw me now with this guy? You are thinking of Ramla and Lod, [two other towns in Israel with large Arab populations]. Here in Jaffa, we’re free. If my parents saw me now, it’s normal, there’ll be no problem. It’s not like Lod and Ramla in Jaffa. It’s true, an Arab girl there can’t go outside of her house alone without her brother. After five, it’s forbidden. But in Jaffa, we’re different. We live freely. I love living here. Why would I leave? It’s our home, am I going to leave our home? It’s not for sale, it’s ours.