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 guy had to say.
Persian Guy, unknown age
In this neighbourhood, there’s a little bit of a balagan. I’ve been here for 30 years. I had a shop in the old bus station, before the new one was built here. The Tel Aviv Central Bus Station was built in 1993 and until about five years ago, the work here was good. But from then it got worse. Why? For lots of reasons. Now, they don’t take care of the bus station, not like they did before. A lot of shops closed.
About ten years ago, it was nicer for sure. All of the people changed. Before, it was all Jewish people. Now, you have all these Africans and sometimes they make problems. And no Jews come here anymore. For example, I have this shirt here. I’ll sell it for 100 shekels. But someone will prefer to go to a different shop in another area and pay 150 shekels because they don’t want to come to this neighbourhood with their kids.
I can’t move my shop. To move it the centre of the city and start again? Wow, that’s going to be hard. You move to a new place then no one knows you, you have to start from the beginning. It takes you a couple of years before people know who you are and everything. What can you do? One day it’s good, one day it’s bad. I hope that my children will do something different. They’re studying now and when you are more educated, you can make more money.
I was born in Iran, I only moved to Israel in ‘86, after everything had happened there. First there was the  revolution and then there was the war with Iraq. After that, I decided to escape. If I went to Iran now, I’d have a better life there than I would here in Israel. Life is less difficult there. In Iran, I know the language, I know the customs, I know the laws, I know everything. Here in Israel, there’s a different mentality. Everyone is always stressed here.
But what can I do? I have to work here, I don’t have a choice. Everything you do in life, you have to do it for your family. I have family here in Israel and also still in Iran. The family in Iran aren’t afraid, why would they be? Listen, the Muslims in Iran are better than all the other Muslims in the world, you understand? They have a different mentality. They are better than here, they are more intelligent.
When I lived in Iran, we lived with Muslims and had no problems. We were neighbours. They came to our house, we went to their house – it was a different life. It’s not like here with the Arabs and the problems with Israel. The Arabs here have a different mentality, it’s a shit mentality. They think the same way that people did 2,000 years ago. So you have to distinguish between the Iranian government and the people. It’s like in Israel, the government does something or says something. But that’s separate from what regular people are doing or thinking. Politics is something different.
Everyone misses something. I miss Iran. Why not? I had a good life there. We lived in Tehran, in the middle of the country. We had a house that was 400 metres squared. Here, what do you get? Maybe 75 metres? It’s nothing. There it was nicer. Here I have a wife and children that’s true. My children are my life but, if I was alone, I’d go and live in Iran. When I escaped from there, I wanted to go to America but I wasn’t able to, so that’s why I’m in Israel.