For the second time in a little over a month, arsonists targeted a Jerusalem apartment home to African migrants, seriously injuring an Eritrean man and his pregnant wife.
Three crews of firefighters arrived at the apartment, located near the Mahaneh Yehuda market, a little after 3 a.m. A neighbor who shares a courtyard with the couple said he was awoken by screams and saw 32-year-old Tegai Timrat run out of the apartment, engulfed in flames and trying desperately to put them out.
Neighbors who were drawn to the street by the screams were so shocked by the sight that it took a minute for one neighbor to douse him with water, a witness said. Timrat received severe burns on his arms and legs and his wife, who is seven months’ pregnant, suffered smoke inhalation.
They were both taken to Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem.
Firefighters immediately classified the fire as arson and transferred suspicious materials, which they believe started the fire, to the police.
Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said police are checking to see if Thursday’s attack was connected to a similar one on June 5, when arsonists tried to burn down abuilding housing 50 migrants on Jaffa Road, also next to Mahaneh Yehuda and around 3 a.m., by starting a fire in the stairwell. Fire and Rescue Services spokesman Asaf Abras said the June 5 fire was a “death trap” that could have easily ended in major tragedy. Three people received minor burns on their arms and legs.
A unit of police investigators created to look into that attack will also investigate Thursday’s fire.
Ben-Ruby said that police are examining all avenues to identify the suspects.
The one-room apartment near Agripas Street was completely blackened inside and the entrance was also covered in soot. Neighbors and friends of the couple passed by during the morning,expressing disbelief and disgust. A friend who came by to rescue some of the family’s belongings left with only three plastic bags, since everything else was destroyed.
Nicole, an Eritrean neighbor who lives on the next street, said the couple were “quiet and amazing neighbors. I cried all night after this,” she said. “There is nothing worse than this… nothing more disgusting.”
Nicole and her neighbors hypothesized that Jewish extremist could be responsible for the attack.
Long-time resident Moshe Nakash said that while some people may resent the fact that African migrants live in the neighborhood, there is no excuse to take the law into their own hands.
“You don’t need to hurt them physically,” he said. “The law needs to take care of them. We know there are planes going back [to repatriate some migrants]. If they’re harassing people, then go to the police and police will take care of it.”
This second attack really shook the African migrant community in Jerusalem.
“I am really scared – this is not a small thing, to burn someone’s house down,” said Bereket, an Eritrean migrant who works at a computer store near the arson site, and did not want to give his full name.
African migrants have reported being attacked in a number of neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Eilat. Assailants have used a number of weapons to assault migrants, including rocks, bottles, firecrackers and Molotov cocktails.
Just hours after the arson took place, MK Danny Danon called for all African migrants to be expelled from the country.
“Enough talk,” Danon said at a conference with south Tel Aviv residents. “It is time for action.
Deport all of the infiltrators from the State of Israel.”
Danon offered his preferred solution to the issue: Israel must “build cities for infiltrators, finish construction of the fence [along the Egyptian border] and expel all the infiltrators from Israel,” he said. “Illegal infiltrators must have two statuses: Deported or awaiting deportation.”
But the Likud MK rejected violence as a means of achieving the deportation of the migrants.
“I condemn violence of any kind,” he told the conference attendees.
Quoting Eritrean Ambassador Tesfamariam Tekeste, Danon said “there is no danger in Eritrea.” In May, Tekeste denied allegations that his country would kill illegal migrants if Israel would deport them back to Eritrea.
“Citizens of Israel have turned into refugees in their own homes, and the [African] refugees have become the permanent residents,” Danon said.
There are an estimated 60,000 African migrants in Israel, a small amount when you look at the country’s 7.8 million population. However right-wing extremist politicians including the country’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to win support by conducting mass raids on African homes and passing legislation aimed at interning Africans in camps in the Negev desert.
The majority of African migrants in Israel are from Sudan and Eritrea most of the migrants and asylum seekers are from Darfur whom Israel has refused to give the right to work and have recently passed legislation aimed at putting them in prison camps for up to three years until they can be deported.
While most Israelis support the governments harsh policy towards Africans, others say the Jewish state, born after the Holocaust, has a responsibility to offer foreigners sanctuary in particularly Africans who have done so for the Jews on numerous occasions throughout history starting with Jacob an his sons who went to Egypt to avoid starvation.