Though it was planned as a silent, candle-lit march, by about a half hour in the crowd was cheering and chanting “freedom!” and “no more prisons” as they weaved their way down major thoroughfares like Allenby and Rothschild.
It was the second such protest in Tel Aviv, following one last Saturday night that also drew a few thousand participants. Unlike most protests by African migrants in Tel Aviv in recent years, the crowd was made up predominantly of asylum seekers, who appeared to be in charge and marching to their own beat, as opposed to previous protests that were mainly made up of Israeli activists. It also follows two separate “freedom marches” in the past couple weeks, in which migrants marched from the new open detention facility in the south to Beersheba and Jerusalem, where they demanded Israel hear their asylum claims.
The demonstration Saturday night set out from Lewinsky Park in south Tel Aviv and made its way to Rabin Square, where a protest was held. At Lewinsky Park, an 18 year old Eritrean named Johnny, who said he fled the country before having to be drafted into the army, told the post he was marching “to make a call for freedom, to say that we need equal rights.”
Holding a sign that said “we shall overcome”, Johnny described how he and his fellow Eritrean migrants lack visas or legal status in Israel, and live in limbo without the ability to legally support themselves.
The recent protests are a response to Israel’s opening of “Holot”, the new open detention facility in the south, and implementation of the anti-infiltration amendment which allows Israel to jail without charge people who entered the country illegally, even if they are asylum seekers.
Over the past two weeks, the Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority has made statements that they will begin enhanced enforcement of Israeli labor laws against employing people illegally in the country, and will also start arresting and jailing more migrants illegally in the country. Just over the last week, PIBA sent out three different statements announcing the arrests of dozens of African migrants in Tel Aviv and elsewhere.
Standing at Lewinsky Park before marching through Tel Aviv, an Eritrean named Emanuel said they believed this week that a silent march would send a stronger message, and that the candles would be held high because “we are now living in darkness here.”