Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday that he will build a wall along the border with Egypt to prevent the influx of African migrants, following a violent clash between rival groups of Eritreans in Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu said he wants to deport all the Eritrean migrants who were involved in the clash, which left dozens of people injured, including 27 police officers. He also ordered a plan to remove all the African migrants from Israel, saying they pose a threat to the country’s security and identity.
The clash erupted on Saturday in south Tel Aviv, where hundreds of Eritreans, supporters and opponents of Eritrea’s government, faced off with construction lumber, pieces of metal and rocks, smashing shop windows and police cars. Israeli police in riot gear shot tear gas, stun grenades and live rounds while officers on horseback tried to control the protesters.
The violence was triggered by an event organized by the Eritrean Embassy to celebrate 30 years of independence from Ethiopia. Many Eritreans who fled their country’s oppressive regime and sought asylum in Israel denounced the event as a propaganda stunt and accused the embassy of extorting money from them.
Israel hosts about 35,000 African migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, who entered the country illegally through the porous border with Egypt. Israel considers them as infiltrators and economic migrants who have no right to stay, and has offered them cash incentives and free flights to leave voluntarily. However, many of them refuse to go back to their countries, fearing persecution and violence.
Netanyahu’s plan to build a wall along the 240-kilometer (150-mile) border with Egypt is likely to face legal and humanitarian challenges. Israel already has a fence along the border, which was completed in 2013 and has significantly reduced the number of migrants crossing into Israel. However, Netanyahu said the fence is not enough and that a wall is needed to stop the migrants from climbing over or digging under it.
Netanyahu’s announcement comes amid growing criticism from his political opponents and human rights groups, who accuse him of exploiting the migrant issue to divert attention from his judicial overhaul plan, which they say is aimed at shielding him from corruption charges. They also argue that Israel has a moral obligation to protect the refugees and asylum seekers, who have faced discrimination and abuse in Israel.