JERUSALEM — In an unusual show of strength by one of the weakest groups in Israeli society, thousands of African migrants demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Sunday to protest their treatment by the Israeli government.
An estimated 10,000 migrants from African countries poured into Tel-Aviv's Rabin Square, chanting slogans that demanded human rights and opposed government policies aimed at discouraging them from staying in Israel by forbidding them from working and placing them in detention.
As Israel's policies grow more heavy-handed, anxiety and fear of jail, deportation and poverty are driving the migrants to protest more actively.
Sunday's protest came amid calls for a three-day strike. Although most are not permitted to work in Israel many do, mostly cleaning and other menial jobs at restaurants and hotels.
Some proprietors of Tel Aviv businesses employing migrants gave their blessing to the strike and did dishes and cleaned while their African staff protested. Omri Dosh, a cafe owner, told Israeli media he believes the migrants' struggle is legitimate.
"If they're already here, they must be cared for and not put into jail," he said. "They've done nothing wrong."
Hundreds more demonstrated in Eilat, Israel's southernmost city and a Red Sea resort town bordering Egypt.
Last month, around 200 migrants defied regulations and left a holding facility, marching 40 miles to protest outside government offices in Jerusalem. They were arrested shortly afterward. In documents asking the court to detain them, the state referred to the detainees by numbers only, not name, eliciting criticism from the judge as well as activists and holocaust survivors.
Israel is home to a community of 54,000 Africans who entered the country illegally through its border with Egypt over the past decade, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan. The Africans say they are asylum-seekers and refugees, but relatively few have been granted this status through the government-run Refugee Status Determination process. The government calls them "infiltrators" and illegal work migrants.