But Isn’t Shapira Dangerous?

“Good afternoon. I do not want to offend you, but we so rarely afford to travel, because we want to spend time pleasantly. But I read on the internet about the area Shapira. It is written that a very high level of crime. A lot of refugees from Africa. Tell me, please, whether your apartment is indeed located in a quiet and safe place?”

This was the message I received a few hours ago from a person who would like to rent out our apartment on Airbnb over Passover. I’m not surprised by the email, but I am a bit disappointed to read it. It’s not their question I am upset with, but that the internet thinks so poorly of my neighborhood and of the populations living in it.

This is my second time living in the Shapira neighborhood. I first lived here five years ago when I moved to Tel Aviv from the North of Israel. Within a day, Shapira felt like home. It’s a quiet, peaceful neighborhood with a suburban landscape in the big city.

I wanted to tell them that Shapira is the only place I can really afford in Tel Aviv where I can hear the birds chirp in the morning. I wanted to say that yes, there are refugees living here, but being a refugee does not inherently make you a dangerous person. I wanted to show them the murals, the mom & pop shops that dot the main street, and the view of the sky rises you can see from my window. I wanted to explain that Shapira is a neighborhood still filled with families that have been here for decades and strong communities, where even young kids are still taught the Bukhari language.

It’s not only tourists who are taught misconceptions about Shapira. When we announced that we found an apartment in Shapira, close to half of my friends blurted out “but isn’t it dangerous?” Even now I reply with the same follow-up question:

“Have you ever been to Shapira?”

“No”

“Great, so why don’t you come for a beer or coffee and decide for yourself.”

So far, people have been surprised at how lovely of a neighborhood it is.

It may seem trivial to get offended that people assume my neighborhood is dangerous, but it represents a lot about Tel Aviv culture and politics. Most of the neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv, Shapira included, isn’t considered Tel Aviv. It’s South Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is hip and posh; South Tel Aviv is poor and dirty. Tel Aviv is safe; South Tel Aviv is dangerous. Tel Aviv is white; South Tel Aviv is black and brown. On the tourist maps of Tel Aviv, most neighborhoods of South Tel Aviv are left out, forgotten. Tourists don’t care about South Tel Aviv, and so the municipality seems less inclined to invest in it. South Tel Aviv is less invested in by the municipality, and so tourists don’t care to visit the area.

I responded to the potential subletter, saying:

“Yes, there are African refugees in the neighborhood, but most are families. I have never felt unsafe walking around inside the neighborhood. In general, Israel has a very low crime rate. Many people believe Shapira to be dangerous, but they also have usually never visited the neighborhood! Much of people beliefs are just fear of the other and the unknown. Neve Sha’anan, which is close by does have a higher crime rate, and I avoid going there at night. However, there also is no reason to go into Neve Sha’anan. Anyway, it’s totally your decision and I wouldn’t want you to feel uncomfortable. Please do whatever suits you.”

Yet, what I wanted to tell them was that the truth to their question lies somewhere in between the internet relaying stigmas about Shapira and the populations in South Tel Aviv and the reality that South Tel Aviv neighborhoods are less invested in, resulting in higher poverty and crime rates. It is not uncommon to hear Tel Aviv locals and other Israelis say that the influx of refugees from Africa, as well as foreign workers, caused South Tel Aviv to become impoverished and overpopulated. But long time residents have pointed out to me that South Tel Aviv was abandoned by the government decades before the first refugee arrived from the Sinai. Refugees were given one-way tickets to the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, located in South Tel Aviv. Did the government ever stop to ask themselves what effect that policy may have on local residents, on the refugee population, or municipality budgets? Perhaps we should ask ourselves why the government thought that South Tel Aviv was the best destination for this particular population to begin with? 
 

Even so, not all neighborhoods in South Tel Aviv are the same. Shapira is quiet, residential, and full of wide open spaces. It’s not wealthy, but it’s also not comparable to Neve Sha’anan, where many houses (and, at least one synagogue) are visibly falling apart, and where it is not uncommon to see people sleeping outside or engaging in drug use or sex work. For my friends, acquaintances, and the internet to assume that Shapira is inherently dangerous because there are refugees there is racist. To decide that because both Shapira and Neve Sha’anan are located in South Tel Aviv means that they share characteristics such as crime rates is naive. Yet, even though the dichotomy of Tel Aviv/South Tel Aviv is perceived and not actual, enough people believe it to influence opinions, budgets, and tourists.

It’s been hours, and I haven’t heard back. It seems that we will not be getting a subletter during Passover. After all, they wanted to book a place in Tel Aviv, and all we can offer is an apartment in South Tel Aviv.

Hey, tell me what you think!