Levinsky Park is a two-minute walk from the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. If you arrive in Israel via Ben Gurion airport, and ask a cab driver to drive you to the park, chances are he’ll ask you why the hell you’d want to go there, and warn you that the place is dangerous. If you arrive in Israel, instead, as a refugee, you’ll be scooped up by Israeli police, sent to a detention facility in the Negev, and, after you’ve been processed, put on a bus to Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. From there you’ll wander over to Levinsky, and nobody will ask you any questions about why you’ve decided to come to the park.
Since 2005, nearly 60,000 African refugees—mostly from Sudan and Eritrea—have fled to Israel. They’re under tremendous pressure, as this weekend’s protest at the Holot detention center showed. But no matter what their current situation, almost all of them have spent time in Levinsky Park, in Southern Tel Aviv. The Park’s primary draw is its location. Israel’s Central Bus Station is one of the busiest in the world, and when African refugees are given a ticket from processing facilities to the Bus Station, many don’t make it much farther than the Park. “In 2007 a big wave of Eritrean and Sudanese came—maybe 1000 a month. The police dropped them at Levinsky. First they put them in the jail. When the jail is full of people they released them to sleep back in the park,” Jean Michelle, a Congolese refugee and member of the African Refugee Development Center told me.