Friday, August 4

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess or, why do we hate the Andromeda compound that much

Once upon a time, long ago, here in Jaffa, lived a beautiful young princess, named Andromeda. Her family loved her. She was pampered as befits a princess. A wonderful future awaited her, so all expected.

However, horrible times came upon Jaffa: a monster from the deep sea started to devour the city's fishermen, one after the other. Each morning, at sunrise, many little boats left Jaffa's natural harbor for another day of hard work. Every afternoon, when the little aflucas* came back to the harbor, there were some missing. Initially one, then two, but the monster became hungrier and the fishermen stopped going out to sea and the city's people became hungry as well; Something had to be done.
All kinds of tricks to submit the monster were tried, to no avail.
Only one thing would pacify the the monster: Andromeda.
To save the city from hunger, her father had her chained to the rocks at the harbor entrance as an offer. Thankfully Andromeda (as well as the city) were saved by a chivalrous hero who then married her and they lived happily ever after, had many children and Jaffa flourished. Until this very day, Andromeda's rocks are still there at the harbor's entrance; a reminder of the dangers at sea, a lovely bride and her hero. And Andromeda's great great great grandchildren (some at least, since 1948 many live in Jabaliya refugee camp and what is left of Beirut and Ein ElHilwe) still enjoy Jaffa's beautiful sea and harbor.

Fairytales are one thing, reality is somewhat different or, as Neri Livne put it in this week's Ha'aretz weekly rag:
"Wait, wait, don't rush home to write," said A., one of my colleagues at the newspaper. "Maybe a missile will fall on Tel Aviv and you won't have to do your column." That's not funny, I told him. "Okay, but if a missile does fall in Tel Aviv," he added, "at least let it fall on Kikar Atarim." Tel Aviv has loads of places that may be worth getting rid of: Kikar Atarim, City Hall, Dizengoff Square and especially that monstrous sculpture, the hotels on the beach, the Andromeda Hill project in Jaffa. "It's lucky," I said to him, "that at least it's impossible to destroy the underground transportation system here."
True, i had a laugh, and then i started to think. How is it, that so many of us in Jaffa automatically cringe when we hear the name "Andromeda Hill" and think of a medusa rather than a lovely princess?
The gated compound of that name, located at the northern end of Yefet street, was constructed some years ago, on land bought from the Greek Orthodox patriarchate by means of a sales procedure which has left, reportedly, quite a few questions unanswered and not according to the wishes of many from the local Greek Orthodox community: the majority of Jaffa's Christian Palestinians.

The compound has a wonderful view on Jaffa's harbor and the sea, which are no longer visible from Yefet street.
Right in the middle, there is a PUBLIC pedestrian pathway which is supposed to be open to the all of us. However the securityguard at the entrance doesn't allow anyone through, unless they live in the compound or have been invited by the compound's residents. So what if the municipal construction permits specifically state the path is public? The compound's wealthy inhabitants don't want us, locals, hanging around in the middle of their fancy 'hood.
Another one of the conditions of the building permit was the construction of an additional little park or kindergarden for the good of the Jaffa public as part of the project. So far, although people moved in to live there several years ago, the cornerstone for those buildings for the public good has not been laid.
Apparently the real estate company, who claim they have not yet finished building all buildings for which they have a permit, "will do so after completing construction of the private appartment buildings". Translation into Jaffaite: forget about our public commitments, we'll never completely finish the private construction, so just wait patiently, forever, we don't want you here, unless it is to clean the pool, the appartments or maintain the garden".

But there is more; The land was owned, as stated, by the Greek Orthodox community for future public developments, such as additions to the school, a kindergarden, a community center or perhaps a church, as needed by the people of that community, an option now forever lost.
The marketing of the gated Andromeda compound was more instructive than the project's developers perhaps intended: The saleslady after having stressed the beaulty and romance of the "oriental location" went on to stress its safety
"no Arabs live in this area and the municipality will not allow it, this is part of north Jaffa, the Maronite neighborhood, in which there will be no Arabs, just like the old city of Jaffa and in any case, we will not allow the local community to enter the compound which is guarded 24 hours a day by a private company, so you don't have to worry, you are completely safe here".
Yeah right, "Araber-rein" perhaps? Replace Arabs with "Jews" and Jaffa with, let's say an American, Canadian or European city name and the anti-defamtion league or the Wiesenthal Institute would be all over them, and righfully so.

Other than that, taste is ofcourse a very personal matter, but the massive, artificial stone covered orientalist kitschy constructions are as close to "originally Jaffaesque" as the appartment blocks in Jaffa Daled, Gimmel or "Shem HaGdolim" public housing estate in southern Givat Aliya (Jabaliya) neighborhood. I 'm sure they are comfortable inside and have a nice view and the people living in the compound enjoy a high standard of living with their private swimmingpool, healthclub and restaurant. The presumed architectural dialogue of Andromeda Hill with Jaffa's sad, but lovely, Old City takes place more in the realms of cultural imperialism than in those of "authenticity" and (i'm on dangerous ground here) good taste.

But there is more: by constructing a gated (and well guarded) compound for the very wealthy only, another dialogue, or perhaps a lack of dialogue, has become more than obvious: the social gap between the fantasy-land compound (them) and us, living in real Jaffa (the Jaffa of poverty, of bad social and educational services, of violence, crimes and drugabuse) is wider than ever.
The ideas of "bringing strong populations to the weak neighborhoods" doesn't work, when the gaps are this big and gates and guards create high physical borders, when the land was taken from the local community and when the compound's inhabitants are not a part of Jaffa, but a separate an alien entity in our midst.

Moreover, the "strong people, living in their multimillion houses have driven up the prices, and the local people can no longer buy appartments for their children, who are forced to live in "illegal" constructions or move to other areas in Jaffa or to Lod or Ramle. And perhaps that is what the municipality has in mind, perhaps that is what gentrification is all about: get rid of the poor (who will become somebody else's responsibility) and make it nice an cozy for the wealthy. That's why i don't like that piece of prime property named after a beautiful Jaffa princess, Andromeda.

No, i don't want any missiles destroying Andromeda or any other part of Jaffa, i believe in non violence. I'm sure the flats in Andromeda all have mamadim (shelters) unlike the place where i live. Maybe the Andromeda people can make something good and welcome Jaffa's poor from the shelterless housing estates to their mamadim?

*an afluca is a small traditional fishermen's boat, they can still be seen in Jaffa's harbor to this very day.


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