Friday, June 30

38 million $ police station, Jaffa's being sold to the highest bidder

The old Jaffa police station (the Kishle) was reportedly sold for 38 million $ to the Nakash brothers (or rather Orchid Hotel Ltd, a company owned by them), who will turn it into a boutique hotel. They are interested in buying more property in the clock tower square and area.
The now "protected building" was constructed in the 19th century as a Turkish police station and jail.
The Brits used it for the same purpose and after 1948 it was used by the prison services and then by the police, who left it for the big new police station on Salameh Street about a year ago.
Since then the property has stood empty, except for occasional use as a background for movies (e.g. the French movie "Delphine", currently shot in the country) and sleeping place for some of Jaffa's countless homeless.
The front entrance was properly shut off, but the backdoor was always open. The ancient cells made easy bedrooms i guess.
Yehuda Feigin is reported to be the architect responsible for the renovation, which is supposed to start in a few months.

Thursday, June 29

Bauhaus in Jaffa, Black Beauty Exposed?

"Bauhaus in Jaffa - Modern Architecture in the Beauty of the Sea" is the name of an exhibition which will be opened today in the Tel Aviv Bauhaus Center (99 Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv).
The exhibition aims to expose the "white city hidden behind the black city" (See Sharon Rotbard's excellent book " White City, Black City", עיר לבנה, עיר שחורה published by Bavel, 2005) .

The exhibition, curated by architect Shmuel Yavin, relates to 5 different areas in Jaffa:
  • Yehuda HaYamit street (King Feisal Street prior to 1948)
  • The "garden city" alongside Yefet street
  • The area close to the Gesher Theatre
  • The "French Hospital" (Yefet Street, close to the road leading to the harbor, once the Mental Health Clinic serving Jaffa)
  • Abdul Rahim's house in Mendes France / Toulouse street, today the official residence of the French ambassador.
A catalogue has been published as well, containing articles by Palestinian and Jewish authors.

I'll let you know more after my visit.

In the meantime, for more info, see an article in today's "Ha'aretz"

Tuesday, June 27

Jaffa for Sale

Once upon a time, many many years ago, Jaffa was the entrance port to ancient Palestine; weary travellers, whether on business or on pilgrimage to the holy sites, disembarked in Jaffa after their often long sea journeys.
Jaffa had luxururious hotels for the wealthy and simple guesthouses and beds in the various khans for the less well to do. Pilgrims often stayed at the church-run hostels, each church catering to their own pilgrims.

When ships got bigger, they could no longer enter the Jaffa's natural harbor which is protected, but also limited, by natural rock formations, many underneath the sea surface.
They had to anchor outside the port and small boats would be rowed or sailed alongside to bring passengers to the shore and returning passengers and oranges on board.
In the early years of the 20th century a small railway was constructed right into the sea, to reach the ships for disembarkation right where they were anchored.
However, a big storm came and destroyed it, right before it was put to use. They rebuilt it, yet, as expected, another big storm came and it was destoyed once more.
Jaffa has a long history (or perhaps mythology) of sea related events, from Andromeda through Jonah and his whale and Nikanor and the temple doors, so i guess the effort was doomed from the beginning, just listen to the old fishermen, as my friend Abu George would say.

New modern harbors were contructed, and Jaffa's once important harbor lost its monopoly and finally its function as an international harbor. Oranges were shipped through Ashdod and Haifa, and perhaps today, after many of the citrus groves have been cut down and turned into neighborhhoods for the wealthy, there no longer is much citrus export. Spain, north Africa and Florida have taken over. Canned orange juice made from industrial concentrate have replaced what used to be Jaffa's main source of income.

The hotels were closed or were turned into offices, homes for the elderly, or appartment buildings or simply broken down. The khan was turned into a series of iron workshops where old fridges and other steel pruducts are being given a new life
Close to the clock tower square, there is a small building. The cellar is really an ancient excavation, which can be seen through the glass first floor, consisting of high ceilinged rooms, once belonging to a church as can be seen from the old stone masonry on the outside walls.
The higher floors were built much later, a small "boutique" hotel which never opened.
I heard the place is for sale now, just as part of the other buildings along Jaffa's clock tower square (once Jaffa's vegetable market).

Another piece of history up for the highest bidder.

Will it be sold to a local family, or perhaps Palestinian expatriates or just another wealthy conglomerate, to be turned into another Disneyland-like "Old City of ... " ?

Why can it not be turned into something serving us, the locals? Don't misunderstand me, i'm all in favor of bringing new business to Jaffa. But i would like it to be Jaffa owned and Jaffa run, for us, not for some big hotel magnate sitting somewhere else.

Saturday, June 24

"Death in Gaza" by James Miller

Sometimes there are documentaries, about which you cannot say much, except for: watch it, please.

James Miller Z"L was a British documentary movie maker who intended to shoot a movie about children in Gaza and in Israel.
On the last night of his work in Gaza, he was killed by a (stray???) bullet, shot by an Israeli soldier.

For the sake of all our children, watch his movie "Death in Gaza", please.

The movie can be seen in full on Google Video, see the link on the left

Thursday, June 22

Designer Fleas, original import from the north

Jaffa's fleamarket is famous throughout the country.
A wonderful place to find the strangest objects, vintage clothing, good simple food, lovely crockery items from international compies' no longer continued lines, wooden sculptures from Thailand, Indian clothing, glass lampshades and what not, all for fairly reasonable prices as well as doubtful antiques and archeological findings recently released from factories in China or some other globalised sweatshop "free trade zone' somewhere in East Asia.
Once upon a time, not really all that long ago (before 1948), it was a meat market. There were also areas dedicated to herbs and vegetables and houseware.
In the early hours of the morning, the meat was most expensive, later on, depending on the heat, it would be cheaper, when it's quality went down, time for the poorer people to come and buy some meat.
The last to buy meat, were the nuns from the monastery-orphanage, poor orphans, i guess.
In the area of the clock tower square "diligences", horse driven carts waited to take their passengers to various parts of the country as well as to the nearby Turkish trainstation. Later they were replaced by buses and taxis. There were many coffeshops where men would meet all day long over endless small cups of coffee and a nargileh, playing sheshbesh or discussing the latest news or some business oportunity.

All that has been gone, yet during the day hours, still something of that old market atmosphere can be felt.
Some of the store owners are Palestinians, others are Jews. Usually the relations are friendly and cooperative. When someone goes to lunch, his neighbor will watch the store. When a client is asking for something the owner doesn't have, there's alsways a way to find out if the neighbor has the item.
There are small, almost hidden little clubs for card players, gamblers really who, depending on the hour of the day, play their cards and tount Lady Bountiful, accompanied by a coffee (morning) or Araq (afternoon).
True, sometimes there are fights, but not more than in any other market place. Jaffa is Jaffa, after all.
This month, on thursday evening, things are different.
A huge happening, involving several designers (and quite a few wannabees) flock to Jaffa, bands play music in the streets and huge crowds of people come from other areas, to buy the latest gadgets and "enjoy authentic Jaffa".

Now that's ofcourse where the problem starts. The evening market, although colorful and fun to walk around in itself, is as authentically "jaffa" as Tel Aviv's bauhaus buidlings are authentically "Dresden": the music is western, the very large majority of the designers and their clients all come from far away. during the week they sell their stuff at Sheinkin Street, on thursday night it suddenly becomes "authentic" Disneyland-Jaffa.

To enter the matket, you have to pass a security guard and show the contents of your bag, as is the standard in most social events in the country, Normal, regular, but it means that for many of Jaffa's Palestinian population entering the area becomes unpleasant, and indeed, except for very few (e.g. my 9-year old friend Yasen, who sells little bags of turmus during all hours of the day and night in the area), Jaffa's Palestinian population stay away.

Perhaps it is indeed nice that finally people "come back to Jaffa", and perhaps it is a business opportunity for some of the salesmen and store owners in the area. Perhaps i should be less critical, and praise the mishlama "for putting Jaffa on the map", but if this is the way they do it....
then this Jaffaite doesn't like it.

Rotweiler Boulevard

Rotweilers and pitbulls are the favored dog breed amongst quite of few the young men of Jaffa. Walking around with a huge dog apparently adds, at least in their eyes, to their masculinity, or so i thought.
It took me some time, but now i really know why.
Dogfights are an almost weekly event and large amounts of money pass hands while betting on the expected winner. As to the looser?
That one doesn't survive, the dogs fight for their lives. The dogs are a source of income.

The locations of the (illegal) fight are always secret and passed on at the last moment by SMS or phone.

The - usually- all male audience place huge bets. The winning dog brings his owner honour and mostly money.

Poor dogs

Wednesday, June 21

Show in Jaffa by young artists

"התלקחות" – צעירים יוצרים ביפו

הבמה לאמנות ואמנים צעירים ביפו

ערב #4, יום שני 26-6, 19:00

משוררים צעירים קוראים, עברית וערבית

להקת RMF Lyrical Attack – היפ-הופ מיפו

"משחק השמועות – הקומדיה"

הצגה של קבוצת תיאטרון הנוער ביפו

(ההצגה בערבית ועברית)

מנחי הערב: מוחמד אגואני ויונתן קונדה

הכניסה ללא תשלום

הערב מתארח במרכז קידום נוער יפו

מרכז נוער עג'מי, רחוב שערי ניקנור פינת יפת, 50 מטר מגן השניים

סדרת "התלקחות" בחסות עמותת "סדאקה-רעות" שותפות נוער ערבית-יהודית

לפרטים: 0542282786,


"اشتعال " – شباب مبدعين في يافا

منبر الفن والفنانين الشباب في يافا

التنين مساءا 26-6, الساعة 19:00

فنانين شباب يقرأون, العبرية والعربية

فرقة MRF Lyrical Attack هيب-هوب من يافا

" لعبة الاشاعات الكوميديا"

عرض لفرقة مسرح الشبيبة في يافا

(العرض بالعربية والعبرية )

عريفي الحفل : محمد أغواني ويوناتان كوندا

الدخول مجاني

الامسية ستقام في نادي الفنون

"مركز الشبيبة عجمي" - شارع شعاري نيكانور، زاوية ييفت, 50 متر من حديقة الاثنين

سلسلة " اشتعال" بدعم جمعية"صداقة-رعوت" شراكة شبابية عربية-يهودية


Another lions' cage or what?

"Mishekenot Daniel" is the grandiose name chosen for the huge, brandnew, $12 million Movement for Reform Judaism's complex on Jaffa's Jerusalem Boulevard. Although still under construction, its inauguration took place 2 days ago. The actual opening of the cultural center and youth hostel is supposed to take place this October.
The huge structure dwarfs nearby "Mandel" Cultural center and library.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a lovely city on the Mediterranean cost known to many by the name "The Bride of the Sea".
It's municipality building was located on a street called "Nuzha", not far away from the "alHambra" Theatre. In front of the municipality building there was a small fountain. Flowers had been planted along the tree-lined majestic boulevard.

In 1948 the Bride was forced to leave and found herself on a small boat on the way to Jabaliya Refugee camp in the Gaza strip, or perhaps it was Beirut, or En El Hilwe, Askar, Sabra or...
The sea as well as many (partially) destroyed buildings were left behind. Some 3000 - 4000 Palestinians stayed. Impoverished, robbed of more than their bride, robbed of their cultural and national identity and yes, their pride as well.
What once was "Nuzha" boulevard, became Jerusalem Boulevard and the municipality building became the welfare office serving the now rather poor and enweakened population of Jaffa.
The fountain is still there. And sometimes it even works.
A small cultural center/library was established next to the welfare building. The Bloomfield football stadion was erected not far away, and another cultural center, the Jaffa Music center, was established in the "Groningen Garden, right behind the football stadion.

The ancient fountain became a local meeting place for our local "candymen" and their many heroin addicted clients. True cooperation exists among them: Old timers, new immigrants, Palestinians and Jews, all sit together and enjoy whatever it is they enjoy, shooting up, a smoke or their needles.

And now the Israel Reform Movement have established their new cultural center right there. So from now on, we have 3 (three!) cultural centers, all three right next to the other.

Don't take me wrong, i'm happy about each cultural center opened in Jaffa. Hopefully it will serve us well and for sure, some of us will be able to find jobs, perhaps the classrooms may be used by "us" (the local community) as well. It will bring more people to Jaffa, which is good for local business and it may lead to increased understanding, bringing people closer.
Also, no lovely old Jaffa houses have been destroyed in order to construct the building.

So what's wrong?

Well, perhaps "wrong" is not the right word at this time. We need to see what they will do and how we, the local people, can benefit from it. BUT, why didn't they bother to ask us?
Perhaps they could have contructed the center in Ajami? Or in Yafo Daled or Gimmel?
Or,... perhaps those 12 million $ could have been spent improving existing services in Jaffa or making them more available to the poorer people in society?

Oh, and in case Daniel doesn't know where to find the lions, perhaps they're outside of the cage right now.
Ajami might be a good place to start looking.


Abba Nisim isn't that young any more. His children and grandchildren live in the USA, as can be seen from the photographs stuck on the wall next to the check-out counter of his watermelon stand.
When saying watermelon stand, don't imagine a simple wooden table and an umbrella at the side of the road.
Abba Nisim's is located close to the very southern end of the Jaffa part of Jerusalem boulevard and "Davidov Park".
You cannot possibly miss it when passing by, but believe me, it's worth a special trip:
The walls of the stand owned by Abba Nisim are red and gold, the lamp a chandelier, complete with cristal tear drops.
Flowers (white yellow orchids, no more no less) and cristals also adorn each of the watermelons, perfectly arranged in a huge pyramid at the entrance. Colored lamps light up the stand during the evening hours.
At the back of the stall there is place to sit down and eat your melon on the spot. The walls here are covered by red and gold as well. Overlooking the scene is a portrait of Abba Nisim's father (of blessed memory) in a large blue fluorescent star of David.

And the watermelon? Sweeter than sweet. Red & juicy.
Nothing better when it's a hot June day in Jaffa.

Monday, June 19

It's not so nice to see a closed playground

There is a nice Hebrew song titled "זה לא כל כך נעים ליראות גן סגור" that applies well to the ex-playground close to my home.

Once upon a time, Al Ajami was included in the "shikum shehunot" program (the neighborhood renewal program) and a lovely playground was constructed, partially on top of our local public bomb shelter. The shelter's rooftop part of the playground could be reached by wooden stairs and a hanging bridge which was a great favorite with the local kids. Scary enough to be fun, yet quite child-secure in reality. Mothers felt safe to let even toddlers play around unsupervised.
But wooden contructions close to the sea need maintenance. Which, ofcourse, had not been included in the "Shikum Shehunot" deal. So the wood started to rot and slowly the playground became unsafe. Bits and pieces of the hanging bridge came down, the iron link chains started to oxidize through and little by little they broke. For the children this was even more fun. "I dare you" was very popular with all the little boys in the hood and with quite a few of the little girls as well.
After bugging the municipality for about a year to come and carry out the necessary repairs, they did so, after a fashion:

They took down the hanging bridge and the wooden stairs including the railing.
Yet the concrete construction on which the stairs rested, became a dangerous improvised downhill slide. Kids in Jaffa are inventive and with a piece of carton to sit on, the about 3 mr high concrete slope soon was as popular as before.

Yet the concrete slope had no railings and ofcourse it would be only a matter of time until some child would fall from it and break an arm or worse.

So once more, e-mails to the municipality: Please repair our playground in a child-safe fashion.

And come they did, but not to repair. They simply placed some contruction iron sheeting around the concrete slope. So now there is nothing left of our playground. We have an ex-playground.

Children being children, they soon created an opening in the flimsy sheeting, Thus regaining access to their downhill concrete slope.
Now they crash into the sheeting, which is fun, but again, an accident waiting to happen.

Is it really so difficult to repair our playground?
Or should we wait till municipal election year, when they want to whow us the great progress made in Jaffa.
Soon the summer holidays will start.

A safe playground is something we can only dream about.

Sunday, June 18

Lowering VAT, who will pay the real price?

VAT in Israel will be lowered by about 2%.

Thus, anything we buy should become cheaper, thereby enabling us perhaps to buy more or save some money. People in the lower income ranks spend most of their income on basic stuff, such as food, public transport, health and education, housing etc. When basics become a little cheaper, they will have a little more.
Great....or, is it so great?
After all, the wealthier you are, the more you can affor to spend and usually do buy. So in fact, the wealthier you are, the more you will gain from the lowered VAT.
That's equasion number one. Yet there is another equasion to be made. The state will receive less income from VAT, which needs to be taken care of in the usual way: budget cuts.
Three guesses which budget cuts: education? health? welfare?

And as usual, those affected hardest are the poor, those living far away from the cozy northern addresses of the policy and decision makers.
Lowering VAT does NOT have an equal effect on all at all, and the poor will pay twice for the increased wealth of the already rich.
Polltax upside down as it were or הפוך על הפוך

Saturday, June 17

Poverty in Israel, the highest ever, an image beyond the statistics

Every half year the Social Security Institute publishes its report on poverty. Each time more people are found to live below the poverty line, yet what does that statistic really mean?
The so called "Caesarea Conference" will discuss poverty. But do the participants have an inkling of what poverty really means?
I would suggest they (the Caesarea participants) live for one week, on social security money only, in one of Jaffa's public housing estates, travel by bus, go to Jaffa's health clinics and send their children to Jaffa's schools. Oh and, they might find them selves cut of from the electricity or the water,as the bills have not been paid for a while. Also, they might have to walk a little longer to a further grocery store, as their debt from the previous month has not yet been paid and the close by grocery refuses to sell them anything unless they pay their outstanding debts. Let's see how they will manage.
Perhaps they should also work as cleaners or guards through an employment company, just for one week. Oh sweet dreams. And now, over to reality:

Ety*, 19 years old, studies to finish her matriculation exams and works part-time as an kinder garden teacher aid. She dropped out of school when she was 16, after her father had been sent to jail for abusing her. She's exempt from army service due to her partial reading skills.
Ety is very intelligent, but she visited over 12 different schools in 10 years. Each time her mother had to run away from her violent husband to a shelter for battered women, Ety had to leave her school. Each time her father located the two of them, so they moved from shelter to shelter and Ety from school to school.
Ety urgently needs dental treatment but cannot afford to get it, even at the free dental clinic where payment is close to symbolic. She walks around in continuous pain and is about to loose 2 teeth, which are too far gone.
During winter she stopped coming to a weekly class i teach. She explained me, she has her own summer sandals, but during the winter she shares shoes with her mother who thankfully has the same shoe size. Her mother, who is ill, had to go to see her doctor, so Ety had no shoes to come to class. As it was raining she couldn't wear her sandals.

Last week the hotza'a lepoel came to the family's 2-bedroom rented flat to carry away the TV and stereo. Much of the furniture had been taken away on a previous visit.
The family's debts?
1. A mortgage they could not pay after the father had been sent to jail. The house was reposessed and sold, but they still owe money on it.
2. Social security fees they did not pay because the mother was waiting to be recognised for an invalid's social security payment.
3. House rent

Ety's mother receives about 1200 NIS monthly, Ety makes between 400 - 800 NIS monthly. The rent for the 2 bedroom apartment they have is 1900 NIS a month.

Ety's mother can barely work, Ety grabs every chance she has to work as a kinder garden aide. As she is on the WIZO replacement list, she gets called every now and then to work for a day or two when the regular aide is ill.

There isn't always enough food in the house. there is no money for the medicine the mother needs, and Ety walks around in pain, with a continuous tooth ache.
Every few days the owner of the house comes by to demand this months rent, which they have not yet paid. They may be evicted soon

That's what's behind the poverty statistics.
As to the statistics: by the recent reports, we are the worst of the western world. Definitely somthing to be "proud" of.
But then, perhaps we are not so much part of the western world. Our "western" gloss is just that, a thin layer not really covering the levant.
Or is it perhaps the deadly combination of globalization, occupation and greed that has led to this situation.
A great many of the poor are actually working people, some of them working in more than one job to make ends meet.
Yet the minimum salary is so low, there is no way a family can live on it.
Many of those with lower wages are employed by so called "employment offices". Although the law is supposed to be some sort of protection, in reality this protection does not work. There are all sorts of loop holes and ways to get around the law.
To understand more about this, it is worthwhile watching Asaf Soudri's and Amir Tausinger's movie "Strike".

More and more subsidies have been cut, as well as ongoing cuts in social security payments. Controlled prices (and subsidies) for basic foodstuffs have been cancelled and public transport has become more expensive.
"They" try to tell us it will make people "work harder" (thus putting the blame for poverty on the poor), but truly, is the aim of cutting the old age pension of an eighty year old immigrant going to make him run to find a job?
Should a woman with mild retardation working full time for 400 NIS in a rehabilitative protected workshop now look for a second job to be able to pay for the rent?
Or perhaps my friend Souha, mother of 4 young children and a husband in prison who works 5 days a week as a cleaner from early morning to late afternoon and is looking for a summer camp for her kids, because the social services said she's not eligible. Should she leave her job (minimum wage) to take care of her kids during the long summer holiday?
Or perhaps pay all of her wage to a child carer and then beg for food at one of the food banks?

And they are not alone.

Statistics don't tell the real image....

*not her real name, the facts are true however.

And the shooting continues...this time in Ben Adaya Street

Several years ago i worked as a news photographer in Jerusalem. One day my beeper went off early in the morning, to send me to the spot where a terrorist attack had taken place on a bus. Bus line 18, in Jaffa Street to be precise. The next week, more or less at the same time, i got the same message, again a terrorist attack, again on a bus, again in Jaffa Street, again bus line 18 and, yes, again several people had been killed and maimed, for life. Again the same sights, the same acrid smell and sounds and the same demonstrations by ultra right wingers.
The eerie feeling of "deja vue", as if i had already been there.

So, for the two to three steady readers of my blog, this long introduction on "deja vue" before coming to the point:
As usual, friday night, my rooftop balcony, a light, cool breeze coming in from the sea, a glass of red wine, John Coltrane in the background, what can be more pleasant? Some fireworks from nearby wedding parties, it's the wedding season after all, i get invitations almost every day.
Suddenly the sound of gunshots followed by shouts.

Deja vue of last friday. This time it was from a slightly different direction, more to the north, in Ben Adaya Street as i later learned. Thankfully the victim, a 23 year old guy, was only slightly wounded. He came, apparently by himself, to nearby Wolfson Hospital.
In Jaffa people don't trust the ambulance services. It takes them ages to arrive. Some people in my neighborhood believe the ambulance crews are too scared to enter, or arrive late on purpose. I don't share this belief, but the ambulance's station is far off, and traffic jams in Tel Aviv are very common. Wolfson Hospital is close by, so it IS faster to come to the hospital privately.

By now, Wolfson have a lot of expertise in treating gunshot wounds.
The police have also become very experienced at documenting the spent cartridges and bullet holes.
See nothing, hear nothing, say nothing, as usual.

The grafiti underneath the gun on the image reads "Ajami" in Hebrew. It was taken today in Ben Adaya Street, where yesterday's shooting incident took place.

Sunday, June 11

The shooting continues

Just came home from a concert in Givatayim, by singer Lubna Salame from Nazareth, Shlomo Grunich a Tel Avivian musician and song writer and the Arab Jewish Youth Orchestra. Lubna is simply a great singer and good performer, specializing in materials perviously sung by Fairouz and the late Om Kalthoum.
This time however, she sang songs about peace. Peace for all of us, referring to the terrible bloodbath on Gaza beach last saturday, in which 7 members of the Raila family lost their lives and many others were badly wounded, apparently by an Israeli artillery shell. (The IDF spokesperson suggests there may be other explanations for the explosion, but does that really make things "better"?) Tens of people, sitting peacefully on the beach with their children, enjoying the cold of the sea and the softness of the wonderful Gaza beach's sand got wounded and killed. A whole family wiped out in an instant, as if they never existed.
It's indeed difficult to sing these days.

On my way home, almost midnight, passing through "Gan Tamar" at the the Rabbi Nachman-Yefet junction, the street was being closed off by the police; The results of yet another shooting incident. A 20 year old man from Jaffa had been shot. Luckily, he was only slightly wounded.
The police cordon off the street, place little numbered cards next to what looks like a spent cartridge and a bullethole in a parked white car. Photographs are being made. Visual testimony for a legal process which is very unlikely to take place. Murders in Jaffa go unpunished, barely investigated. Victims won't talk, witnesses never see a thing and can't recall anything in any case. The police were only alerted by the hospital emeregency room staff, who took care of the victim. In Jaffa, in Al Ajami at least, you don't call the police, see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing.
Newspapers barely mention what;s going on here. It is no longer considered "newsworthy" when the young men from Jaffa get killed and even less so, when they are "merely" wounded.

My downstairs neighbors, sitting on the porch at the entrance of our building, with some hot tea and enjoying the late evening cool breeze coming in from the sea, welcomed me with a friendly; "Isn't it great to live in Chicago?".
We don't know yet exactly who's been wounded, but the grapevine in Al Ajami works quickly.

How does one stop a gangwar? Or the ongoing, bloody, over a decade old Hamada/Ashur family feud?

Saturday, June 10

Waiting for the storm to start

An eery silence often precedes a storm. that's what it feels like i Jaffa, in Al Ajami right now.
I just found out i actually know the guy who was wounded in friday night's shooting. A nice guy, his wife is pregnant with their first child, just a normal family.
Not that it's "ok" to shoot criminals, but in the gang world other criteria and mores exist.
This guy wasn't part of all that.

So was the attack upon him part of the ongoing family feud?

And how soon will the other side be attacked?

It's as if we're back all the way to square one. Violence leading only to more violence.

Summertime and the shooting is heavy

Jaffa, Al Ajami neighborhood, my balcony, a nice breeze from the sea, a glass of wine, shabat evening, 23.30, talking about this and that, plans for the coming week, it's quiet, peaceful.

Fireworks from a nearby wedding party, loud music from an occasional car passing by in the street, the barely audible sound of my neighbors' TV sets (football it seems), just another pleasant shabat evening, the mixture of neighborhood sounds make up a familiar background "music" as it were.

A sudden interruption of a single shot (no, that's not fireworks, it sounds different), then another single shot followed by two bursts of machine gun fire, coming from the area of Kedem street (Street nr. 60, for the old timers), then loud screams. It's very close by.
A few minutes later the sirens, lots of them.

We call our friend Abu George, who lives even closer to the direction from where the gunshots sound came. Yes he heard it too, better stay inside. We lock the door. All neighbors are on their balconies or standing at the windows, more sirens and more screaming.

Nobody knows exactly what happened. Someone (perhaps more than one person) opened fire on a car passing through Kedem Street. The very seriously injured driver was taken to Wolfson Hospital by his friends.
We don't know his name yet.
Last week there were shots too, in Mendes France street, the week before that, in Shivtey Israel Street.
Ar we entering a new stage in the Jaffa gang wars? More violent violence?
Once there were beatings, an occasional knife drawn, then handguns came "into fashion", last year Lau missiles and now it appears automatic rifle fire is becoming increasingly popular.
Or are these unrelated events, each with its own dynamic of frustration, anger and escalation?

Friday, June 9

Saddam in Jaffa?

Summer, hot, humid, Jaffa's flea-market area, smelly, not too clean, the sound of gunshots, heavy machinegun fire in the background.
A small colorful van arrives. It's covered with photographs of rabbis. Happy reli-trance music blaring out of the loudspeaker on its roof. Five hassidim jump out and start dancing in the middle of the street, to the beat of the music.
One of them doing a break-dance, professionally, testifying of his former career and a recent personal and cultural change.
The gunfire continues, but people in Jaffa are familiar with the sound and don't even pay attention, "see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing", as usual. Even the police men hanging around in the area, are too hot to bother much.
On the roof tops close to the Clock tower square a French movie is being shot. Its' screen story taking place in Baghdad. Jaffa's fleamarket area serving as a convenient backdrop.
The art people from the film cover up Hebrew signs with posters of Saddam Hussein to create a "natural effect".
The parked cars all receive fake Iraqi numberplates. Hebrew grafiti and roadsigns quickly covered with Arabic script.
Once the scene has been shot the art people sort of clean up.
The occasional poster is forgotten ads to the strange atmosphere of the place on a very hot summer day.

Tuesday, June 6

Poems among the trees

So it's National Book Week once more.
The big book fair is no longer held in the Tel Aviv city center, next to the municipality building, on Rabin Square, but somewhere up in the north of the Tel Aviv, 2 busrides (from Jaffa) away, 1.5 hour in each direction.
True, the huge fair is located in a big park with lots of lawns to laze about with books just bought at a secial bookfair discount rate, but it's one hell of a ride to go there.

However, beyond the geographical distance there are the social and cultural distances, devides really.

Taking a family with 2-3 kids there, costs a lot in bus fares. and ofcourse after such a long ride, all want to drink something, an icecream perhaps in the 36C degree heat. That's before buying books.
The large majority of the books are in Hebrew. They are also very expensive, even after the special book fair discounts. Way beyond the reach of most of Jaffa's families, both Jews and Palestinians.
We have to make to with the small public libraries, badly equipped with few books. None of them real ly brand-new and exciting. In general public libraries in Israel aren't what they should be.
They cater mostly to younger school children, providing them with dictionaries and encyclopedias in a nicely airconditioned room. Ofcourse when there is little space and no airconditioning at home such a library is in fact a good alternative. The majority of Jaffa librarians are wonderfulpeople, both friendly and very helpful to the many school children coming in for some homework help. They cater to a great need. But the tools they have are lacking, not good nor sufficient enough:
  • There are few books, most of them not new. Only a fraction of the new books published in Israel every year make it to the shelves of the public libraries.
  • There is no good cataloguing system allowing computerized search by various parameters in Jafa's public libraries.
  • There are no other media nor good access from up-to-date computers with speedy internet access.
  • The opening hours are short, so working adults have a hard time making use of the services after work hours or on fridays.
  • The look and feel of the libraries: somewhere stuck in the late forties or early fifties and not because of "cool" retro-design, but because of lack of resources
The municipality put up some beautifully designed banners with poems between the trees in Jaffa's Jerusalem Boulevard (Nuzha Street , that is, for old timers and those of long pre Naqba memory). Some of the poems are by Jewish poets, in Hebrew, one by a Palestinian poet, in Arabic with a Hebrew translation. Very nice indeed.

And what about all poems in both languages?

And what about a bookfair in Jaffa along Jerusalem Boulevard? Or perhaps along Yefet Street?
What about books in Arabic?

It's as if Palestinian culture in Jaffa is wiped out, non existant, no longer there.