Sunday, January 28

Friday morning in Tel Aviv

Sometimes i actually get out of Jaffa and whenever that happens, it usually is not in Tel Aviv. That city and me don't really have too much in common. Except for - perhaps - the Carmel market. Since Jaffa's last market was closed last year by the municipality, one has little choice.
And sometimes i need photo-equipment or stuff like that and Jaffa stores don't carry the items i need. So after a visit to Koresh's cellar of goodies (aka Photo Jugend) i went for a small walk in the city's seedier parts: Allenby, Bezalel market King George Street and thereabouts.

I ran (as a witness) into violence because of a parking spot. Hell, people get mad because of a parking spot. How weird things can get.

Yet, on my way back to Jaffa, i ran into another, far nicer scene: a crowd of people surrounding dogs brought by an NGO that takes care of stray dogs. They try to convince people to adopt one of the dogs or just play with them a little, next to the Meir Park's dog playground. Or just to give the dogs, many of them mere puppies, a nice time. Tel Aviv is a weird city.
It's good to be back in Jaffa. Here i sort of understand the rules.
It's not that in Jaffa there is no violence. It's not that in Jaffa people don't take care of their dogs, it's just so different here.

Sunday, January 21

Another fire in Jaffa

The only thing left is a blackened ancient room, located underneath Jaffa's old city gate, just behind the clock tower. The owner died a few years ago and it is unclear who owns the place today.
The official story is that the place had become a storage room for all kinds of things.
The street tells a different story: the place was in use by gamblers.
Who knows, in Jaffa anything can be true.

Saturday, January 20

Housing problems in Jaffa

The rental housing situation in Jaffa is becoming ever more problematic. Especially the poor, the elderly, migrants, students and young couples are having a hard time finding a suitable rental appartment.
And houseowners are making lots of money, sometimes on property declared unsuitable for living, but who cares. Sometimes the buildings have even been declared dangerous, but the owners simply take down the signs put up by the municipality.
The latest cynical development in this market is the use of old failing shops as "studio appartments". All over Jaffa, but especialy in the center ("Lev Yafo") and Yafo Gimmel, there are many failed little stores, that have been closed for years. Usually they are quite small (15 - 20 cubic meters is no exeption) and the owner puts in a sink, a toilet behind a little wall and there you have it: "a studio appartment with all amenities". Do not get me wrong, there are some lovely places which once were shops and which have been beautifully renovated and turned into small loft-like living spaces. These go for a lot of money to people who can afford it and like living in a funky, special place facing the street. Some of my best friends etc.
But that is not what we 're talking about here. Imagine a dark, smelly (bad plumbing), humid rathole. Put some iron bars on the window,, a new lock on the door and there you go.
During the sometimes sunny afternoon hours, the inhabitants put their things to air and dry on the pavements, their washing drying in the street.
Sure, there IS worse in the third world, but i wonder how long our wonderful politicians and welfare policy makers would survive in a place like that.
There must be some rules somewhere on what constitutes a house, but even if there would be such, who would imply them.
In the meantime the rent-sharks are having a good time.

Due to the lack of affordable rental housing, rentcontrol and the construction of quality public housing would ofcourse be the logical solution. But in we're living in "a freemarket economy" after all and they keep telling me that it only takes some time but all will get better for all. Now how come i don't really believe that?

Back in Business

The new veggy & fruit store on Jaffa's Yefet Street that was burned down the day before it was supposed to open this week, is back in business!

With the help of a few hard-working friends, they've done it.
And that has taken not only hard work, but also more than a little courage, in the face of the protection rackets running in Jaffa.

I really wish them well and as they are close to my home, they can be assured of me being their client.
Their produce is of a really good quality and fresh from the field, so that helps as well.

Friday, January 19

Cutting poverty by paying even less money...

Zaqi , Aysha & Mahmoud (respectively 8, 6 and 3 years old) share one winter blanket with their mother, Fatma. The older sisters, Zeinab, Sharifa and Amina (aged 13, 16 and 18) share the other winter blanket owned by the family. They sleep on matresses on the floor, huddled together in one room, because of the cold. Social services have promised beds, the family has been waiting for 2 years now, after the previous beds fell apart during the move to yet another flat.
The children are often ill during the winter, so they miss out on a lot of school.
The mother is almost blind (waiting for an operation, which hopefully will save or even improve the little eyesight she has) and suffers from arthritis in her hands and back in spite of her young age.
She has always worked as a cleaner but can no longer do so. She has applied for "nehut klalit" (invalid's pay) but her case has not gone through the system yet. Right now the family survives on 502 NIS (about $ 120) a month "havtahat hahnasa" (social security) and child allowances, another 1500 NIS (another 300 $) a month. Imagine a family with 6 kids living of $520 a month.
The family lives in social housing, but as the mother has not paid the 200 NIS rent for several months nnow, the housing company is threatening to evict them.
That's poverty. True, a few NGO's occasionally donate food, clothing and schoolbooks. But these children do not get medicine when they are ill, the mother cannot afford the not so small fee for 5 days moxypen or whatever else is needed when a child is ill.
These kids NEVER go on schooltrips, as the mother owes money to the schools. She knows it's illegal, to single out her kids, but what can she do?

The government is discussing the means needed for fighting poverty. One of the ideas suggested is reducing child allowances, and providing dinners at school. In a country where one out of every three children lives below the poverty line that's close to criminal:
Many children do not go to school, because of their young age (in Jaffa there is a waiting list for the kindergardens), because they are ill, or because they drop out (the school drop-out rate in Jaffa for Arab students is 49% according to the municipality, 53% according to the Jaffa community).
Dropping out is worst among the poorest. Moreover, until a student is registered as a "real" drop out, usually there is a period of about 2 years of "hidden" dropping out, during which the kid sometimes goes to school, so he or she is still registered. Thus the actual drop-out rates are even higher, MUCH higher. The schools receive money per child, so even when a child hardly ever comes to school (like 14 year old H, who went to school for 2 days this year, or 12 year old O, who has visisted school for 5 days, since September). If indeed, the government will carry out this plan (cutting child allowances and transferring the money to school dinners), the weakest children will be hurt the most.
And ofcourse during the holidays, all children will be hurt, as none actually go to school, but perhaps our brilliant politcians forgot that little detail, alienated as they are from reality.

But the children mentioned above are not the only ones to be hurt by this evil scheme. As a professor ar Ben Gurion University (forgot her name) recently pointed out in a radio interview: When talking about the poor, people often think "big families in the Orthodox Jewish sector and Arab children", but in reality many first children from many families are poor: the young families of young first children are just starting on their way, having many expenses and as yet not a good income. Child allowances for the first child have been cut worse than the rest. This measure will not just hurt very low income families but also many lower middle class families just starting out.

Another, much better, plan is removing the VAT payments from food. Now that WOULD truly help poor families, whose income mostly goes to food. It will really assist them, i hope the plan will be carried through.

Poverty in Israel and elsewhere is foremost a matter of human rights, of social justice. It has been caused first of all by politicians, making decisions that serve the needs of their wealthy friends. It is not "natural", nor does it "just happen". It is the worst form of disicrimination against children.

The children's names have been changed.
Today the family will receive a heater and 2 big winter blankets from an NGO, whom I alerted.

Wednesday, January 17

Competition? Just set them on fire!

A really loud bang last night disturbed the silent cold night. Initially i didn't see a thing. However, this was both too close by for fun and quite obviously not firework.

Over the last few weeks two young guys from Jaffa worked really hard to paint and restore a small store on Yefet street and turn it into a fruit and vegetable store.
In Jaffa we don't go to a supermarket, there are none close by, actually.
We used to have a really nice market (which was closed down by the municipality last year, damn) and we buy vegetables & fruit for the day in a close by vegetable store. There are many of those; Fresh stuff, every single day. Most are the sort of small stores, where everyone knows everyone else, the greengrocer knows your taste and keeps some stuff especially for you, tells you all the neighborhood gossip. If he doesn't have small change, you simply pay the next day. A family having financial problems when there are stil a lot of days until the next payday, won't go hungry.
So these 2 young guys invest a lot of time and some money in opening up their own little store. They buy produce and were supposed to have their grand opening today.
Well, they didn't as someone torched their place last night. They (that is, people on the street) say it was done by a guy operating a greengrocery on Jerusalem Boulevard. I have no idea. News and gossip travel quickly in Jaffa.
A lot of friends of the young men came over today, and towards the afternoon hours a lot of cleaning and painting had already be done.
I don't think anyone complained with the police. They aren't too much trusted in Jaffa. Usually no one talks, no one has seen a thing and ofcourse no ione knows anything. But the street talks.

Monday, January 15

Death of Death

There are thousands of graves in the old Muslim graveyard, located on the border between Jaffa and Kiryat Shalom neighborhood.
They are all, but for one, nameless.

Some of the graves go back a hundred years, others date back to the 1970-ies.

The destruction is stupifying, as if an earthquake toppled the large majority of the graves and threw the gravestones in disarray.
Jaffa has several Muslim graveyards, some of them located in Jaffa, others, the later ones, outside of what were at the time the city limits.

People, even the poor, were always burried in a careful manner, the graves topped by large gravestones, some made of expensive, beautifully carved and decorated marble (for the rich, or perhaps for the beloved) and others of simple stone structures for the less well off. Each grave carried a marble plate with the name and a quotation from the Kur'an.

No longer so. Someone, or, more likely a lot of someones, came and systematically destroyed every single grave. All nameplates have been removed. Some of the grave cellars are open, filled up with building rubble and rubbish.

The graveyards are under the care of the Muslim "waqf". But that waqf is unable to take care of vandalism of this magnitude.
Many of the graves belong to Palestinians, whose families were forced to leave the area in 1948.
Others still have their relatives in Jaffa, who come to visit the graveyard a few times a year, the graveyard, not the graves. They have become unrecognizable. The names have been systematically removed. This is not the work of a few bored youngsters. Whole slabs of marble have been carried off. Stonehewed names whittled off.

For this you need heavy duty tools, a lot of time, intent and it makes a lot of noise as well.

The Kiryat Shalom graveyard is located right in the middle of a neighborhood. A Jewish neighborhood. It has a fence, but there is no enterance gate.

The Jaffa graveyards are not in a great condition, as the graves are being eroded by the salty wind and the sandrocks slowly crumbling into the sea. There is very little devastation (if at all) carried out by man. All graves have names. They may be eroded a little, but there are few questions as to the reason behind the erosion: nature
There are no such questions when relating to the vandalism in the Kiryat Shalom graveyard. there is not one single undamaged grave. This is not nature, but hate.

Last year a Muslim NGO from Jaffa cleaned the graveyard and restored one of the buildings, so visitors would have a roof over their heads, some shadow, a place to drink some water.
The buiding was fenced off. The fences and had locked iron entrance doors which have disappeared. Inside the building is black, due to fires.

I found bones, dried out, white, ancient looking, in some spots. An arm, some vertebrae. I buried them, not really knowing what else i could have done. I'm not a religious person, but i said "Kaddish", not knowing what else to say. Really speechless, ashamed.

Obviously i do not blame the inhabitants of the nearby neighborhood, i have no idea who did this, or rather, i do not know specific details. However, what i DO know, is that this person (or rather, persons) are evil hateful people.

Saturday, January 13

Policing the police?

They're at it again. Every single saturday Jaffa's Yefet street fills up with policemen and municipal supervisors. Saturday is the busiest day on Yefet. All shops and restaurants are open, doing brisk business with people coming in from Bat Yam, Tel Aviv and beyond, where stores are closed due to the shabat. It is the most important business day of the week for many of the small store owners, who wouldn't survive without it.
There are not many public parking lots along the street and in most areas parking is not allowed, which makes it difficult for customers.
Throughout the week there are no policemen along the street (except for the border police jeeps, that is), however, on shabat they come out in full. Anyone who stops, even to let out a passenger who has difficulties walking, is immediately told to move it. The life of the small store owners is made impossible. What stends out is that this only happens on Shabat, during the rest of the week they are not to be seen.
Yet on shabat, EVERY shabat they are there, hampering businesslife. Making a nuisance of themselves.

Funny enough, they are not there when needed, then they run off.

Thus, 5 men accused of murdering a fish monger's friend are about to be released this coming week. Why? Because the life of a police informer might be endangered if his details will be disclosed in the course of the judicial dealings in court. Obviously a person's life is not something to be dealt with lightly.

However, the story on the street is, that this informer is responsible for the murder of Adham, the young man killed during the Eid ElAdha parade. The story is that the police are protecting him. I obviously do not know if that is true. But that's what people believe in Jaffa.

Last night someone poured oil in Mendes France street. He was seen by a police car passing by. The car didn't stop and the pouring of the oil continued. It makes the street dangerous, so people won't enter. The police could have stopped it, but didn't. Why? Who gains form making the street inaccessible? Why does the police cooperate?

That is why the police is suspect.

Who is served by policing Yefet in order to hand out parking tickets and make business life impossible?
Why is the murderer of Adham still walking around free?

Friday, January 12

Jaffa Harbor, an ancient bride's untimely death

The Jaffa Tel Aviv municipality decided to take over responsibility for the Jaffa harbor. they just voted on the development program, and i suppose they want to have something to show for that city's upcoming birthday.

They, so they say, "want to turn it into a a succes-story, just like the Tel Aviv harbor". That statement is worth an investigation as well as quite a few questions.

The Jaffa harbor is an active fishermen's harbor, home to small ships and aflukas, which go out nightly to fish the Mediterranean.
There is a small fishmarket (suffering from intervention by municipal controllers who do all they can to close it down), a drydock for small ships, a number of fish restaurants, warehouses (some in terrible condition) and a graveyard for rusting ancient ships, slowly falling apart. And before i forget, there's also a sea school belonging to Jaffa's sea scouts, and a music school for oriental music, run by oud and violin player Yair Delal. Although the harbor is no longer what is once was, it is still central to Jaffa and full of life.

The Jaffa harbor is a natural harbor and has been in use for the last 4000 years (yeah four-thousand, that's not a mistake), making it one of the most ancient still active harbors in the world. Jaffa developed around it, the harbor was Jaffa's raison d'etre, so to say. And it has always been a close relationship, between the "bride of the Sea" (urs elbahar) and her harbor.

However, the natural rock formation (named after Andromeda, a Jaffa princes of mythical fame) protecting the ancient harbor, was also detriment in destoying Jaffa's wealth. When the ships became bigger, they could no longer enter the harbor. Instead they had to anchor outside and small boats from Jaffa would come alongside to load and unload. The Ashdod and Haifa harbors did not suffer from a similar problem and started to take over Jaffa harbor's function as the main entry port ot the area.
Yet the harbor has always been active as a fishermen's harbor, until this very day.

Tel Aviv's harbor was constructed during the first half of the 20th century, but never really played an important role. As a result it became delapidated and not in use by many, until a few years ago it was turned into a night life area, full of restaurents, bars and places to hang about. Trendy and expensive. Most restaurants belong to chains, having a "concept" and serving style rather than good food. Their owners make a lot of money from the people who wait in line to see and be seen.
There are those who love that sort of thing. North Tel Aviv, abroad, on the moon, (but much more boring) from my point of view. But there are those who like that sort of thing.

So now Jaffa harbor will be turned into something similar. Perhaps with more "authentic" styling, "aboulafia lite" perhaps. Jaffa for zfonbonim, yuppies interested in doing the ethnic thing for a few hours.
How many people from Jaffa will benefit from it? Hell knows: not many.
The cleaners, the cooks, the waitresses, will perhaps be from Jaffa, i guess. They will be asked not to speak Arabic, "the guests don't like that", they will be told.

And the fishermen? If they will be photogenic, i guess some of them will be able to stay. Picture perfect, so to speak.

Monday, January 8

No fishing, no bathing nor swimming

They're at it once more: the sewage management authorities for Tel Aviv and Herzliyah are releasing those cities' shit into the sea once more, by permission.

Yep, in order to carry out maintainance of the sewage system, they will be releasing the untreated waste into the sea today and tomorrow and they received permission for those acts, while warning the public not to bathe in the sea the next few days.
I admit it is cold, but some people do swim also when it's cold, a lot of people like surfing especially when the waves are good, never mind the cold.
And others fish, for fun or for a living.
When ongoing maintenance is carried out on a regular basis, using robots an other advanced methods as well as proper planning (and maintenance) of back-up systems, there is no need for messing up the sea. But who cares about the sea...
The waste management authorities simply make an announcement not to swim in the sea during the next two days and that apparently makes it OK. When the cat is put in charge of safeguarding the cream...
Last summer i read a research on the quality of the beach sand on Tel Aviv's beaches (i don't recall the exact source, but a little googling will certainly help you). Although it looks clean, white and beautiful and feels soft, it was found to be full of bacteria, shit bacteria, e-colli.
So next time you take our toddler to build a sandcastle, you've been warned.

Ofcourse no one talks about long term damage, but that's quite normal here.

Friday, January 5

Violence for violence's sake

A good friend of mine walked around around the 'hood last evening, when he was met by three young guys, not more than 18 years old. For absolutely no reason at all, they started beating him up.


One of them lifted a huge block and was about to throw it on my friend's head, when one of the neighbors opened a window and started screaming at them. They ran off, taking my friend's hat with them. It's his favorite one.

Ambulance, the Ihilov hospital emergency ward. Nothing had been broken. And in spite of the pain and the blood, no serious physical damage had been done.

Jaffa, 2007

Wednesday, January 3

Upon Returning from Mecca

My neighbors put palmleaves at their entrance door. The grandchildren added flowers and drawings of the new moon, decorated with multi-colored glitter and baloons. Today the first buses will be returning from Mecca, from the Hadj.
As a result, the atmosphere is mixed. On the one hand the sound of Adham's murderer's bullets still reverberates in our streets, on the other hand, the return of the Mecca pilgrims is a reason for happyness.
The grandchildren told me about the presents they expect, the parents about the stories, the experience. The grandparents? Well, i'll hear about that tomorrow.

Welcome back!

See nothing, hear nothing, say nothing

After the Eid elAdha parade murder, the police arrested the murderer. However, he was released that very same evening, due to lack of evidence.

The murderer was seen and recognized by bystanders, but people are too scared to talk, so for all practical reasons, there are no witnesses.

At least, that's the story going around on the streets.

It may well be right.

Tuesday, January 2

Murdered "by mistake"

Last saturday, during the Eid elAdha parade, a young man from Jaffa was shot.

A few hours ago, the victim died at Tel HaShomer hospital to which he had been transferred from nearby Wolfson hospital in hope to save his life.

Many of the murders committed in Jaffa over the last 10 years have to do with a feud between families and / or drugsales.
Murder and violence are never justified, but sometimes the writing "is on the wall". In this case, there was no writing. Apparently a case of "mistaken identity". Being in the wrong place at the wrong time on the wrong bike with your motor helmet visor down... And that, apparently, is very wrong.

The young victim had not been not connected to any gangs, had no crminal record, just another young Jaffa guy, living a normal life.
He died for just no reason at all.

Jaffa, 2007

Adham, the young man killed, was the son of Abdu, a well known fish restaurant owner from Jaffa. He was also a student at the "Tadmor" hotel school in Herzliya, where he was training to become a chef. His classmates, both Palestinians and Jews, had all come to the hospital, in hope to learn better news and be with the family. He was well loved by all. Not just as a sentence, often said after someone's death. He truly was a great guy with a good sense of humor. Bright, sensitive to the other people around him.

A tent has been erected in the street where he used to live. The men all sit in the tent, the women in the house. A tape plays prayers. It's very quiet. Most of the women cry silently, the men are quiet, but many have tears in their eyes.
People still cannot believe it. The family are all in shock.

It takes me time to express what i feel.

I was sitting with the women in the large, luxurious livingroom of the family. A white marble floor. Antique, dark wooden furniture, the large windows shuttered.
All along the walls there are chairs and couches. And close to the chairs and couches small delicate tables. On each table an ornamental box containing tissues, a few bottles of mineral water and disposable cups.
Women in traditional dress sit all around, their heads covered. Eyes red from crying. But for the tape with the praying voice, it is quiet. Now and then a stiffled sob is heard.
A young woman goes around serving bitter coffee in small cups to the mourners. The woman sitting next to me tells me a little about the young murder victim. She's an aunt. The family stick close together. Everybody's still in shock.

There is so much pain in this room.