Monday, February 26

9 Star Hotel

Ido Haar's award winning documentary movie "9 Star Hotel" (מלון 9 כוכבים) tells about a group of Palestinian construction workers who are building homes in Modi'in.
Illegally crossing the green line with their backpacks and blankets in order to make a living in contruction, they sleep at night in the Modi'in area hills in make-shift tent like buildings, afraid of the police who may come and arrest them at any minute, for illegal presence. The film focuses especially on Ahmed, who collects and recycles things he finds and Muhamad, the philosopher of the group.

I could write a lot about this movie, but no written words will do it justice. Just go and see it.
The film can be watched at the Tel Aviv cinemateque.

Sunday, February 25

Landed aliens or what?

I love swimming, especially in the sea. Jellyfish are the one thing that can stop me from enjoying it.
Usually, during the hot summer months there are a few weeks, when jellyfish become abundant, and even entering the water can be unpleasant, stinging, burning. Also when you do not actually see any of them close by. Apparently they release their tentacles with the stinging substance in the surf close to the beach.
I've never seen the monsters in winter, until today, that is. Today's storm washed up over a hundred of them.
I agree, when in the water, they are amazing, elegant, fascinating (as long as they don't come close to my exposed skin) but once stranded they become... weird. they look a little like that gooey yucky stuff some little kids like to play with in order to gross out anyone not as little and fascinated by yucky stuff as them.

And the winter jellyfish appear to be of a different kind the the ones we see in summer. Even weirder. They are quite big (the large ones have a 70 cm diameter) and appear to be more fleshy, quite substantial, unlike the watery things washed ashore during the summer. They are quite heavy, unlike their summer cousins. And like i said, this is the first time i've seen any jellyfish during this period of the year. I tipped a few of them over, gently, i have no idea if the things are still alive and if so, if they can actually feel anything. Do they have brains? Nerves? Do they have some form of "awareness"? Do they feel pain? They are so different from the summer jellyfish. They weigh quite a bit.

Global warming? Ecological changes in marine life? Another balance upset?
I truly have no idea. It's a bit eerie, something that doesn't entirely fit in.

Stormy weather in Jaffa

In Jaffa, the violence continues. Over the weekend, three young guys were shot in the area of Dante and Pushkin street. Luckily for them they suffered only light wounds. They took themselves to Wolfson Hospital, whose emergency unit staff by now have much experience in treating Jaffa's wounded. When Dante wrote about hell, i must have meant some parts of Jaffa.
Another guy was knifed in Pahad Yitzhak street. And in Nahal HaBsor street a fight among neighbours led to the torching of one of them.

Saturday, February 24

"Break a leg", so they say

Green areas and playgrounds are not many in Jaffa. A research-paper published about a year ago, showed there to be considerably less parks and green areas in south Tel Aviv and Jaffa in comparison with the rest of Tel Aviv's municipal territory.
Jaffa's green areas and playgrounds have been neglected for many years. It was quite obvious Tel Aviv's planners didn't think about Jaffa's children.
Green areas, parks and playgrounds are a matter of planning, of budgets and related to the quality of life. The lack thereof, is a matter of social justice.
However, lately there has been some improvement and even in Ajami a few small playgrounds have been constructed over the last few years. A little green grass, some trees, a few slides and monkey bars are popular. Underneath the swings and monkey-bars there is soft sand or a mixture of recycled colourful cut-up car tyres, serving as a soft "landing spot" for kids falling or jumping while playing.
However, one wonders about maintenance. Right next to my house there used to be a lovely playground. Partially constructed on the roof of our communal bomb-shelter (which functions in normal days as a youth club) it boasted a rope and wooden slats bridge, a tall slide and all kinds of fun climbing "things" and swings. Over time, the weather and sun had weakened the wooden constructions, which started falling apart. The rain and salt air coming in from the sea weakened the iron chains connecting the slide and the bridge to the shelter's roof, where there was a sand pit for small kids to play in. Safely away from the road and the cars.

A "lag ba'omer" bonfire that went out of control did some additional damage too parts of the wooden construction as well.

After about 2 years of complaining, the municipality finally came, not to repair, but to take away the wooden leftovers.
They send me some sort of "funny letter", claiming the repair to be very expensive. "They were busy raising the money", so they said.
Kids being kids, they continued using the 4 meter high concrete basis of the big slide as an alternative. A very dangerous and unprotected one.
I sent another letter, and so once more the municipal destructors came, this time to put a fence around the high concrete slide. No more slide, no more danger, so they must have thought.
Kids being kids, they simply use the other parts: over 2 meter high concrete blocks that appear to have little function.
It's just a matter of time until one of the kids falls and breaks a leg or worse.
In Jaffa people don't sue the municipality. I wish they would. Perhaps they would come and repair the playground (or construct and maintain an alternative one).

Why should we wait until something bad happens?

Not a Norwegian Blue and still quite alive

I like early mornings, it's the muezzin from H'san Arafe mosque, who's up a little before me. The minaret's loudspeakers have become louder lately and many of the neighbours complain. I don't mind, in fact, i like the sound.
Soon afterwards, it's the really early birds. Followed by
the sound of my machineta; espresso at just the right temperature. The sound of the "Ha'aretz" thrown over the fence and downstairs' rotweiler barking at the Ha'aretz messenger. Sometimes the next sound will be me, swearing at said messenger, as the newspaper landed, once more, directly into the open garbage can. Going downstairs (three floors) then up the stairs, finally i sit down, coffee, newspaper, a nice breeze coming in from the sea. I love the early morning hours. The pigeons are the last ones to wake up. The have their steady over-night places, on the ledge of my neighbours' house and my rooftop.
And that's where insult starts: I do NOT like bird droppings on my head, in my coffee, nor on my newspaper.

The pigeons are not impressed with my repeated requests and continue with their vile practice. I like pigeons, i like most animals. Unlike some of the neighbourhood boys who use them for shooting practice, and the local cats and even free running chickens, who see them as fair game whenever the pigeons leave their secure high spots and eat from the fallen ficus fruits, seeds and other nice (from their pigeony point of view) things on the ground.

Jaffa pigeons have 7 lives and their survival skills are way beyond imagination. Wounded or not, they keep on going. I hate bird-shit in my coffee.

Julia's in hiding

Romeo-who-turned-out-to-be-Julia, is in hiding, with her 3 quickly growing kittens.
Two days ago, the kitten corner below the stairs was empty. We (all neighbours of our building, amongst ourselves we refer to the kittens as "the grandchildren") were all very worried, but then found out that Julia has moved her three kittens to a new hiding place, behind a mountain of junk left there by my neighbours.
The neighbour twin-girls feed Julia daily and she seems to be doing well. I can no longer see all three kittens, but now and then Julia walks around with one of them in her mouth, a different one each time, so all three are alive, developing well and thriving.

Tuesday, February 20

Jaffa: one more shooting victim and an arrest

Yet another shooting incident in Ajami: a 49 year old man was shot saturday afternoon in Ajami's Bet Pelet Street. The victim is hospitalized in near by Wolfson hospital and said to be in grave condition.

Yesterday an arrest was made.

It just goes on and on.

Monday, February 19

Action! Bike & Train

Please take a minute to sign the petition to allow bicycles on the trains in Israel as is done in the U.S., Europe and many countries in Asia.
This, together with bike paths to the train stations, and decent bike parking at the stations, is a very inexpensive way to reduce air pollution, reduce congestion on the highways and roads, reduce Israel's balance of trade deficit and improve Israel's quality of life.
The petition is sponsored by Israel Bicycle Association, an environmental group.

Please forward this to your friends and to email groups.

Sunday, February 18

Fish anyone?

Fishing and Jaffa go hand in hand. Jaffa has been a fishermen's town for some 4000 years.
One wonders about the next 4000, or perhaps about the next 100 years or so.
My fishermen friends tell me there are less and less fish in the Mediterranean Sea.
Some fish types have almost completely disappeared.
Overfishing may have something to do with it, but so the fishermen say, there are other, more serious reasons for it.
One is the Suez Canal, whose waters and passing ships have brought all kinds of non-Medditerranean fish with it over the years. Another reason is the release of different poisons, the Shafdan's sludge among them. The food chain is easily disturbed. Delicate ecologically balanced systems have been torn apart and chainreactions bring about unexpected modifications in marine life, or perhaps, one should say, marine death.
It's not only the professional fishermen, going out of Jaffa harbor with their nets night after night, but also the guys sitting, patiently waiting for the fish to bite, saturday after saturday.
They catch less and what fish they catch, are small.
Normally after a storm there are many fish. After last weeks storm, there was much less than they expected.
Just bad luck, or don't we even have another 100 years of fish? Industrial waste, sewage from the big cities, tankers and yes, perhaps also over fishing. Anybody listening out there?
It's a pity the fish cannot scream. If they could, perhaps we would hear them.

This is not only about Jaffa, it's about our sea, our neighbor's sea. Everybody's sea.

Saturday, February 17

When your car gets burnt

You live in Jaffa really close to the sea, have good relations with your neighbors and park your car next to that of the neighbor. Who happens to be involved in some shady business of one kind or another.
So one night his car is torched and yours, standing right next to his, goes up in flames as well.

No more car. My friend's that is, i ride a bike.

Jaffa, 2007

Seven kids, two cameras, a small stray dog and me

Seven boys from Jaffa, aged 10 - 13, 2 brandnew digital cameras, donated by a Jaffa NGO & me (and a small stray dog we met on our way to Gabaliyah beach (aka) Givat Aliyah Beach) had a lot of fun friday afternoon.
The kids are all from Ajami. Together they play football in a youth team (on condition they have finished homework first) and over the weekend they meet with Maisa, their youth leader and Rifat, who is also their football trainer (as well as my neighbor). They are inquisitive, love gathering shells, daring each other to walk-jump on the sea-surrounded rocks (NOT with the cameras, one of the rules we established) and play with the dog we found.
Over the coming weeks, we'll be putting up the group's photoblog. Right now, the kids are still getting the basics going (and having a lot of fun).

Saturday, February 10

It all started with Romeo... some good Jaffa news

First there were the rats, a lot of them and they took up residence in our staircase. Now, i truly believe in the importance of squatting as a valid alternative in a time of too little public housing and am open-minded as to the exact identity of my neighbors, as long as they're peaceful.
But rats.... mmm, gotta be honest, i DO have a problem with them.
They would drive my neighbor's big & mean rotweiler in the yard crazy, but he didn't do much about them, as the rats knew the length of said rotweiler's chain only too well.
Enter Romeo; Street cat with a squatter's mentality as well as good at dealing with rats. Only, Romeo got kind of fat, very fat.
Romeo had been so named by the neighbor's twin daughters and i never really thought much about it. They took care of him and gave him a cat box at the bottom of our cluttered stairwell, right next to my-shiny-red-not-so-new-anymore bike. Occasionally Romeo would enter my flat, when i left the door open. I love cats but am allergic to them. He really was getting VERY fat. i started suspecting something was not all it was supposed to be in the feline gender department
Until today: Everybody is downstairs, where eh Ro- no, Julia is giving birth. So far we have 2 kittens, and more appear to be on the way. Julia's cleaning them.

We have a family now.

22.00 update: there are three kittens, all are doing well, Marzipan you have competition!!

Friday, February 9

Violence in Jaffa ,once again

I was about to write about the photography workshop i've started. A workshop with 6 young boys from Jaffa, aged 10 - 13.
We have 2 digital cameras, a few computers and "Picasa". We operate in the bombshelter-turned- into-a-club-for-kids.
We started today and had a great time. We'll be placing some of the work on our blog, which the kids voted to call "Jaffa Photographers" and the first image blogged, is one of a BMW car parked right next door. They like fancy cars, boys 're boys, even at 11 -12 years old.

But, instead of writing about that, i just heard machine gun fire outside. It came from a slightly northerly direction.One long burst. No, not firework, i know the sound.
I don't know exactly where and what happened. There is a slight rain, the streets are almost empty, it's a quarter to midnight here.

Now there is screaming as well. I guess it means someone was hurt.

This is written in real time.

Jaffa, Ajami, almost midnight. I hope everybody's ok.

Cancellation Abir Aramin's Memorial

For the safety of the children, it has been decided by the Palestinian and Israeli peaceworkers to postpone tomorrow's planned memorial meeting.

Following the today's violent acts on Haram A'Sharif / the Temple Mount, the feeling was that the planned memorial might be considered illegal by the police which possibly could lead to further violence.

As the planned memorial involving children from both sides, was to take place at Damascus Gate at the entrance of the Old City of Jerusalem, it has been jointly decided to postpone Abir's Aramin's memorial to a later date.

Wednesday, February 7

Sea of Sludge

Our lovely sea and wonderful beaches, look better, much better, from a distance. Upon getting a little close, you might want to put a clip on your nose at some hours of the day and as to bathing.... or eating fresh sea fish, better think twice.

I often feel powerless, in face of the slow poisoning of the sea. Although there are different laws against it, these are rarely and only partially applied. Fines are ridiculously low, so it's cheaper to pay a fine now and then, than to actually solve the problem.
In Tel Aviv and Jaffa the problem is accute. My fishermen friends tell me many fish have completely disappeared and this has nothing to do with over-fishing.
If it's bad for the fish it's bad for us. The strange thing is, that there actually are solutions available. It is absolutely unnecessary to poison the sea. Sewage can be dealt with in many ways. Some might look expensive on the short run, however, on the long run, killing off the sea is far more expensive.
On the short run there obvioulsy appear to be certain conflicts of interest, but do we really want to tell our future grandchildren that once upon i time you could go swimming in the sea and there were real fish in it?

So, some of you people, my readers, have contacted me over time saying they want to do something about it. This is your chance:

The coming meeting of Tel Aviv's "Green Forum" will take place on February 13th at 19.00 at the offices of the Society for the Protection of Nature at 85 Nahalat Benyamin Street in Tel Aviv. the meeting will be dedicated to our beaches and what we want (and do not want).
The ideas and wishes expressed during the meeting will form the basis for an alternative plan.

It really depends on us.

And for a little more information about what's happening to our beaches and water quality:
article by Karin Kloosterman

Memorial ceremony for Abir Aramin

Coming Saturday, 10/2, we will hold a Palestinian-Israeli memorial ceremony for 10 year old Abir Aramin who was killed outside of school by Border Police soldiers on January 16th.

Bassam, Abir's father, is one of the leaders of "Combatants for Peace" and has been working for several years on promoting dialogue and peace and on the non violent resistance to the occupation.

Bassam and his family will take part in the ceremony together with Abir's classmates from Anata. We wish to invite you to bring along also your children and to emphasize through this joint ceremony, that all children have a right to live and go to school safely. Especially now when the Israeli Police is trying to do everything in its power not to take the responsibility and indict the criminals we must send a clear message demanding that justice be served.
The ceremony will take place at Jerusalem's Damascus Gate (near the stairs) at 15:00.

For further information:

Itamar Shapira

"Combatants for Peace"


A Stormy Day on a Jaffa Beach

"Why do i live in Jaffa?", some of you asked, wondering, perhaps, why i stay there, when there are so many awful things going on.

According to the weather forecast we'll have a few more stormy days. So, get out your warmest winter coat, a pair of really good walking shoes and enjoy Jaffa's beaches on a stormy day.
Suggested track: from Manta Ray (Alma Beach) all the way down to Bat Yam. Do it during the late afternoon hours, if you love sunsets and magic light.
Walk as close to the water as you can (or dare)
Sure, you'll get wet, but you won't feel the cold, simply due to the sheer beauty of the huge waves, the gulls. Nature's drama at its best.
I know, superlatives are suspect, but give it a try.

Monday, February 5

And a little more police harassment... as well as another shooting

It never gets boring in Jaffa.
My friend Z was in bed this morning at 6.00 AM when a group of special unit police men, accompanied by two immense dogs, broke into her room.
In shock, she asked if they had a search warrant. They didn't. But that didn't stop them. After about two hours of making a terrible mess, they left, not having found a thing. All that time Z. kept to her bed, embarassed as she was to get out of bed in her flimsy nighty in front of the policemen.
The policemen said the dogs were drug searching dogs. My friends doesn't do drugs and ofcourse none were found.
Why the search? Hell knows. The police can do what they want in Jaffa. So what if there is no warrant.

About an hour ago a 29 year old man was shot in Jaffa's Shivtey Israel street. Lightly wounded, he was taken to nearby Wolfson Hospital.


Another stabbing in Jaffa

Last evening, around 20.30 a 25 year old man from the south was stabbed on Jaffa's Yefet Street. The attackers ran off. The wounded man is in nearby Wolfson Hospital. His condition is apparently not very grave.
the police are doing their usual thing: investigating.
I guess the community is doing the usual as well, no one saw a thing, heard anything and ofcourse, as usual, no one talks.

Umm Abed Died

Umm Abed died . The muezzin of the near-by H'san Arafe mosque cried it out over the loudspeakers, usually reserved for the 5 daily prayers.
A small van arrives with about a hundred plastic chairs.
A big tent is erected in the parking lot next to my house. Neighbors quickly remove their cars, understanding, respectful.
A tape starts playing non-stop prayers.
The women gather in the house, drinking endless tiny cups of bitter coffee.
The men gather outside in the tent, sitting on the uncomfortable black plastic chairs, listening to the religious speeches offered in Umm Abed's memory.
People come in to pay their respects. Everyone comes in, even for just a few minutes, while on their way to somewhere, something else.
Only very early in the morning, when the mourners have not yet arrived, the little children use the tent for their games. Playing football between the chairs, racing a chair-slalom on their bikes, laughing out loud, a dry spot on a rainy day. Life goes on.

Three days of mourning.

Umm Abed died.

Jaffa, winter 2007

Sunday, February 4

Another victim of violence in Jaffa

A man, some say from the Occupied Territories, was murdered in Jaffa last night, in Michelangelo Street in the center of Jaffa.

The man was living in a groundfloor appartment he had squatted, or so they say. To hide the traces of the murder, the flat had been set afire, and the mutilated body was detected only after the fire brigade finished their work.
Around the same time, a young, badly burned man form Jaffa arrived at a nearby hospital's emergency unit.

Some say the fight had been about a drug deal, others stated the attackers (there appear to have been more than one) wanted to squat the appartment themselves or help a family member to squat it against the victim's wishes. The police made a few arrests (1 man and three women, suspaected of aiding), but nothing is clear as yet.

Human life in Jaffa is cheap.

Update February 5, 2007: The police formally arrested the young man with burn wounds, who is still in hospital. He's suspected of having been involved in the murder or at least in the torching of the flat of the murder victim. The arrestee apparently lives in the same building as the murder victim, or so they say.

Saturday, February 3

See-through people

A small piece of cardboard paper with a few coins, another piece of cardboard to sit on, in a busy spot where many people pass by.
Some of them are regulars, others come occasionally. Beggars, asking for small change.
Some are quite obviously ill. Frail people. See-through people.
We pass by, careful not to step on the cardboard, careful not to meet their eyes.
Only a few stop and put a coin on the cardboard. There are more of beggars this year than last year, so it seems to me. People who have given up, (perhaps) were forced into giving up.
Very rarely someone "regular" talks, says something to them. Their voice is the empty cardboard. The sad eyes, the mumbled "thank you" when given some small change.
Once they must have been smalll children, running home from school or play, they had names, were certain the world was OK, trusting. then something went wrong. Sometimes, i guess, things went well for a long time, unttil something broke. And there was no one to pick up the pieces, to mend what needs care. To mind, to be there.
We have so few answers for the neediest people, in fact not only for the needy, for all of us.

It's Tu B'Shvat today, the New Year of the Trees. A time to plant and to enjoy new life. The almond trees are blossoming. Yet outside it is cold, raining, strong winds. I wonder where the beggars are.

Thursday, February 1

In Memory of O, or Blaming the Victim

Earlier this year O. died, after having battled a disease for a few years. A courageous, strong woman. A mother, a bright and serious businesswoman, a social activist. O. was also very beautiful. She had a great sense of humour. She was sensitive and fun to be with. She cared about others often more than about herself.

O. had also been the victim of serious and ongoing sexual harassment by her employer, a powerful politician. When she finally got the courage to say NO, she was kicked out of her job.
When she filed a complaint against her employer, he started a war against her, accusing her of the worst possible things (including crimes) while exposing her face and name in the local press. (yeah that by itself is illegal, but it did not stop him). She was found innocent of those crimes, but that fact was never published. O. had to start her life from scratch (and did so very successfully, building her own business). The file against the politician was closed for lack of sufficient proof. O. did not give up and a short while ago before her death the file was reopened. For that to happen, she employed a private detective who was able to dig up proof the police had not bothered to look for.
I know O. was not the only victim of that politician, but she was the only one with the courage to complain against him. And to fight him, even when she was battling for her life. I have learned from O.

Haim Ramon, the ex-minister of justice of Israel, has been found guilty of sexual harassment by three judges in Tel Aviv's peace court yesterday. Which implies that the minister of justice (!), represented by the best lawyers in the country, is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt, of sexual violence.

Moshe Kazav, the president of the state of Israel, is suspected of rape and sexual harassment of several women employees, over the years. True, Katzav has not yet been found guilty by the court. He might be innocent. In fact, he should be considered innocent until proven guilty. But hell, the attorney general considers he has enough criminal proof to indict him on several counts of sexual assault. Assault, not harassment.
Of several women, not one.

In both cases the accused (and now guilty, in Haim Ramon's case) parties have used their full force (and they are very powerful men, they have a lot of force) to blame the women victims, to portray them as cheap, financially interested and what not.
In fact Katzav's friends have accused A of having been a prostitute. And that is a true classic. It puts Katzav's victim on an even lower scale in the eyes of the public. But the true question of course is, EVEN if A had been a prostitute, so what? Is it OK to sexually harass a prostitute? Even if we assume for a moment that A was a prostitute (and she was not) and that Katzav was paying her for sexual services, when a woman says no she means NO. And a prostitute is a woman, not a thing And when a prostitue says no, it means NO. Once more, A was not a prostitute and it is quite clear that these pathetic accusations are used only to weaken her. They are all part of an ugly war committed by a third rate and quite possibly corrupt politician used to fighting ugly little games to save his (political) ass. One wonders how he really came to be in his high position.
However, that's not the topic of this blog.

I'd rather talk about O. and about A. and about many other women suffering sexual harassment and worse from their employers.
In fact, i have to admit that i myself once left a job because my boss wouldn't stop making most unwanted sexual advances towards me. This was some time before the current law against sexual harassment on the job. At the time, there was nothing i could do, because he did not actually touch me. But is was ugly and disgusting, so i got up and left. It wasn't difficult for me to find another job. But many women face more difficulties finding good employment, so they suffer, in silence. Often it is well known in the workplace that X is a creep. Women try to warn each other, make sure they are not alone with X. And often X uses his power to make sure a new victim has to do some overtime, when she'll be alone with him. We all know it happens. but especially weakened women (with few job skills) raising their families single handedly stand no chance and they suffer in silence, to afraid to loose their source of income.

The most amazing thing is, that quite a few men seem to think it is their right.
When the Ramon's verdict became known yesterday (a panel of three judges have found him unanimoulsy guilty) i started to watch peoples' reactions on the street.
Ofcourse that is not a scientific method of gouging public opinion, i admit it, but it was interesting and to me, also disturbing:
15.00 o'clock, the corner of Sheinkin and Allenby in Tel Aviv. A young man hands out free copies of "Israeli", a free news rag, with the header "Ramon's guilty".
People stop and start reading. Some sit down on the street furniture and all start talking. Most of them are men. And ALL of them blamed the victim. All of them.
In fact they ALL believed Ramon to be the true victim.

The women reacted differently. "That's how it is", "I hope it will not happen to my daughter", "there is nothing you can do about it".

I don't accept that, there IS something we can do about it: education. Teaching that people must never be objectified. Never, ever.

Sexual harassment and violence come forth out of objectifying the other. Once i can see in the other nothing but "a thing", i can afford not relate to that thing's feelings or objections.
Sexual violence, the objectification of people, is a matter of social justice. Prevention is in education, not in putting the blame the victims.
And in the mean time, i wish to express my full support for A and A and all the outher women out there courageously fighting aginast harassment.
I also wish to express my support of those women, not in a position to fight against it. They suffer i silnce. It's about time we break that silnce. We do not have to accept "that is how it is".