Friday, March 30

The not so sweet taste of revenge

I had to do it, go for a victorious walk in the Andromeda compound. The guard at the entrance asked no questions. The gate was simply opened, no need for any sesame.
So now the gated Andromeda Community compound is open to us, the Jaffa general public as well. Decisions were made and the public interest was found to be of greater importance than that of the well-to-do inhabitants of "Andromeda": no more gates, no more security checks, no more entrance refused.
My victorious walk inside was a little less sweet than expected.

Inside Andromeda, well, the garden is well tended, there are many flowers, clipped grass, but the truth.. i didn't like it very much. "Orientalist kitsch" is the term that comes to mind. The massive buildings stand close to each other. There is little privacy. In Ajami, our buildings are smaller-scaled and they stand away one from the other. Of course some flats have a lovely view of Jaffa's old harbour and the sea. But mostly the view is one of other buildings. The walk paths are narrow. They do not remind me of Old Jaffa's little narrow alleys. And for that people pay millions? Hell.
True, it's clean, well tended but, actually, it's pig ugly (sorry pork lovers), cheap looking, a fake.

I haven't seen such awful sculpture in ages. Worthy of a wedding hall or as a background object for an Almodovar movie. Where does one find such items? I guess there must be stores or galleries around carrying that kind of stuff. Ouch, my eyes are sore.
Am i a snob? Perhaps, in a way, kitsch can be fun, when it doesn't take itself seriously. The scale at Andromeda is... very serious.
There is a lovely view of the harbor from some points within the compound. The overpowering smell of orange and lilac flowers is magical. The sound of the running water all around evens out the noise coming from the busy Yefet road nearby, but it doesn't make up for the mmm how to put it nicely, fake feeling of the place. Jaffa for Disney-land lovers, that's what it is.

Thursday, March 29

Rainbow Warrior vs Shafdan

The Greenpeace flagship the "Rainbow Warrior" anchored just outside of the Jaffa harbor, opposite the "Shafdan" sewage plant, quite close to the spot where the sewage flows from the shafdan pipes into sea on an almost daily basis.
Decorated with yellow signs saying "Let the Sun Shine", the Rainbow Warrior is visiting the Israeli shoreline with a message of peace and a nuclear-free zone.

Jaffa - Andromeda strain: 1 - 0, sort of

After a lengthy discussion yesterday at the Ministry of the Interior, it was decided to open up the Andromeda closed compound (gated community) in Jaffa to the general public, BUT....

When the building permit for the Andromeda luxury apartment complex in Jaffa was given, the walkways and observation point were to be open to the public.
However, once the inhabitants moved in, all that was forgotten and the gates to the luxury alien colony remained locked, especially to Jaffa's large Arab population, who could enter working as maids, cleaners or gardeners, but not as legitimate visitors.
The legal fight taken up by a few Jaffa NGO's , "Bimkom" and the Society for the Protection of Nature's Tel Aviv community green forum isn't yet over (waiting for the court's decision) but yesterday the Ministry of the Interior committee in its plenary session decided more or less in favor of the Jaffa community: The walkways are to be open, 85% of the public square in the middle of then gated community's open spaces will be public as well (except for the fringes close to the apartments of the community, in order to give them some privacy) and the observation point above the harbour will be open to the general public as well.
In return the developers were given the right to construct an additional 50 apartments, implying an added 2 stories on top of the most northern building, which put the height of the buildings way above the guidelines of maximum height in Ajami.

I'm gonna have a nice pick nick there this weekend :)

Sunday, March 25

Andromeda Strain

Andromeda was a lovely princess, chained to the rocks, as an offer to a sea monster. Said hungry monster had been harassing the Jaffa fishermen for quite some time.
At the very last minute, Andromeda was, as is usually the case in fairy tales and myths, saved from becoming monster-food.
The rocks are still there, right at the Jaffa harbour entrance.
And lovely Andromeda is a mere memory, another story told by fishermen on nights when it's too stormy to go out to catch fish.

The "Andromeda Exclusive Gated Community" is another story though. Princess turned monster, so to say:

Once upon a time, the Greek orthodox community in Jaffa had a lovely piece of land, close to the harbour, next to the community's primary school.
The land was intended for future community use, such as constructing a high school or a community centre. By means of what appear to be rather shady deals (as has been published in the media) carried out by some of the heads of the Greek orthodox church (who are located in Jerusalem) part of the community's land was sold to a developer who constructed the "Andromeda" closed compound for the very very wealthy in Jaffa.

The construction permit was given, upon condition the lovely walk way in the middle of the compound would remain open to the public, who could use it to reach the Jaffa harbour from Yefet street, right opposite the Ajial school.
The developer was also supposed to construct additional services to the general public in the form of a kindergarden or a small public garden.
Not very surprisingly so, neither condition has been fulfilled until now.
The walkway is closed and open only to inhabitants of the well- guarded closed compound. And the garden? None there as yet.

But it gets worse: The Andromeda inhabitants have asked to keep the very public path private and for their own use only. So much for getting a building permit and not fulfilling its conditions.
The gate is closed and guarded. Regular Jaffa people cannot get in.

This Wednesday the Ministry of the Interior will discuss the Andromeda request in the plenary session of the "Beach Safeguarding Committee", at 10.00, 2 Kaplan street, Jerusalem.

The problems will be discussed in the plenary session, because of their special character, as any decision will reflect on other projects as well.

Wednesday, March 21

Workers of Israel Unite!

The big strike is on, and rightfully so.

In several towns and villages salaries have not been paid for months.
Working municipal employees have been reduced to hunger, electricity cut-offs, and homelessness as banks repossessed their houses.
Not paying a salary on time is a crime, punishable by law.

Not paying salaries, or not paying them on time, or not paying enough, or not paying for all hours worked, has become very common, throughout the Israeli work force.

It is, very simple, completely unacceptable.

The poverty of some municipalities and local councils is not new and is related, in some cases, to irresponsible and even plainly bad management by mayors and well paid higher officials.
But employees should not be made to pay the price, whatever the reasons for the bad financial situation of the local governing institutions.

In many cases, poverty of the local councils is almost unpreventable: when there are very high unemployment rates, people are poor. They receive discounts or even exemptions from paying municipal taxes. In wealthy towns, there are industrial parks and office-towers and shopping centres, who pay business-rate municipal taxes, thereby supplying the municipalities with the needed financial resources for developing and providing services as needed. But many places are unable to attract well paying hi-tech ventures and industry. In fact. many traditional, labour intensive factories and workshops have been closed due to competition from factories and sweatshops in third world countries where horrid and degrading employment conditions allow for lower prices.

As a result, over time, poor towns become poorer, especially when they are not located in the centre of the country and do not attract industry. Small stores are closed, as a result of opening shopping centres outside of the municipal boundaries offering tough competition. Thus even less municipal taxes are paid.

In many Arab villages and towns, all land for developing has been disowned by the state or placed under the municipal responsibility of nearby (Jewish) towns and as a result, municipal taxes go to that municipality.

Whatever the reasons, hard working municipal employees should be paid their salaries. Period.

Tuesday, March 20

Actions against the transfer of the poor from Jaffa

Land Day is coming up and with it the understanding that taking away Palestinian lands has been an ongoing phenomenon and the latest house demolition orders in Jaffa should be seen in that context.
A committee made out of representatives of the families and different organizations in Jaffa has been organized to plan and carry out a well coordinated fight against the municipal and private programs.
The families should not be left to fend for themselves all alone, each to fight their private legal struggle, as the general aim should be a change in policy rather than avert a few demolitions.

This coming land day the topic of the acitvities will be the loss of homes rather than lands in all the mixed cities: Jaffa, Ramle,. Lod and Haifa.

Wednesday, March 14

In Jaffa the beach is filthier

Jaffa's beach used to be lovely, soft golden colored sand, clear blue green water, a few ancient rock beds and indeed, also today the view is breathtaking: huge waves, a dramatic sky with windswept rain-clouds. Yet coming a ilttle closer, the disaster becomes quite clear.
The beach is simply full of filth of all kinds.
In nearby Bat Yam as well as on the more northern beaches of Tel Aviv the respective municipalities clean the beach daily. They are well aware of its value and know the city's people will complain if the soft sand looks less than pristine.

As to Jaffa's beach? Who cares?
Well, we do, but the municipality doesn't. Mishlama guys are you listening?
Jabaliya beach! It's filthy!

The storm of the last days has washed up enormous amounts of filth, ranging from black gobs (crude oil?) dead fish, dead cats, huge amounts of plastic bottles and all manner of yucky things better not mentioned during dinner. In other parts of the city, the beaches are kept meticulously clean, in Jaffa not so. Walking the beach has become hazardous. Anybody out there?

Jaffa winter 2007

Monday, March 12

456 People from Jaffa about to become homeless

Last Thursday, Bashara Saba, from HaLimon street in Ajami, had two uncalled visitors, representatives from the Tel Aviv municipality, who came to inform him he has to leave his home immediately, as next Sunday (yesterday, that is) his small 1.5 room home is to be demolished.

Bashara has lived in the tiny house since he was a little boy of 5 years old. It was build by his parents. In the house he lives with his wife, Esther, and their 3 young children, aged 8, 4 and 1 year old. Bashara and his wife receive social security payments, his wife because she lost her job a while ago, Bashara because he has serious health problems.
Bashara's life hasn't always been easy, but he lived in his own home, with his small family. A smimple life, like many others of Jaffa's poor. Close to the sea, a small garden, his lovely children. Life wasn't easy, but Bashara was pleased. Until Thursday, tat is.

In shock, he went to the municipality, floor 4, the man with whom he spoke , "a big boss", so he said, refused to identify himself.
He basically told Bashara the following: "If your children will not be out of the house on sunday morning, we'll destroy the house with them inside."
The man refused to identify himself and Bashara was too much in shock.

Bashara's contacted Gabi Abed of AlRabita and Fadi of Reut Sedaka (An Arab Jewish youth movement activew in Jaffa) who are trying to help him.
A lawyer provided by the organizations, managed to stall the demolition for 14 days.
Some hours ago, a meeting took place at the small home. A meeting to plan further action.

Many other families have received similar orders as well. About 456 people, adults, children, elderly most of them very poor, have received similar orders.
Ajami is going through a quick process of gentrification, house developers try to put their greedy fingers on every piece of land. And if that implies making a poor family homeless, they really don't care.
The municipality wants the poor to leave Jaffa, and guess who are Jaffa's poor?
Most of them are Palestinians (or "Israeli Arabs" as the Israeli word laundry likes to call them).

Housing problems have plagued Jaffa's poor for many years,. since 1948. For lack of any better alternative, many people constructed "illegal" housing. The same was done by Bashara's parents, who OWNED the land the house was built on and constructed the house
over 40 years ago. They paid a fine for illegal construction and have lived in the house ever since, until it became Bashara's.
There are acceptable solutions to the housing shortage: e.g. a developer buys the building rights from Bashara, then constructs four or five flats on the same land, and gives one nice apartment to Bashara. During the construction period, the builder provides Bashara with alternative reasonable housing.
In some cases this is what happens, and all people gain.
Yet Bashara wasn't so lucky. When a greedy developer sees a weakened man, he takes his chance and it appears Bashara, his wife and their small children may be the ones paying it.
Is there social justice for Jaffa's poor?

Police Harassment in Jaffa - Update

The video camera (of my video class) taken by the police during their search for drugs (or whatever it was they were looking for, but didn't find) at Z's house last week is back. Credits go to "Keshet beKehila", the TV station supporting the video class activities.

A short reminder: Z's a friend and student in the video class i teach at the Jaffa's "Women's Court".
Her house was broken into by the police (not the first time) who were on a search for drugs. Z doesn't do drugs, in fact she wasn't at home at the time of the second break in-search event.
On their latest search they took video equipment belonging to our group, which Z was using to shoot her own short movie.
Initially the police didn't want to hear about returning the equipment but Keshet pulled it off, stardust appears to affect the police more than expected.

Friday, March 9

Julia the Cat Update

Upon request and for all to see: Julia and her kittens.
She keeps schlepping them around and hiding them in new places almost every day.

The kittens have grown and have started to crawl around a little n their own.

In about another 4 weeks, we will be looking for prospective adoptive families for 2 of the kittens.

Drop me a private email if any of you is interested.

Theft by the police and it is all very very legal

My friend Z participates in a video class i teach. As she's working on a short movie about her and her sisters, she took some of our equipment home, in order to work on the movie until the next meeting of our class.

Two days ago, she slept at her mother's place.
During the early morning hours, the police (both detectives, special branch and border police!) came to her home, broke in, searched for drugs (they did so some weeks ago as well, and found nothing. Z doesn't do drugs.
Her small one-room place was literally taken apart. And they took the camera (OUR camera, on of the two cameras i teach with) with them.
They also arrested two neighbours of her on suspicion of drug dealing.

Z is not a suspect, she was informed by phone. But she's not going to get the equipment back, as it was taken in a search for drugs and. so the police (an officer called Noam, investigations, the Yiftah branch at "Salameh") said, "anything taken in the course of a drug search is taken legally, you may not get it back". They left a form with someone else.

When i called the police (the same Noam, who refused to give any further details, family name nor number) i received the same laconic answer.

It is not the first time the police search Z's home. Last time, some weeks ago, she was home. This time she wasn't. Terrible damage was done to her things. The police confirm that Z is not a suspect. So what is their point?

The police state they arrested 23 drug dealers during the early morning hours. On the basis of their behavior at Z's place, i rather doubt what the police says. Surem, they should fight against drug dealing, but harassing Z isn't exactly part of that.

Our camera was stolen, by "the man". Bye bye class.

Jaffa, 2007

Tuesday, March 6

The Men in White at your doorstep: forced hospitalization for the poor

Yesterday 2 very big "men in white" arrived at Tamy's doorstep to take her mother away to the local "cuckoo bin".
Some time ago i wrote about Tamy, a young girl from an extremely poor family.
Her mother has become so depressed by now, that she went to see a psychiatrist. She's so distressed by her poverty and by the weekly return of the goons from the hotza'a lapoel (the repossessors of the Tel Aviv municipality) that she has problems falling asleep and yes, she does also talk about suicide.
She hoped to receive a mild anti-depressant and more than that, a place to talk, to cry, an ear that would listen, a professional shoulder to cry on, so to speak.

After talking for about half an hour, the psychiatrist suggested hospitalization. Tamy's mum wouldn't hear of it. Yes, she wants therapy, and she wants medicine as well, she does think a day clinic would help her and said she would be wiling to attend. She actually did so in the past and found the daily support sessions, group meetings and individual therapy etc. to be helpful. The psychiatrist insisted and called guards and police. Tamy's mum said she was not interested and left for home.

A knock on the door (usually indicating yet another visit from the municipal gorilla squad, although the house is almost empty by now) started a procedure by the end of which Tamy's mum found herself in the local mental hospital. Against her will.

Tamy's mum, who was a battered wife, has a lot of problems. Being mentally ill is NOT one of them. She is poor and desperate. If they really want to help her, they should stop the weekly gorilla harassment, the lack of food, the fear of being evicted, the continued horror she's living in. All that's needed is a little humanity on the side of the municipality, the bank and the house owner. Social security payment on which she can survive. It is THAT simple.

Today young Tamy will be going to arrange legal aid for her mum. 18 Year old girls should be having fun, but it's a very long time ago since Tamy had any fun.

Sunday, March 4

Fear of Falling

And elderly, disabled woman, racked by pain in her ailing body and her youngest, 17 year old, daughter ran away from their small Jaffa home last Thursday night.
The family moved to Israel from far away Kazakhstan several years ago. The mother, an accountant by training, provided for her girls, working as a store manager and sales woman.
She was convinced into buying a home, understanding she would be providing long term financial security for her daughters and herself. The apartment seller hid serious defects in the flat which he sold to her for a price way above its true market value.
In spite of that, the mother managed to pay the monthly mortgage payments and lived with her children of what was left of her salary after the mortgage payment. All that changed after she became seriously ill. She was fired from her job and started to live on her social security payment for the disabled and the child allowances. Her monthly income dropped to a little more than 2000 NIS from which she has to pay a monthly mortgage return of 2000 NIS . The logical thing would be to sell the flat, but she bought it for a price far above the market value and even if she manages to sell it (which is problematic, as it is in a very bad condition) she would still be left with big debts. Moreover, as she used to be a house owenr, she would not be given rent subsidy nor public housing and from 2000 NIS a month, one cannot rent a house in the central area of Israel, where her daughters live. She needs to be close as she needs their help. She doesn't speak Hebrew and is disabled.

So her youngest daughter dropped out of school to provide for the family: food, electricity, water. The 17 year old girl holds two jobs: as a house cleaner and in a launderette.
The mother missed a few mortgage payments and what started of as a small debt to the bank is quickly growing into a monster.
The bank started legal procedures against her, unwilling to make another mortgage agreement with her.
Every few weeks there is a knock on the door and a few gorillas, supported by one or two police men, come to the house to repossess more things.
The home is almost empty. Even the refrigerator and cooker have been taken away (i believe this is in fact illegal). All they have, are the beds they sleep on. And a TV donated by a friend, which has receipts stuck on it, to prove it doesn't not belong to the family, so it will not be taken away.
The 17 year old girl is seriously considering going into prostitution: "she can make far more money that way", so she said.

Last Thursday the girl and her mother ran away from their home. The mother may be arrested any minute because of her debts. They can no longer live with the fear of that knock on the door. They are desperate. They asked for money to go to a relative, as they couldn't afford the public transport fare.
The mother has an appointment with the legal aid services. But the burocratic procedures move very slowly.
And banks are very powerful.

Jaffa, 2007

Saturday, March 3

"God bless this home"

On the wall of the dining room a framed, glass-covered painting still reads "God bless this home" and yesterday afternoon, indeed, a miracle happened.

Family dinners are normally a happy affair for this Jaffa family: children, parents, aunts, everybody gathered around the table. Delicious food, the latest story from the children's school, perhaps some neighbourhood gossip. A weird noise from coming above makes the father feel uncomfortable: "Something is not right". A gut-feeling. He shouts that every one should get up and run, NOW. And they do. A few seconds later the ceiling caves in. No one hurt. A miracle.

All furniture has been destroyed. The children's school bags are somewhere underneath the rubble of very heavy concrete slabs, stones and rusty iron support bars, that until yesterday afternoon made up the roof of the family's home.

The family lives in an ancient house in Ajami's HaMifras street, just off street nr. 60, or Kedem street, as it is called these days.

The home was owned by Amidar, a public housing company, who, so the father told me, "didn't bother to keep up and maintain the house". The father, although this is really the house owner's (Amidar) responsibility, put up concrete support beams outside and in the kitchen a few years ago after he realized the walls were coming apart. In some spots the cracks are so large you can actually see the sky through them.
The house is close to the sea and to Jaffa's harbor. It has a beautiful view. All around the house large new homes for the extremely wealthy are being constructed.

The story of Amidar's horrid maintenance policy is not a new one in Ajami. Many of it's old houses are literally crumbling down. The lovely old houses have been built with "kurkar" stones, a soft natural sandstone that easily crumbles due to the humid sea air. It needs maintenance and upkeep. The lack there of turns the homes over time into dangerous buildings. The high ceilings were constructed making use of iron support beams and when the roof is not regularly treated, the winters rains start finding their way in through the small cracks, thus creating an oxidation process in the thick iron support rails, which eventually weakens the ceiling's construction.
Amidar never did any of these things, which as owner, they should have done.

The heavy concrete coming down yesterday all but destroyed the family's living room.
A building safety engineer sent over by the municipality declared the whole building as unsafe and the ceilings as well as the walls of the other rooms may cave in as well, any minute. A social worker sent over by the municipality wanted to give the family of five (one of them severely disabled) 400 NIS to go and stay in one of Tel Aviv's rather seedy youth hostels for the coming three days. The family has nowhere to go. No insurance either.
Obviously a family of 5, one of them disabled, cannot find a place for three days (because of Purim the municipal welfare department will be closed tomorrow) even in the most seedy hostel in Tel Aviv with a mere 400 NIS. So much for the municipality's emergency treatment.

Some years ago, the family was offered to buy their house from Amidar. The program initialized by the government to allow inhabitants of public housing to buy their homes from the housing companies wasn't very successful in Jaffa. The reason being simple: the prices of the houses are way simply too expensive for Jaffa's poor and not so poor families. The gentrification process in Ajami has turned the smallest hovel into a potential millionaire's abode, especially if it has a beautiful view of the sea or the harbour and the prices went through the proverbial ceiling, literally sky rocketed.
A house developer offered to help the family buy their home, if they would give him, in return, the right to construct another 2 floors on top of the original one story. The family took up the offer, but the developer never started the construction, thus leaving the family in limbo. For seven years already.
Nor did the developer do necessary maintenance work. The family did whatever they could afford by themselves.
Now they are homeless.

They are not the only family in Jaffa.

Once upon a time, before 1948, Ajami was a wealthy neighbourhood, with beautiful, comfortable houses , constructed for people who had done well in the oranges trade. Jaffa had grown wealthy, its oranges exported through its harbour all over the western world as well as the Mediterranean, were the city's main source of income.
In 1948 Ajami became a barbed wire surrounded prison camp for the 3000 or so Palestinians who had not left for Gaza, Lebanon or the West Bank.
Quickly afterwards, poor Jewish migrants moved into the neighbourhood, sharing the houses with the Palestinian families still living there. In each room a family. Bathroom and kitchen were shared by all. Everybody was poor and the Palestinian and Jewish families shared what little they had. the mothers often becoming good friends, the children of all families feeling at home in each family's room.Over time Ajami's Jewish families started to move out, to Bat Yam, to Jaffa Gimmel and Daled, to Rishon leZion. Ajami became an almost Palestinian neighbourhood once more.

The houses were managed by Israel's public housing companies, Amidar and later Halamish as well. "Managed" is perhaps a grandiose word for what they did. In reality the housing companies did little else than taking the monthly rent. They didn't bother to maintain, and over time the salty sea air and humid climate took their toll: Ajami's beautiful houses became dilapidated, partially ruined.
Once the houses had been declared "dangerous", the original inhabitants were offered small public housing apartments in Jaffa's slummy housing estates in return for the houses they had often lived in almost all their lives. The houses were then repaired and sold for millions to wealthy Israeli's who had come to understand the true value of the lovely big high-ceilinged villas with a view of the sea. Ajami is undergoing a process of gentrification. House prices have rocketed and only the very wealthy can afford to buy a flat.
This leaves the local Palestinian as well as the poorer Jewish population with very little choice: they are simply forced out.

The lack of maintenance by the public housing companies pays off. Once the poor families have left the dangerous buildings, a quick restoration process starts and the buildings are sold for millions to those who can afford it.

Jaffa's poor are left to fend for themselves. This often results in "illegal" construction. People have no choice. Over the last few weeks, several Ajami families have been given demolition orders.
A well planned public and affordable housing policy can solve the problem. But it does not seem the municipality is interested in this.
They'd rather see the rich and wealthy take over. No one cares very much about the poor. And actually, it's not only the poor who are slowly being kicked out of Ajami.