Thursday, May 15

Andromeda round nr.... i lost the count

The Jaffa's Andromeda Compound's developers want to add more and even higher buildings and are actively demanding building permits to do so, as was declared during the local building council meeting this Wednesday at the Tel Aviv municipality (also attended by Jaffa activists, reps from "Bimkom", lawyer Hisham Shbeita, the spokesperson of the Society for the Protection of Nature's southern city forum and yours truly).

Parts of Jaffa undergo a speedy gentrification process at the cost of the local, mostly Palestinian, population who are being forced out of their beloved city. They stand no chance against the combined forces of big money and the municipality, to whom such principles as affordable housing and distributive justice, community oriented planning and housing rights for all are foreign concepts.

Money buys orientalism and fake romance with, admittedly, a lovely view of Jaffa's ancient harbour and the Mediterranean sea. I have no problem with that, as long as it's not at the cost of others. If the rich and wealthy want to live in Disneyland-like kitsch, that's their own right. As long as the local community doesn't have to pay for their monstrosity.

The Andromeda closed compound was constructed on lands belonging to Jaffa's orthodox Christian Palestinian community. There are those who think the land changed hands in a rather illegal manner. It might be true, but then, it might not. There have been and perhaps still are police investigations into the matter, some of the Greek orthodox community leaders have left the country.

The land was supposed to serve the community's goals, i wonder if the money it brought in served the community or went into other pockets. Honestly, i have no way of knowing the details, but that's the story on the street.

What is certain, however, that the compound poses problems to the original Jaffa community on many levels.
As a closed compound (it was supposed to be open to the public, but in spite of court orders, it still is NOT) it's a stranger to Jaffa, an alien in our midst. The prices are such that it is available only to the very wealthy. Not to local people, who are banned from entering. "Security" they say.

From some of the compound's workers (unnamed for obvious reasons) i learned that one of Israel's crime families houses some of its "employees" in the compound, so i very much doubt the security claim. Or rather, i find it more than a little amusing.

The massive building mass has completely obliterated the view from Yefet street (EL Hilwe or Ajami street, as it was called in the past) towards the harbor and the sea.
The compound's high buildings, which were supposed to blend in with their surroundings, stick out as a large heavy mass above the lovely buildings of Ajami and Jaffa's harbour. Orientalist in style, they belong neither here nor there. Nor do they blend in with the French hospital compound and the church "next door".

The public buildings, for the good of the community, labelled "cultural" and "educational" have not been constructed up to this day. They were conditions of the original building permit. The developers now want to change "cultural" into "religious" and construct a synagogue. I really have nothing against a synagogue, and if they wish to construct one, sure, go ahead, but NOT instead of the cultural or educational building "for the good of the community", as the original permit demands.

Moreover, the Greek Orthodox school was supposed to have access, according to the original permit. This demand has not been met either.

When faced with these demands, the developers say they will answer them, but only after all the other construction has been completed. We know that trick. In the mean time the existing buildings have been put to use and now? They can always "not finish something" and therefore justify not doing anything for the community.

Well, now the developers have filed plans for even MORE construction.

Now the developers are demanding additional building rights for several more and even higher buildings.
The original design had a sort of "sloping" skyline, with a high point in the middle and lower buildings around it with rooftops on varying heights, sloping downwards to blend in with the skyline of the lower buildings around.
The new concept, if constructed, will completely mess up (there is no other word for it) the lovely Old Jaffa skyline from ALL directions.

Thus, we are faced with not only a serious social justice problem created by a closed compound, but also with a cultural one. Israel has a long and ugly history of destroying landmarks. If the new program will be authorised, the Jaffa skyline will be yet another victim to money destroying history and culture.

An even weirder part is that the developers now want to construct a commercial colonnade (on the part of the compound facing Yefet street) and present this as a service to the public as "building for the community". Right, they want to make lots of money on renting out commercial property as a service to the community. Allow me to laugh.

The representative of the inhabitants and flat owners at the compound did not agree to the added buildings construction permit request as they feel it will lower their quality of life as well as the value of their expensive property. They feel the original developers (the company switched hands over time) sold them lies in many ways, and i guess they truly did not get what they had hoped to get: peace and quiet in luxury surroundings nicely closed off from where they are actually located, slummy, poor Palestinian Jaffa.
Although luxurious, the compound is actually densely populated with many big building blocs grouped closely together separated by narrow food paths. Very much unlike the traditional building style of near by Ajami. Weirdly enough, in that sense (density) it is much more like the ugly social housing compounds of Jaffa Gimmel and Daled.

The illustrative image shows part of the Andromeda compound sticking out above what once was part of the "Maronite" neighbourhood


ee said...


I'm interested: what is your stand on the Neve Tzedek neighbourhood?

Lirun said...

this is not my experience.. anyone can get into the gate at the yeffet street side.. security lets people in and out.. and there is a sign saying that there is public access right next to the security booth..

the feel of andromeda is not like ajami but it is a bit like the old city to which i think it aspired to be like.. the old city is full of overpriced port apartments filled with jews.. no different to andromeda..

i agree with the compound feel.. and i am not a huge fan of the design features of the complex but i do think that it will age well and it does mix up the scene a little.. but as you know the adjoining ROVA quarter is not very different and as to the architectural inconsistency - well the same could have been said about the scots and the french when they built their buildings in yaffo that now you say we should aspire to assimilate to..

my biggest gripe is the detachment of the building from yaffo.. i think it breaks up the urban flow and constipates the north of the village.. inevitably when i show yaffo to guests it becomes something we need to circumnavigate rather than enjoy.. and thats a shame.. but i dont know that i agree about the view being robbed.. most of yeffet is view free anyway..

most importantly at the selfish personal level i would be very upset to learn of the skyline being further disrupted.. what a shame.. the majestic little hill that peeks on to yaffo is picturesque.. it has a few spires and some mosques and its beautiful..

Lirun said...

by the way i think u need to do a post on the peres peace centre.. i would love to hear your views..

yudit said...

Neve Zedek started out as a new neighbourhood for Jaffa's wealthy Jewish families who had had enough of the cramped conditions in Jaffa's Old City.
Over time it became a poor neighbourhood then was gentrified and now prices are fit, so i heard, for oligarchs only.
Whenever a gentrification process comes at the sole cost of the original population who is basically forced out, i find that very problematic and unjust. However, i know too little about Neve Zedek to have a specific opinion.
Today Neve Zedek is picture book pretty, but it doesn't have the appeal of a "real" neighbourhood somehow.

yudit said...

Lirun, try to get in when looking "dark" coloured, like lawyer Hisham Shbeita, some weeks ago. They called the police to kick him out. Other people have had similar experiences. After having been threatened with contempt of court lawsuits (a court decision had to be made to gain access) the owners put up the access signs.
Yet by law they still do not follow the orders, because the access from the harbour direction is still locked, at all hours and all days. This goes complete against the directions that were part of the original building permit, which stated 4 public entrances and walk ways. Today there is one, and it is not truly open. You need to ring a bell, show your bag's content and be let in. You are not allowed to "loiter" as you have been given only "right of passing through". This is so much in contempt of court i cannot even begin to clarify.

I'm NOT saying anywhere we should aspire to any particular building style, contemporary, modern or not, but rather that the style should harmoniously blend in. In that sense the huge construction block like buildings are very different from Ajami's much smaller houses.
Ajami's Arab architecture makes use of the natural wind directions as a form of natural low energy cost air-conditioning: the high ceilings allow warm air to rise, the round open windows placed one opposite each other allow the wind coming from the sea to blow the hot air out of the house as it were.
Andromeda merely looks Orientalist, but it did not really adopt the positive parts of Ajami's building style (i am not at all talking about beauty, which is in the eye of the beholder) but rather some stylistic elements taken out of context.
Mind you, this is the problem with much of the new building going on in Ajami, an inflation of arches and arabesque decorations.
But the true problem with Andromeda from an architectural point of view is its massiveness, it's complete lack of elegance. It overpowers the skyline and the new request will make this even worse.

From a social point of view any elitist closed compound is problematic in my eyes. This has much to do with ideology, but then, i am an ideologically minded person.

Before the construction you could see a lovely view of the harbour and the sea from Yefet street. This view has been completely obliterated by the big Andromeda buildings. In my eyes the view is part of the public's wealth and it was taken away from us. Now it can only be enjoyed by those actually living at "Andromeda. What a pity.

The "rova" is in my eyes, totally disgusting, but that's taste.
I was inside a few times and i truly do not get it. The flats are small, cramped, have only one fresh air direction but it appears there are many "frayerim"...

I agree with you about the lovely Jaffa skyline. I believe safeguarding it for the generations to come is important.

However i cannot but see the whole idea of Andromeda as part of the gentrification process of Jaffa, the way Jaffa's people are being robbed of their homes by the rich and wealthy.
Now if 15% of the flats would be given to poor families.... :)

Lirun said...

ok - well i have never seen anyone get their bags checked.. the guards are never that interested in who they let in.. and while you and i met in the winter - i assure you that most of the year i am both dark and unshaven :)

being partly yemenite and partly sudanese i dont always look lke a native in andromeda and i go there a lot.. sometimes just to play chess on the outdoor board..

i love hazerot yaffo.. i think its interesting and i love how the courtyard is completely open and filled with environmental art.. young couples go to sit and dream there and people stroll through to escape the J blvd noise.. i think (to my mind) that this is an example of sze not being a problem..

i guess at the core the money rush is something that can rarely be avoided.. only slightly postponed.. i dont know any society where enshrining the presence of the disadvantaged has ever been a priority.. keep in mind that in many ways the local interest of politicians is to increase local wealth..

cleansing from the poor tends to look like a local achievement as it gets repackaged as local prosperity rather than discrimination..

i dont believe that it is genuine ethnic cleansing.. i dont think israel loves yaffo nearly enough for that to happen.. and i say this as someone has receives feedback day in day out about my address (yaffo)..

regarding the architecture.. my gripe to the developers of ajami is please stop designing paranoia and histeria based buildings that look like voluntary incarceration.. why the forts? and secondly.. open your eyes and you will notice that only few yaffo buildings (not just ajami) do not have round/eliptic windows.. the rounded windows are a signature of yaffo buildings.. the new ones are as local looking as i look chinese.. ie not quite.. :)

Tamar Orvell said...

Yudit, this is an amazing post, and the comments and your responses provide meaningful content for continued thought, dialogue, research, documentation, and more balanced planning and action. 

I wonder, is this "...I lost the count" post describing how families, communities, societies, nations look when people (anywhere, anytime) have gone crazy chasing money, power, and privilege? 

How do representatives of the "moderate" streams of the three monotheist religions weigh in on the situation you expose? What insights and proposals have they brought to the conversation? Would you know? Have they been invited to participate in the problem identification and solutions?

Oh, and I love the new white background for your blog posts that makes reading easier. 

Thank you for sounding your voice.

yudit said...

The "i lost the count" relates mostly, but not only, to the very long struggle in relation to "Andromeda: there have been so many rounds of legal and municipal sessions concerning the rights of access for the general public, the extravagant building permits, the new request to construct even more, although the public services (which were conditions in the first and original building permit)have been neglected etc.
The community keeps loosing in spite of the legal decisions in our favour.
The developers act against the court's decisions and they keep getting away with it.

I believe the beach front belongs to all of us as well as to the next generations and cannot and should not be turned into private property

Tamar Orvell said...

Yes, I understood that the post title refers to all that you detail in your reply (thank you) to my comment, which was not clear. I meant to say, not to ask, that the post also describes how families, communities, societies, nations look when people (anywhere, anytime) have gone crazy chasing money, power, and privilege.

My question remains, and maybe you have the answer: How do representatives of the "moderate" streams of the three monotheist religions weigh in on the situation you expose? What insights and proposals have they brought to the conversation? Have they been invited to participate in the problem identification and solutions?

yudit said...

Tamar, the answer is complex.
First of all the Greek Orthodox commmunity: on a local level, in Jaffa, they are all Palestinians. Only the higher level priests and bishops (i am not certain about the exact titles used in this community's religious hierarchy)located in Jerusalem, have a Greek background and from what Jaffa community members told me, are sometimes rather out of touch with what the local community in Jaffa wants, needs and feels.

As a result the lands were sold to the Andromeda developers and it is unclear what the local Greek orthodox community members gained from the if at all.

The moderate Jewish religious leaders are nowhere to be seen in Jaffa, i'm afraid and as to the moderate Muslim leaders, they are involved in the fight against the expansion of the compound

Tamar Orvell said...

Thanks for your reply. Pity. What about the new-ish center in Yafo that the reform Jewish community established? Is there no one there with an interest in this issue? I would be happy to try to help identify such a person or group in that organization, as a start. What do you say?

yudit said...


They opened their brand new "Mishkenot Daniel" in Jaffa, but then they tried to establish a "mehina kdam zvait" in the heart of Ajami", which raised a lot of bad feelings amongst the community.
I believe they intend well but are in some ways very disconnected

yudit said...

Mishkenot Daniel IS the center i meant.

they do some work in Jaffa. and about Jaffa for non jaffoites.
Their Jaffa based work, well, if they want to join the coalition they are more than welcome

Lirun said...

again - i disgaree that this is a religious issue..