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