Saturday, December 17

Finally something good about the Tel Aviv municipality or was it too early?

I had noticed them before: big, brown and VERY quick, the Jaffa rats. Usually about at night, suddenly jumping and running from a garbage can or an open sewer.
Recalling horror stories about the plague, i wondered what one was to do.

Then, last week, i met one of them on my staircase when returning during the evening hours, and another one in the early morning when picking up my newspaper in our small yard downstairs. Then another and another and a few more.
Obviously a problem. Rats, fleas on rats, disease, remembering pictures in my history books on the Middle Ages in Europe. Rats, cat-sized and very present.

So i sent a mail to the municipal services, not expecting much of it, as my other mails to them have never led to anything beyond the "we received your appeal and are considering it carefully" and the like.
Once i even received an answer about 4 months after having sent a mail concerning the broken paving and stairs at the end of my street. They answered me they are aware of the situation but as it would cost more then XXXX NIS, it will take time to raise the money. Repairs have not yet been carried out, 2 years after. And the children still play on the broken playground constructions endangering themselves.

Yet, to my great surprise, the very next day someone came over from the municipality and spread some rat poison in our yard, and even put up a notice to keep pets and small children indoors and be careful not to touch the nasty stuff. I just hope the Jaffa rats are not of the reading type.

But then, some days after, the truth came out.
My previous impression of the munipal services record was indeed too good to be true:
True, the municipal pied piper made it all the way to my home. But reacting on a request sent to them last year....
Their quick visit wasn't that quick after all: simply was an answer to a very old request.....

So much for municipality services in Jaffa.

The Jaffa Conference, 2005

This wednesday the Jaffa conference on the social and community situation in Jaffa was held at the local music center.
Organised by the Mishlama (our local branch of the Tel Aviv municipality), it was supposed to function as a place for discussing the many social problems in an open forum of both municipality and mishlama representatives and us, the people of Jaffa and Jaffa's many NGO's.

Ron Huldai, the Tel Aviv (and Jaffa) major, came to say "hi", then left.
I guess that's representative of the municipality's stand towards Jaffa, saying "Hi" and leaving.
Many of the city's reps were not present. Those that were... were not too open to a real discussion.

I suppose the real talks took place during the breaks. The rest of it was not much more of a show and not a very good one at that.

If it wasn't so sad, it would have been funny: to see the Tel Aviv officials deal with the embarassing statistics and other data. Educational professionals trying to convince a 53% school drop-out rate has nothing to do with the "successful" Jaffa public schools.
The presence of the "shahaf" police on Yefet street on saturdays was denied (or rather, put in a strange perspective) by the commander of those chivalrous forces.
Sad, sad sad.

Monday, October 24

Update: police harassment also during the day hours

Tony the policeman is at it, once more.
Remember Abed's unpleasant experiences with the police in Jaffa? (see post from October 17, September 23 and an earlier post from September the 9th). Tony Boukra, the policeman who harassed Abed before apparently has a good memory for faces. So does Abed.

Yesterday Abed was on his way in South Jaffa, close to the "funny bridge" (Jaffaites know which one i'm talking about and for the rest of you, i promise a photograph, soon) in broad daylight. A police jeep passed by, drove a little slower , then went on. One of the policemen was Tony Boukra, whose details Abed took last time he was harassed.
Abed is used to the practice, nothing special.

Yet then , when he went on, the jeep stopped, policemen came out of the jeep and stopped Abed for his ID.
Ofcourse Abed gave his ID to them. doing otherwise might land him in jail. The police checked it, then told Abed to wait.
Abed waited and waited, about 15 minutes. Finally the police returned Abed his ID.
The police were rude and shouted at Abed throughout the check. No doubt that, had Abed answered them in the same words and tone, he would have been arrested and accused of "bothering a public official in his activites or some such". Abed is aware of that danger, besides, he's never disrespectful of other people, he's naturally polite.

Abed requested the details of the policeman, who asked him why. Once more, the policemen were not wearing name-tags as they are suposed to do.

Abed said that he was tired of being harassed and wants to file a complaint.
The policeman gave Abed his details, a name and a number.
One more event in a long strain. Each single event isn't so problematic, it's the ongoing harassment that makes it so problematic. there is also something in the tone and the aggression in the way the police behave, that make it difficult. Rude is to small a word to describe it.
Israel is not a police state, yet. But we accept it, the police behave in a rude way, giving orders, making people waste their time by stopping them, in the street for unnecessary investigations.
I can in fact imagine a similar affair, stopping someone and checking his ID, in a different manner. Were the police to go about it, in a polite manner, "sorry to bother you, would you mind, have a nice day" etc, perhaps the experience would be somewhat different. In reality the police presence is threatening by itself, deeply unpleasant. It doesn't give me a sense of security at all.

There is nothing particularly suspicious about Abed, just a young man, walking around in a public area.
Or is that, by itself, suspicious?

More blogs about police harassment.

Friday, October 21

Cutting expenses the quick way: so simple to hurt the poor

One out of every 3 children in this country is poor.
A simple sentence, but what does it mean?
And how does it come about?

As usual, the story is true, the names have been changed.

Maram is 18, a high-school student. Her father died when she was a baby. Her father didn't have Israeli citizenship, so the Social Security did not recognize Maram's mother as a widow.

Maram's mother and father lived in the Occupied Territories. Maram's older sisters were born there. Because Maram's mother has Israeli citizenship, her daughters were and are supposed to receive Israeli citizenship as well.
Only Maram, who was born in Israel, has Israeli citizenship. Maram has lived in Israel all her life. In Jaffa.

Maram has 3 older sisters. One of them, the mother of a 7 year old girl, lives at Maram's house.
The husband of the sister was murdered, during the sister's pregnancy. It happened in front of the sister's eyes and left her severely traumatized, until this very day. Long hours are spent sitting and crying in front of her husband's grave.

Maram's grandmother lives at the same house, a shack really, with an asbestos roof.

The house is very clean. there is little furniture beyond some plastic chairs, mattresses covered with colorful cloths and an old table. The women have done there best with tablecloths and family photographs, to turn the place into a welcoming home.
It's pleasant to sit there at this time of the year, when it is no longer hot but not yet cold. The coffee is strong and sweet. The ice cold glass of water is a pleasure.
There is water in the fridge, but little else.

Maram's mother, who suffers from diabetes and very high blood pressure, works as an office cleaner, 2 hours every morning, 6 days a week. Her wage is 1.200 NIS a month, about 270 US $. She is, for health reasons, not allowed to work more than that and has all the necessary medical documents to prove it.

She used to receive child allowance for Maram. But since Maram turned 18, that has stopped. Yet Maram is a full time school girl, who cannot yet earn her own money. Maram's mother also used to receive an income supplement, which for some strange reason has not been paid for the last 4 months.

Maram's mother went to the Social Security office, where she was told she is no longer eligible, no reason given.
A letter written in Hebrew "officialese" states that, as she is earning 1.900 NIS a month, her income is "too high" to award her a supplement. Yet her wage is only 1.200 (before taxes).
Perhaps a burocratic mistake, but recitifying it may take months, as she will have to go to the labor court. Even if rectified, there will be no retroactive payment for the lost months.

In the mean time, the family (Maram's grandmother, mother, sister with a young child and Maram herself) have to make do with 1.200 NIS a month.
The grandmother's old age allowance is spent on medicine, rental, electricity, water and municipal taxes. The 1.200 NIS salary of Maram's mother is spent buying food, clothing, public transport etc. for 5 women.
For Maram it means never going to the movies, never having new clothes, never buying a coke or an ice cream at the school kiosk, not having all the schoolbooks you need, but worse, not always having something to eat.
A food NGO helps, but the food they donate, doesn't last very long. There is still that much month, when the food has run out.

The fridge is often empty.
So a neighbor sometimes donates a bag of rice, some bread left from yesterday. Maram gets a sandwhich at school. More than once it is the only thing she eats.
That's what it means to be "one out of three" (children are poor).

Perhaps a burocratic mistake, perhaps something which can be rectified, but Maram is often hungry.

Monday, October 17

Police presence in Jaffa, nothing but a show

The police are still making their daily (and nightly ) shows. Jeeps on the streets, police cars cruising around, special units members on their motor cycles. Roadblocks stopping & searching cars and people as if they really mean it.

Yet is their anything behind this show?

Are they really doing something more than being present?

True, police presence on a certain street in in a certain neighborhood, brings down the street-crime rate in that particular street or neighborhood, for as long as the presence takes. (And usually during that time, the crime goes elsewhere, indoors or to another neighborhood). Crime is a business like any other, after all.

Yet it appears that even in Jaffa, it (police presence) is nothing but a show. The house of acquaintances of mine was burgled during the day, on Yom Kipur.
The owners (and their dog) were out for the day.
Nothing much was taken, because there was little to take in the first place. Only money. the thieves did not take the computer, DVD nor TV.
On Yom Kipur there are very few cars on the streets and walking around on in Jaffa with a DVD or TV is suspicious, especially when the stores and repair workshops are closed.
So only a small amount of money was taken (in addition to the horrible sense of having your privacy invaded).

The house ofcourse was a terrible mess, as the thieves or thief had gone through all cupboards and storage places and thrown everything on the floor. Someone had also taken the time to go through the computer and read the football results on the internet...

My acquaintance called the police. They told him to come to the station, file a complaint ant that would be it.
"So i'll leave the rooms as it is, undisturbed, so you can come and take finger prints or whatever needs to be done". "That's not necessary, said the police man or women on the other side, " you can organize and clean, as there is no need to take fingerprints or anything, we won't come for that".

So unless the thief is caught by chance and he or she actually confesses, there will never be a way to prove the theft, as there is no link between the suspect and the particular break in. Also, perhaps the thief is known, has a record and the fingerprints are there.....
We will never know, as the police make no effort to come and gather the evidence. The crime scene is of no interest to them. What we've all learned from TV series (don't touch the crime scene) is useless. The police won't come in any case.

What it means is the following, if you live in Jaffa, forget about police protection or police services (they are supposed to serve us, the general population, right?). Also, forget about intensive policing, fighting crime, "zero tolerance" and whatever terminology the police spokes person and the people from the "mishlama" (the local municipality branch of the Tel Aviv- Yafo municipality) like to use.

It is all a show, to make the impression something is done. To perhaps provide some part of the public with a (false) sense of safety and security.

The thieves must also be pleased, they know that as long as they are not caught red-handed in the act and do not confess, there will never be proof against them.
So why do they have all those police cars and jeeps on the street? Why are people stopped and searched on the streets?
It's all a show and it has the effect of a show, short-lived for the public, a bitter & longer lasting memory for those stopped and searched.

But then, perhaps the person who broke in was a junkie, in need of some quick money to buy the next fix. The drug problem is not solved by policing, however intensive.
The "drug problem" is a symptom of a deeper social conflict and "crime fighting" is not a very efficient way of dealing with that.

Thursday, October 13

Ramadan, Yom Kipur, some thoughts on poverty

Around 5.30 afternoon, most of Adjami's streets are quiet. Few cars, little noise.
When it gets THAT quiet during the day hours, (or rather, early evening hours, i haven't yet gotten used to winter time, it gets dark so early now) you can even hear the noise of cutlery, of dishes being set down on the table, coming from the many dining rooms, gardens and balconies, where families are sitting down to break the Ramadan fast.

Today it is especially quiet, it's also Yom Kipur, the Day of Atonement. Hardly any cars, lots of children on bikes, people walking in the middle of the streets. Time to say "i'm sorry, please forgive me" on this holiest of holy days.
And there is a lot to be forgiven.

Over 415 NGO's hand out food to over 450.000 hungry Israelis, both Jews and Arabs (source: a recently published research by Benny Gidron of Ben Gurion University). About a 100 NGO's operate soup kitchens, where the very poor receive a daily dinner often for free or for a tiny payment (2 NIS). About 40% of the clients of the soup kitchens are elderly people, whose tiny pensions do not cover more than the rental for their small flats and municipality taxes and electricity. Food is a luxury, medicine they only buy when there is no choice, often instead of buying food or paying the rent. Quite a few are people suffering from mental problems and diseases. Often they have been hosiptalized for many years. Yet some time ago, it was decided they should live in the community, which was to be more humane. Yet communities do not have the tools to care for them. And for many, after having been cared for for so many years, the expecatation to be independent is rather large. Their families often live far away. Friends find it diificult to cope with their "strangeness" and the neighbors are a little scared. For many of this group, the soup kitchens are also a social frame work, the only place they meet other people.
Other clients are recent immigrants, who often work at more than 1 job. But when you work through a temp job agency, you often do not receive the minimal wage and you are not in a position you can do much about it. Wages are no paid on time, are partialy paid. Often new immigrants are not aware of their labor rights, and this lack of knowledge is abused by quite a few employers. When trying to deal with these rogue employers, the temp agencies disappear and are opened under a new name at the same address, with the same people. Yet it is difficult to take them to court.
Other soup kitchen clients are 1-parent families with children, no longer able to get by.

Many people are too ashamed to go to the soup kitchens, as there are many more poor then the number mentioned by the NGO's. Or they have not been found eligible, just like all the other families mentioned by the social worker i spoke to. She can refer 5 families to the food NGO. She has to make an impossible choice and not refer another 95 families who are just as needy, as hungry. At the end of the market day, you see those people gathering fruit and vegetables at the market, from the floor. The half rotten potatoes and cabages, lemons too spotty to be sold for even a low "end of the day" market price: the poor, getting some food.

And i am not talking about the third world. Or well, perhaps i am, in a sense. The income differences between the wealthy and the poor in Israel, are the largest in the western world. Maybe this is not the western world.

Poverty has become "common", an accepted phenomenom. And the poor are blamed for being poor.

Welfare payments have been cut again and again, while PR campaigns by the government have created an atmosphere in which recipients are seen as thieves and parasites "unwilling to work".

Yet many of those so-called "parasites" work. Only, their wages are below the legal minimum. Employers can get away not paying enough to their temporary employees. If they complain, they 're sacked, so who cares? The Labour office is supposed to supervise this and paying below the minimum wage is an offence, but in fact, many of the govetrnment agencies employ cleaning, security and secretarial services through outsourcing agencies. These agencies are selected by public tender and the offer they give is so cheap, there is no way they can meet minimum wage demands. Yet the government offices do not even check on this. They cover their asses by demanding (in the public tender agreements) the contracter will employ his employees by law. In reality, no one guards this, which led to the amazing state in which even the labor courts did not check on their clerks and cleaners' labor rights. Indeed, the cat guards the cream....

Other welfare recipients are elderly or unemployed between the ages 50 - 65, who nobody wants to employ. The payments they receive cannot cover rent, taxes, electricity, medicine etc. So they slowly sink into a quagmire of debts, depression, bad health. No one really cares.

The situation of unemployed Arab women is also very difficult, as few employers in Jaffa, are willing to employ them. As a test a friend and me called employers about a job offered in the newspaper. When identifying ourselves with Jewish names we were asked to submit our CV and make an appointment. When we identified using an Arab name, we were told by the same potential employer, that the job offer was no longer available.
This is ofcourse illegal, but potential employers can always get past the problem, by demanding army service in their job requiremtns. Arab women are not drafted into the army, so they never have "army experience". However, when you call the employer and state you are a young new immigrant from the ex-Soviet Union, therefore did not serve in the army, the army service requirement "doen't really matter".

But i was talking about poverty:

Social workers ,in Jaffa, are helpless, with caseloads they cannot deal with and a lack of sources. I contacted one of them for a fimaliy i know. I hoped she would be able to refer them to one of the Food NGO's who hand out food parcels to the needy. This was her answer: "look, Yudit", she said to me, " I can refer 5 families every half year. I know the family you talk about and they received half a year of weekly food parcels last year, if i give them food again, i have to take another family out of the program, so "your" family will have to wait". And then she went on: " i can give them a one time referral to a food NGO in Rishon, but i'm not sure they can give her much more than a bottle of cooking oil, and the public transport bus to go to Rishon leZion and return to Jaffa, may cost more then the bottle of oil". The same social worker said she had more than one hundred failies on her waiting list for food parcel hand outs. The same goes for all the other social workers in the same agency.

Let me tell you about a family who receive food parcels from the Association for Humanitarian Assistance (Yefet 152, Jaffa), a Muslim welfare NGO:

The names are ficticious, the story isn't.

Mariyam married when she was 16 to an older man according to the wishes of her family. She had 4 children, when her husband died of an illness. She remarried and had another 4 children by her second husband, who started to use drugs. While on drugs he sold the family flat and most of the electrical appliances, as well as Mariyams marriage gold jewellery. He also started abusing her and the children. Finally he left her for another woman and drugs. He does not pay child alimony and Mariyam does not know of his whereabouts.

Mariyam works cleaning other people's houses, hard physical work. Three of her young children suffer from asthma and often she spends her nights caring for them in the hospital emergency room and her youngest child, aged 3, is on a waiting list for kinder garden. So, often she misses a day of work.
She and her 8 children live on 1600 NIS a month due to all kinds of burocratic problems, part of her children (whose father is a Palestinian from the occupied territories) are not recognised by the state of Israel and do not have health insurance. Their mother is an Israeli citizen, the 4 children were born here, they live here all their lives, but they are not recognized.

Often there is no food. The electricity and water are provided by the neighbors, after Mariyam and her children were cut off, due to unpaid bills. The energy cut off was carried out illegally, but the municipality know Mariyam will not fight back. Electricity and water "by means of the neighbors" is quite commmon here in Jaffa.

Mariyams children go all to school (except the smallest one). She tries to buy books and notebooks for all, but not one child has all the educational materials (s)he needs. Mariyam does her best to buy books for all, but each year the lists are changed and so she cannot pass on books from one child to the next.

Mariyam lost her previous job in August, missing too many days and being too late too often (it's tough taking care of 8 children who have to be at school at different hours and return at different hours, spending nights in the hospital, having to find and pay a baby sitter for the smallest kid, a three year old who is on a waiting list for kinder garten) and registered at the employment service. They sent her to a manpower agency somewhere north of Tel Aviv (3 buses, from where Mariyam lives it will take her at least 30 NIS a day and 3 hours to go there and come back) who wanted her to start every morning at 7 and finish at 16.00.
Mariyam explained her children start school at 8.30, so she cannot leave home before 8.15. Also they finish between 13.00 and 15.00, so she shuold be back around 14.00. (her wage does not allow her to pay a child carer on a daily base) It is important to know that by law you may not leave a child below the age of 12 unattended by someone below the age of 16, so Mariyam's older children cannot legally care for the younger ones)
The employment agency wrote down that she had refused to work and her small; social security payment was taken away from her.
There is a procedure of getting it back, but this procedure takes months.

Mariyam and her 8 children are left with barely an income and hungry. Food parcels take care of the hunger and a friendly family bought new clothes and school uniforms for some of the children.

So Mariyam and her 8 children are among the people who receive food parcels. It's Ramadan, a time for doing good deeds. It's Yom Kipur, a day for saying "i'm sorry" and rectifying evils.

Poverty is not solved by handing out food. Poverty is not necessary. Poverty can be solved by paying minimum wages that allow people a decent living, by defining "a liveable income".
How much money does one need to live in a safe house, to buy food, medicine, an education for ones children (with all necessary books and srudy materials), electricity, water and perhaps a festive dinner at eid el fiter or yom kipur? Some new clothes and a pair of shoes now and then, a family visit to the local public pool during the summer holidays, a football to play with etc, (or are these luxuries?).

Poverty is a social evil, solvable, unnecessary, i suppose we all need to say "we are sorry", as we're not doing enough to deal with it.

Handing out food parcels does NOT solve poverrty. A liveable minimum wage, proper work conditions, child care for working parents, liveable payments for those unabe to work (age, illness, migration etc) can all be obtained. Decent public housing is another must.

It's all a matter of priorities and policy making.
Ramadan, yom kippur, atonement, rectifying wrongs.....

Saturday, October 1

When there is some smoke, there sometimes is a big fire

Smoke in Jaffa is not a rare event. Nor is fire.

I used to live in the center of Jaffa, at the Dante / Victor Hugo cross roads, next to a huge garbage dumpster, known as "Zfardea" (frog in Hebrew). The "'hood boyz" used to set it a fire. At least once a week.
Chairs would be dragged to the corner opposite, water pipes lit, tea (or something alcoholic) prepared and then they would call the fire brigade and watch them do their job.
An i would watch them watching.
This was an almost weekly event, for that particular dumpster.
The smell would be horrible, and afterwards the street would be filled with black stinking sooty water.

So while making my walk on the rubbish mount this afternoon (seeing it the way it is now, after all, next year we'll have a park there, no more no less), i was not surpised at seeing a little smoke. There usually is some smoke from somewhere.
Yet a little smoke soon became a lot of smoke, then a hell of a lot of smoke. This was no frog going up in the air.
Coming closer to the source of the smoke, it was obvious from the amount of fire trucks arriving and roadblocks closing of the streets something bigger was going on in the area of the Fleamarket, to Rabbi Nahman Street.

Jaffa's fleamarket is famous throughout the the country. A place to find antiques of varying qualities, old books, kitchenware, 2nd hand furniture, paintings, statues and what not, made-in-India and China clothes, anciet russian cameras, coins, sets of ill matched glasses, fake lalique lamp shades, you name it, they'll sell it.
Some stores are beautiful (and not at all that cheap), others just show a big mountain of things, for the clients to dig in and come up with finds. A collectors' heaven. Some stores are really just tables out in the street.
The market is open 6 days a week, during the daylight hours more or less. The salesmen (there are very few women) are Jewish as well as Arabs.

Once upon a time it used to be Jaffa's meat market. The butchers would have their stalls one next to the other. Early mornings, when the meat would be fresh, prices were high. Later during the dya the prices went down, there was no way to keep the meat fresh in that prior to refrigerator age. At the very end of the day, it was party time for the local cats and dogs.
But those days are history. the meat market became the flea market and its buyers are mostly Tel Aviv's Jewish inhabitants. For them comiong to Jaffa implies a visit to the fleamarket, eating some humous at one of the many houmous restaurants or bourekas (stuffed ) pastry or mamoul (date and nut filled cookies) at "Leon's".
Perhaps a tamarhindo somewhere. going fuerther south into the realm Jaffa, where we live, is out of the question for most of them. In any case they are barely aware our neighborhoods exist.

The fire broke out in a small aluminum workshop in the fleamarket. A two story building, constructed, judged by its building style, during the British mandate years. At the bottom floor a workshop, appartments at the top floor. By the remainder of the laundry hanging from one of the balconies, people lived there. The workshop burned for hours. Gaz bottles exploding, the fire brigade mostly dousing the buildings next door, to keep the fire from spreading.
The place was filled to the ceiling with old and very volatile materials.

According to the police, the fire started as a result from a fire outside, a pile of rubbish close to the building had been set afire.

Thursday, September 29

Rubble Rubbish Everywhere, especially in the air

Once upon a time. many many years ago (but not very far away), there was a lovely princess, named Andromeda*....

Jaffa was once known as the Bride of the Sea, a lovely meditarrenean city. Sea on one side, surrounded by orange groves on the other. A city of flowering gardens, a wealthy city due to its port, which served all of the country.

After 1948, after most of its original inhabitants had been made to leave, much of Jaffa stood empty. In many of the lovely villas and ancient houses, the plates cups and saucers were still on the table, sometimes the food still on the stove. People had left in a hurry, without taking much with them. They hoped they would be back again, soon.

Instead they found themselves in the refugee camps of Gaza and Lebanon or spread throughout the world, still longing for the lovely beach, the smell of orange flowers in the season, cold water melon on a hot summer night.

Yet, were they to visit Adjami today, they would have a hard time recognizing it. Many, thousands, of the beautiful old houses were torn down, leaving big scars in what used to be busy streets. The rubble of those houses was dumped on Jaffa's beach, creating a huge mountain of rubble, a few hundred dunams in size and 15 meters above the sea level, hiding the sea. Kedem street, which was once right on the beach, is far away form the sea today. Looking at aireal photographs made a mere 30 years ago, the beach looks completely different.
Later on, people from all over Tel Aviv started to dump their building rubble on the mountain as well, thus creating the "Har HaZevel" aka the Rubbish Mountain. Doing so was legal, it was, in fact, encouraged by the Tel Aviv municipality.

The huge monster mount disconnected much of Adjami from the sea, no longer a bride and definitely not of the sea.

Over the last 15-20 years Jaffa's people fought against the mountain (which according to the original planners was to become a villa neighborhood for Tel Aviv's wealthy, attracted by its orientalistic character). The fight was relatively successful, in the sense that further rubbish dumping was declared illegal, and the mountain is supposed to be turned into a park, as park for Jaffa's people first of all.

Plans were made and a small effort was made by the mishlama (a unit of the Tel Aviv municipality responsible for much of the running of the municipal services (and the lack thereoff, but that's another item) to ask us, Jaffa's people, what we want.
This was done by means of meetings of "focus groups" ("Devide and rule" has been an effective method for many years). The park plan will serve us, and ofcourse it is a million times better than the current situation.
This week the plan was presented by Dror Amir, of the Mishlama: part of the mount will be reshaped by removing part of the rubble and grinding it up. The mountain will be reshaped, and planted with local plants and tress, paths, cycle paths and beaches will be part of the concept. It looks not bad at all on paper.
Paths will run naturally from the streets leading to the park (Dudaim, Mendes France etc.) to the sea and the beach.

About 50 million will be spent on the project, which i hope wil give us a wonderful place, a new bridal dress perhaps for a somewhat weary "bride of the sea".

What very much worries me, is the method they have selected for getting rid of the rubble: grinding it.
The mountain contains, in addition to stone, concrete, marble, tiles, iron etc also lots of strange materials, some unknown and some of very ill repute, such as e.g. asbestos.. The wind on the beach is usually landwards, right into Adjami. The grinding process (expected to take about 2 years of daily work) will create lots of dust. And that dust will go to.... you got it. into our houses, noses, heads, lungs.

They (the contractor, the municipality) are supposed to run air quality checks, and when things are "too bad", halt the grinding process.
They told us "not to worry", "all will be well" and "trust us". Whenever i hear these sentences i get nervous, very nervous.

* Andromeda was a princess in Greek mythology, who was tied to a rock as an offer to pacify a sea monster that kept eating the poor fishermen. The story had a happy ending when the oor girl was saved by her hero and they lived forever etc. All of this happened in Jaffa, the rockformation, called "Andromeda's Rocks, can still be seen.

Friday, September 23

The Continued "Mid-Night In Jaffa" Saga

Adjami is flooded by police. In their jeeps, vans and on motor cycles, they make a great show of "being present". The roadblocks on Yefet Street have become an almost nightly event. Cars are stopped and searched, people walking in the streets are demanded to show their id card and explain what they are doing, bags are searched etc.

So once more, Abed was returning home from work, early friday morning. Carrying his usual small backpack with notebooks as well as a shopping bag with food, wine, some plates and candles, for today's planned dinner party with close friends.
Along Yefet (Adjami's main street) Abed is stopped once more, by 5 policemen, "yasamnikim" (special forces, in their khaki uniforms) in a jeep. All came out of the jeep and stood around Abed.

"Hi, what do you have in your bag?" "Some wine, notebooks, a shirt". And what do you carry in your shoppingbag? "Food".
"What are you doing here at this time of the night?" "I'm in my way back home from work"? "Where do you work?"
"Your ID please." Abed showed them his ID and they returned it to him, said "Good night" and were about to go.
The officer stood already next to the jeep and was about to go in. Abed said "just a second, i want your names please." The driver, who had been in the jeep all the time answered "Do you want to come with us to the regional police station? Get in the car." Abed answered, "sure no prblem, i don't mind, i'll come with you." None of the policemen nor the officer wore tags as they are supposed to.
The officer came back, as the driver said "He wants details". So the officer said "OK write down" and gave Abed a pen. The officer gave Abed a name: "Toni Boukra", the "mefaked siur" (the officer in command of the recon trip) as well as a number. Yet he did not show his police ID to Abed, so there is no way to know if the details provided were real.
Abed stood on the side in order to write down the number of the jeep. The policemen shouted at him and Abed went on his way direction home..

The number of the jeep: 22-2-53
The number of the Tony Boukra, the officer in command (if that is his real name) : 115337

True, there is a lot of crime in Jaffa. A lot of it poverty and drugs related. And the police do have a task in keeping the streets safe. However, prevention implies first of all fighting poverty, opening up opportunities for young people, stopping discriminination.
True, police street presence is a part of fighting crime. But what is happening today in Jaffa, is more harassment. Moreover, it shows the police don't really have a clue who's behind most of the crimes committed.
Instead the police engage in harassing people on the streets, stopping drivers for minor incidents and mostly small businesses for the grave offence of having one too many chairs on the sidewalk outside of their business. Jaffa's real problems are not taken care of.
But ofcourse it's good for the police efficiency statistics. Also the police spokesman can proudly report "they are doing something in Jaffa."

"The Man" is present, so how come we don't really feel safe?

Tuesday, September 20

Mahash and the OR Committee or Strange Fruit on the Middle Eastern Trees

Thirteen Arab Israeli citizens (or Palestinian Israelis or Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, whetever definition you prefer) were killed by the police, some of them by well aimed sniper fire from policemen who acted on the orders of high officers.

The killings (murders?) were investigated by the Or committee who in their report related to the discrimination against Israeli Arabs in general and suggested several of the policement involved in the killings should be criminally indicted. From there, Mahash (the police investigation department, which is part of the Ministry of Justice, on the assumption the police cannot investigate themselves) took over. They were to investigate the killings, gather evidence and prepare the material for the indictments, which are to be carried out by the prosecution.

And "surprise surprise", mahash were not able to find sufficient evidence against any of the policemen involved and all will go free.
A number of the bodies had not even been pathologically examined at the National Institute for Pathology at Abu Kabir (located in Jaffa by the way).

When Billie Holiday first sang "Strange Fruit", about the lynchings in the south of the US, she did so in New York's Carnegie. She was very scared the public would become violent and offended. Instead there was a prolonged silence after the last tone faded. then applause

Strange Fruit, no more fitting song under the current circumstances:

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves
Blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
The scent of magnolia sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
for the rain to gather
for the wind to suck
for the sun to rot
for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Monday, September 19

What is in a name?

The French artist Alain Fleischer points out that the end of memory is the death of death, in "La Nuit Sans Stella" (The Night Without Stella). When the names are wiped out from the gravestones and the enamel images thrown out somewhere else, even memories fade.

In Jaffa whole streets as well as neighborhoods (e.g. Manshiye) have been wiped out, their buildings destroyed, the rubble thrown into the sea, thus creating the infamous "Givat HaZevel" or garbage hill.

But many of the still existing streets are difficult to recognize. Their names have been changed, e.g. "Howard" Street became Raziel Street, "Nuzha" became Jerusalem Boulevard etc. . People got used to the new names and very few still remember (or are aware of) the original names.
These name changes were not naive by any means, as they helped wipe out Jaffa's rich cultural Palestinian past. The old street names are reminiscent of the time when Jaffa was indeed "the Bride of Palestine", a cultural and intellectual center.

Jaffa has many unnamed streets, small alleys as well as little roads and side streets, indicated only by a number. A group of Jaffaites asked the municipality to consider giving those streets, especially in Arab majority neighborhoods, relevant names.
In all of Jaffa, there are 3 or 4 streets with Arab names. Even in 100% Arab neighborhoods, the streets are called after rabbis etc. and Jewish concepts. Sometimes this leads to funny mistakes. Friends of mine live in "Bsht" street, the Hebrew acronym of "HaBa'al Shem Tov", an important mystic rabbi who lived all his life in Eastern Europe some 200 years ago. But most of the people living there, both Arab families and recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union call the street "Bsht", unaware of the real meaning. The Ba'al Shemtov (of blessed memory), who had, according to the myth, a good sense of humor, would have had a good loud laugh, i like to think.
But who of the inhabitants is aware of the meaning of the name. Instead it is "bsht".

Some of the worst public housing in Jaffa is located in a street caled "Mikhlol Yofi" (Total Beauty) and another street is called "HeShemot HaGdolim" (the great names). Only a real cynic could think of these names for those streets, or someone who never visited the place. It's probably the latter.

But, as i stated before, a name is a name and once people get used to a street name, it is diificult to change it.

Now what about the numbered streets? The municipality intends to provide these with names. A small group of Jaffaites asked for street relative to Arab and Palestinian culture.
It would be nice to live in "Emile Habibi" Street (Palestinian Israeli author and recipient of the Israel Prize for Literature) or Abed El Wahab Plaza, or perhaps Om Kalthoum Road. And what about Fadwa Toukan Alley?
Yet i'm pretty sure it won't happen. Instead we'll get another bunch of names meaning nothing to Jaffa residents and wiping out yet one more piece of Jaffa's cultural identity.

And, by the way, in all of Tel Aviv, about 5% of the streets are named after women. That's much less than a sorry record.

Sunday, September 18

Bring in the Clowns: The Arab Jewish Community Center for (Wealthy) Jews Only?

The clown had a white face, a big red mouth and wore a black/pink glittery tux. His Hebrew was impeccable, sheinkin style.

Adjami is somewhat blessed by a fancy community center, supposedly catering to all Jaffaites from all ages. It has a multi culti name, the Arab Jewish Community Center.
Both staff and management are mixed Arab Jewish and all signs are in both Arabic and Hebrew.
Yet that's where equality stops.

Today the registration for courses and workshops started: a mobile stage on a truck travelled throughout the neighborhood. On the stage were a clown, a young darbuka drummer, balloons and a loud sound system.
The truck stopped in many corners and children and adults came to watch the show and participate in the fun and acticvities.
The only problem, the clown spoke only Hebrew and the music was American. There is nothing wrong with that as such, yet the young kids here do not speak Hebrew. Where i live, the children know only Arabic. Thi swas also the case in the public housing estate of Kedem street. And right now in front of the community center, where the party goes on. Where i live people like Arab music, local as well as Lebanese singers and Arabic speaking rappers, not American country music etc.
True, the flyers handed out were in both languages. But Adjami is an Arab neighborhood. So WHO exactly do they wish to attract to the center? The few failrly well to do and rich Jews living here?
It IS nice the center caters to all kids, the Jewish kids included.
Yet the tour strongly created the impression the center prefers its Hebrew speaking clients.
Perhaps because they have more money? Perhaps because they do not ask for a discount? I wonder.

I know quite a few children where i live, who would love to participate in the workshops, yet their parents cannot afford it, so the children stay out on the street. Is that what the clown wanted?

Friday, September 16

Support Vicky Knafo in a very difficult time!

For once this is not news about or concerning Jaffa.

In july 2003 single unemployed mum Vicky Knafo walked all they way from her southern Negev home to Jerusalem, to protest poverty and the new economic measures taken by Israel's ultra rightwing government.
Starting out alone, 128 women joined Vicky on her way, expressing their views in a courageous and convincing way.

Pini (Natanel Pinian), Vicky's son, in his early twenties, committed suicide last night in a cell in the Dimona police station.

Vicky needs our support.

Given the strange comment by one of my readers i felt the need to add some information:

Vicky Knafo is a Jewish woman from Dimona, a development town in the Negev.

A single parent, who was sacked from her job and unable to survive on the meager social security money she received.

Dimona is far from everywhere and there is no employment.
Unable to provide for her family and desparate, she decided to put her plea to the government. As she had no money for the trip, she set out walking all the eay to Jerusalem, carrying, by the way, an Israeli flag.

Somehow the media caught on and other women started to join her, for some part of the way and others all the way to Jerusalem.
People donated food and water and drivers passing by offered to take backpacks for a few kilometers to make it easier.

Vicky became a symbol for many women. She gave support and hope to many women.
The sad end is that she found a job but became unemployed again, after her employer got into financial trouble.
Now she lost her son.

I think we should support Vicky right now.


The poorest are kicked out of their homes

Zawah is in her forties, but looks in her 60-ies. Sorrow has aged her prematurely . She is crippled and half blind, a result of her diabetes. She also suffers from chronic bronchitis and very high blood pressure. Her kidneys don't work too well either. Every few months she is hospitalised.

She is a widow with an 18-year old daughter, a student.

Her only daughter often misses classes, as she has to take care of her mother. When not at home, Zawah's daughter always worries her mother might loose consciousness and fall.
Her daughter used to work as a house cleaner and sales girl, yet she was fired for loosing too many workhours, hours she spent caring for her ill mother.

The Halamish (public housing company of deserved ill repute) owned house...:

There is no glass in the huge living room window looking out over the sea (
true they have a million $ view of the Meditarrenean, but that's where the nice things stop.). There are no blinds either. So when it rains or storms, it gets wet and cold, very cold.
There is no bathroom floor and a small gardenhose leads from the bath tub to the neighbor down below as, there being no floor, there is no bath sewage pipe either.

In the kitchen there are no tiles, only a broken wall. But then, many of the walls are broken, huge cracks.

The electricity wiring sticks out from the wall. Scary given the rain coming in. The electricity comes form a neighbor, as the house was disconnected by the electricity company many months ago.
The same goes for the water, the municipality cut off the water supply a long time ago. Too many unpaid bills.

Zawah receives a tiny widows pension (1658 NIS a month, about US $ 364) .
She is probably elegible for invalid social security payment, but she is too ill to take care of this. The burocracy is staggering and she has no mony for public transport to go the the various offices. She's too ill.
The same goes for the discounts which she can probably get ( municipal taxes and her rent)

She used to receive food parcels every now and then, but they stopped arriving for an unknown reason and it's too hard for her to go to her social worker. she, almost blind, can hardly move, and only leaves to house to go to her GP.
She is supposed to make monthly visits to the specialists clinic at Wolfson Hospital. Not that far from the Kedem public housing estate where she lives, but she has no money for the bus, so she hasn't seen the specialists for ages.
Yet she needs their reports to qualify for an invalids social security payment.

Food: Zawah and her daughter often go hungry.

And ofcourse she has not paid the rent for ages, 618 NIS is a lot of money for her. She and her daighter live on 1680 a month.

As a result they want to kick her out of her place. The windowless, bathroomless place she calls home.

And she is not the only one. Yesterday 5 other families were served expulsion orders, families with children, an elderly cancer patient 3 weeks after an operation and undergoing chemotherapy. And the list goes on. ALL are Palestinian families. Weak families.

Halamish has a new general manager who apparently needs to make a show. Let us know he is The Man.

And that's very easy, especially when you attack the weakest members of a community. Sure, they have rental debts, ofcourse they have rent debts. They need to spend their money on food, medicine, school books fro their children etc..
They have been unemployed and their social assistance has been minimalized way below the poverty line. Many of them are hungry.
And now they are kicking them out of their homes.
Their lousy homes, homes unfit to house people. But they are homes and the people have no where to go.

Is there anybody out there? Does anyone listen?

Monday, September 12

Shirin, a Palestinian business woman from Jaffa

Shirin Agrabiya had been walking around with the idea of opening her own store for quite some time. She checked different options, made various plans yet somehow it didn't happen. She almost opened a video store, then considered a perfume venture, a fresh fruit juice bar or perhaps a kiosk. Each possibility was researched, analyzed and discussed. Until some days ago, when reality got the better of her. Somehow it happened.

She's become the owner of a small vegetable and fruit store on Yefet Street, operating it in cooperation with her father and siblings every day for many hours. But the store is hers.
Next to "Abu Nader's" a popular restaurant where she used to be a waitress, opposite "Abdu the Fisherman" (a fish store and restaurant) , where she used to wash the dishes, she now runs her own business.
Many of Israel's women work, yet the large majority are salaried employees, working in part-time positions earning the minimum wage or even less. Women business owners are fairly rare. Young Muslim Palestinian women owning their own store are really rare.
True, Shirin has already proven herself as a community activist capable of leading and inspiring others but this is a new challenge.

The fresh dates are sweet, the mangos magic and the grapes just right for eating.

Friday, September 9

Midnight fun in Jaffa

Ok, so the police brought in their forces, to show they are actually doing something in Jaffa. Present, fighting crime, "doing their thing" as it were. "Zero tolerance" or some such.

Abed finished working really late last night, at 2 o'clock. On his walk home, along Yefet street, a police van stops next to him, just opposite Fakhri Geday's pharmacy. Five policemen, "yasamnikim" (special forces) inside the van. One of them said "Ahalan", "hi" in Arabic, probably the only Arab word he knows. Abed, polite as always, answered "Ahalan" . The policeman was at that point, still in the van.
Two of the policemen came out of the car and started interrogating Abed.
"Do you have something?" "What do you mean by that?" "Do you have an ID card with you?" "What are you doing here"? I'm on my way back from work, I live here". "What do you have on you?" "Nothing". "What do you have in your bag?", pointing at Abed's black little knapsack. Abed told him he had a lot of things in his bag. The police man shouted "put the bag down, put it down right here". Another policeman came out of the car with a large flashlight. The atmosphere became tense. On seeing the flashlight Abed got scared he might get hit by the policemen and became quite worried, as the policemen took Abed to a dark corner underneath the pillars of an old building. A filthy, smelly and very dark spot which can hardly be seen from the street.
The policeman with the flashlight opened Abed's small black backpack and starting checking its contents while commenting upon each item.

One of the other policemen started interrogating Abed. Holding Abed's ID card in his hand he asked how come Abed is registered in Kalansawa (Abed's birth place). Abed explained to him that now he lives in Jaffa (He actually tried to register in Jaffa, but until now the Ministry of the Interior has refused to do so, in spite of the fact that he 's been living here for a long time. The reasons behind this refusal are totally unclear, long live Israeli democracy!). "Where in Jaffa do you live?" "In Adjami, in D. street."

The one with the flashlight kept going through Abed's bag asking the purpose of all his notebooks. (Abed is a poet and cinema director and always carries work-in-progress with him). Abed explained to him he has a diary, an addressbook and notebook. Then the policeman finds a movie cassette. Abed informed him it is a movie cassette. The policeman opened to look inside, then returned it to Abed's backpack.

The policeman interrogating him, asked Abed what he has in his pockets, placing his hand on Abeds bulging pocket. "My keys, cellphone and purse". "Show it to me". Abed got out the requested items and showed them, then returned them to his pocket.
In the mean time the other policeman searching Abed's back found Abed's passport and showed it to the interrogator. "What is this?". "My passport". It's an old passport, which was cancelled. By chance it happened to be in Abed's bag. Abed is not the most well-organized person in the world after all. "But it is cancelled". "Yes it is cancelled".

In the mean time the policeman searching the bag, found Abed's 2nd keychain, that of his parents' house in Kalansawa. It happens to have a keychain in the shape of the Palestinian map, with Arabic lettering on it.
Upon noticing the map the interrogator asks "What is this?"
"A map of the whole Israel" (Israel hashlema in Hebrew). "What does it say here?". "Jaffa, Haifa, El Kuds" (Jerusalem in Arabic), written in Arabic, which the policemen were not able to read.
The policeman returned the keys to their place, closed the bag, handed it over to Abed and said "Good night".


Education, Jaffa-style

Someone send me this link, to show there ARE reasons for optimism in Jaffa, and ofcourse there is some truth in that statement.

Yet most kids cannot attend the expensive private schools such as Tabeetha, Terra Santa, Freres and the very new and wonderful "Jaffa" school run by the Arabita organization. The other children have no choice but to attend the public schools.

Israel has a separate school system for Arabs and Jews. Guess where most of the funding goes. The illnesses of the Arab public school system are difficult to cure for many reasons. Some efforts are made by some people (e.g. at the "Kaf Bet" high school) but most schools are the pits. There is a lot of violence (also by staff towards students) and learning is not high on the priority list.

Many children drop out at a very young age. The official Arab school drop-out rate (in Jaffa) is 53%! But reality is even worse. Many children are registered, but never visit school. As the schools receive per-capita funding, they have no interest in reporting those children, some of them as young as 12 years old. These children are not counted in the drop out rate, although effectively they should be.

The department for the advancement of youth ("kidum noar") reaches out to these drop-outs and can assist them with schooling, but they also receive their funding only if they have a certain number of children in their informal frameworks. And, magic, as long as a child is registered at a school, he or she cannot be registered for the informal program for dropouts.
And ofcourse these kids keep being registered formally, as the schools do not wish to loose their funding. Thus, the children loose on both accounts.

Last year a small group of 6 drop-out girls (some of them as young as 13) was to start a special, high quality, pilot program geared to their personal needs. Everybody agreed it was a great idea, as these girls are in grave danger, living on the streets etc.. they would receive individual schooling in a very supportive setting which would also cater to their emotional needs. The specially designed framework w9ould let them experience success by using innovative educational methods carried out by specially trained teachers and other staff.

The program never took off, as the girls are formally registered (although they had been kicked out from all the schools they ever visited including, surprise surprise, the school in which they are still registered).

Yesterday i spent a few hours talking to a 12 year old Muslim girl who wants to leave school. Last year she came back home form school crying every single day. The school year started last sunday and with it the hel she has to go through: she's beaten up and bullied by her classmates again and again.
Last year some intervention was carried out, but it did not really help.
She wants to quit and sees no alternative.

She is 12 years old and already feels powerless, hopeless, defeated.

I could tell you about another little girl i know, also 12 years old. She is registered at the same school, but did not attend school at all, last year.
She has a "supervision order" from the juvenile court, but nobody actually carried out the supervision. She hangs around in the streets, day and night. She carries out all kinds of mischief (if that word is still applicable to the things she does, but at 12 there is no criminal responsibility in Israel) and is reall in danger. She is a victim of violence in the family, which was reported to social services, but nothing was done.
She is highly intelligent, but is not able to read nore write. Probably dyslexia, but i don't think anybody ever bothered to diagnose. Insetad they place children like her in special slow classes. Which is ofcourse the worst you can do. She is VERY intelligent and gets bored quickly, so she starts to act out. This ofcourse starts a chain reaction ending in her never ever visiting school.

And not much can be done, as there are no real educational frameworks for Arab girls who can no longer stay at home nor at school. So, yes her family is dangerous, she does not function. she probably should be in a special framework which can answer her needs, protect her and also allow her to develop her very good abilities.

Instead she is out on the streets.

Adalah are leading a legal battle for opening special educational frameworks for Arab girls who need protection and extra help. Until then, these girls are left to fend for themselves. And they are loosing.

But maybe that's what someone high up there wants. Or am i being paranoid?

Thursday, September 8

A Taste of Jaffa, Halamish Style

So what if the ceiling comes crumbling down?
If the walls are covered with black fungi?
Roaches all over the place?
The windows don't close too well?
Who needs a kitchen cupboard anyway?
Can't you simply use a bucket instead?
The staircase light stopped functioning that many months ago? It's romantic in the dark after all.

"Don't worry, we will take care of it".

When the authorities inform me to simply trust them, it 's time to become assertive. Halamish is Jaffa's public housing company, in case you didn't know.

Jaffa's public housing, specifically the Kedem Housing Estate, probably belongs to the worst ever category.
True, some of the flats have a beautiful view over the Mediterranean Sea and during summer, although they lack airconditioning , they have a lovely breeze coming any most hours of the day, but that is all the good that may be said about the place.

Constructed making use of substandard materials, and bad design they could not but turn into slums. The flats are badly overcrowded. Their upkeep is so below standard, it's difficult to describe. I would like policy makers and planners to live in these flats for 1 month. Ofcourse on social security. One month only, so they can have a "hands on" experience.

But, wonder o wonder, this week the Tel Aviv Municipality holds the "A Taste of Jaffa Festival", inviting the colonial forces to a culinary cultural trip of Jaffa.
Mostly, ofcourse, to Jaffa's "Old City", the fleamarket and the rest of safe bourgeois, gentrified north Jaffa, where "original, authentic" food can be sampled after a tour of the streets and artists' workshops.
Sure, Jaffa's business women and men need an influx of guests, and i'm happy form them if they can make a little money.
There is even going to be a tour of Adjami, to its "hidden corners". somehow i think the Kedem estate will not be part, i guess it is simply too well hidden from the public eye. I wouldn't be surprised if the municipality forgot about its existence. Except for the municipalwater department. They are very efficient in cuttng of families form the water supply.

Sunday, September 4

The hijacking of my cable connection

For the 2nd time in a week i suddenly found myself without an internet connection. This happens rather often. I'm connected through "Hot", the cable monopole of lukewarm stability.

The majority of my neighbors are not connected to the internet. Yet TV is popular. Many of my neighbors are prefer to watch satelite TV. The building has over 7 dishes on the roof and another few dishes connected here and there. But you cannot get all programs by satellite. Some are only available through cable.

As my internet connection kept disappearing and reappearing it seemed weird. All hardware and software tests were OK. Strange.

I believe in sharing. Not in disconnecting.

I still don't know who of my neighbors actually did this, but i'll find out.

Tuesday, August 30

Boycot Castro

Update September 16:

THE Boycot worked. Castro gave up!.
Or partially at least, as they will be selling the stock but not buy new (or so they say).
One wonders how this can be checked, but at never the less a small success

The Winter Collection of Castro Has Lots of Real Fur Items. Don't Wear Dead Animals!

Gentrification's Damage

This morning i read in the newspaper the Housing Ministry is going to establish a special legal unit to evict people from public housing.
In order to qualify for public housing you need a special permit, which is very difficult to get. You need to be really poor and have absolutely no other option available. Moreover, you may not have owned a house in the past.
Even so there are huge waiting lists for people who do qualify for public housing. They have to wait for many years in order to receive the keys to a small slum appartment in one of the public housing ghettos.
Jaffa has several of these and all are strong contestants in the "worst slum in the country" contest.
Crime rates, drug dependency rates, violence, school drop out, you name it, they have it.
Yet many people come from families who once owned Jaffa's lovely old buildings.
Thousands of these buildings, many of them home to Palestinians who were made to leave Jaffa in 1948, have been destoyed. the rubble thrown into the sea, to create the "Givat HaZevel", the rubbish mountain. Other families moved into the big luxurious houses left by the refugees: In houses belonging to one family, often 6 to 10 families were housed under cramped conditions. Although very lovely, the closeness to sea creates a continuous demand for the upkeep of the houses, which has not been adequatelyt provided by the public housing companies responsible for housing so many homeless families in the ancient mansions left by the Palestinian aristocracy who once used to live in Jaffa. As a result the buildings deteriorated badly. In some caes the new owners were able to buy housing rights of the buildings from the state. Yet the upkeepwas expensive and the often unemployed inhabitants, were not able to carry out the necessary repairs. Also, many could not pay the mortgages. so in the end they lost their property as well as the right to public housing (because they had been "house owners, therefore not eligible).
But for the others, in comes the municipality offering the people "modern public housing" and many are attracted by the new flats, erected close to the Muslim graveyard and the sea. Thus the ghetto was formed. Very badly constructed and maintained public flats.

The old Arab houses? Well those that weren't destroyed are undergoing a process of gentrification:

Buildings have been bought for little money by enterpreneurs, who turn them into high class appartment compounds for the very wealthy. This process has driven up the housing prices for young couples beyond anything they can afford.

As a result married sons stay in their parents house with their wife and children, and just add another room or close a balcony in order to turn it into a room.
Building permits are not to be had, so it is done illegally (by lack of any other option).
The space is maximized, doors turn into windows or the other way around. Each little nook and cranny is recycled into something useful.
Thus Jaffa has many patchwork houses.
Still there are no solutions for many of the people.

Evicting the poorest from their public housing is an idea i just do not grasp. These people do not pay because they have no money. Kicking them out, will their problems make only worse and more diificult to solve.

And what about some simple compassion? I know some of these families. They make continuos choices between buying medicine or food, paying the electricity bill or buying the kids schoolbooks (tmorrow is September the first) etc.
Often there literally is no food in the fridge.
Kicking them out with their children is inhumane.

Early morning Adjami

Adjami is a little like a village, a fishermen's village, right in the middle of the city. People keep chickens, horses, donkeys and the occasional camel.

And dogs, there are lots of dogs of course.
We have an alley called, unofficially, "rotweiler avenue". No further explanation needed.
The feline species is well represented. Stray cats live mostly around the butchers and fish stores. There used to be a market, but the municipality closed it some weeks ago for doubtful reasons. Since then, no more cat food there.
And, what's worse, we are stuck without a market. But i wasn't talking about our lack of municipal services right now. Jaffa cats are thin, clever, and there is nothing nice and cuddly about them. Tough and streetwise would be a more apt description. But even the toughest of the Jaffa cats doesn't dare fool around with that other species, the Jaffa egglaying community.

So we're talking chickens, or rather cockerels or, to be more precise, the king of cockerels. The undoubted leader of the neighborhood egglaying gang. They all keep strange hours. But one of them really upsets my neighbor, an elderly patriarch, left speechless due to an operation on his vocal cords.
Said cockerel wakes the patriarch, standing below the bedroom window according to old fashioned village manners starting from about 3 A.M. , at least an hour before the muezzin's early morning prayer call.

The shutters are thrown open a few minutes after the onset of the early morning concert.
It' s pleasant and cool at this hour. The patriarch, in his striped pijamas, goes out to the balcony, where he keeps a stash of floor tiles, specifically for the purpose. (or maybe they were brought there a long time ago for a purpose no one remembers). He starts insulting the cockerel (in the quiet of the night it is actually posibble to make out some of the things he says in his voiceless raspy voice).
The cockerel, unimpressed, continues.
This is the moment when the tiles start flying into the noisy animal's direction.
I don't know if the patriarch misses him due to bad eyesight, or perhaps the-great-cockerel-god protects this particularly noisy one from any danger. Or maybe the patriarch is a really good shot and just want to stop the racket without hurting anyone.

Early morning, still cool, time for my first espresso. Another day.

Sunday, August 28

The quiet before AND after the storm (the next one)

Four dead in two weeks time

While writing last night's post, i didn't know that the next murders had already taken place. Two men, Mustafa Abu Huti aged 42 and Yaser Abu Shahab, 26 years old, reported to be close to the Hamed family (one of the families involved in the feud), were murdered in the "Etrog" market, not far from my home.
I write "the next" because everyone knows it's just a matter of time.
Just a sunny saturday afternoon, time for the beach, a rest, reading a good book, sweet ice-cold watermelon or "Andre's" icecream.
Two people killed in broad daylight, in the Etrog market's parking lot. They were sitting in their car. A logical thing to do, when you have an airconditioned car. What were they talking about? Were they laughing? Were they talking about their families, children, brothers, sisters, parents? A quiet saturday afternoon. Were they planning to go the the wedding party later that evening? No one will know. I ddin't know them personally.
I'm sure i've seen them on the street, or on the market, perhaps the beach or in the line next to Andre's icecream parlor. Adjami is not a large neighborhood and you know most people at least by face. There are few services in Adjami, so we all meet, at the grocery, the health clinic, Paul's cafe, the watermelon vendors in Yefet Street or Fakhri Geday's pharmacy. Perhaps I know the women of the family (wives, daughters, mothers, sisters) from the "Women's Court" or one of the 3 fashion stores on Yefet or, that one is almost certain, "Video Alpha". I right now cannot fit the names to the faces.

But i know another family is hurting.

I also know this will not be the last family to be hurt.

In fact, shots were fired at the house of 3 young girls i know well. No one was hurt. They were probably intended for their brother. No one was hurt. It happened at 5 o'clock in the morning, friday. As i wrote, no one was hurt (physically that is), the windows were broken. Life goes on.

I feel very helpless in face of all this violence.

Saturday, August 27

Adjami, the quiet before or after the storm?

Saturday evening, a wedding in the Muslim Scouts Club (right below my window). The women dance in a separate area. The atmosphere is happy, it's a wedding after all.

The music is loud.
Things seem so normal.

The stress is on "seem". Something happened. We all know the missiles were just the beginning. We also know the police are ineffective. Or maybe they have selected to be ineffective? Adjami is not highly prioritized on their list of preferences.
The municipality is more interested in the affluent neighborhoods.

Small groups of young men stand on the street corners, meet in waterpipe smoking parlours. Many of them are jusr good kids, frustrated by discrimination. The drop out rates in Jaffa's public Arab school system stand at 53%. (In case you didn't know, Israel has a separate educational system for Jews and Arabs). there are some - excellent - private schools. But only the rich can afford the tuition fees. So Adjami's kids have to attend the public system. Most of Jaffa's public Arab schools are a disaster.

Even the sound of firework (yes it IS firework - this time) makes people jump.

Something needs to be done, violence is preventable, isn't it?

Just a "Lau" missile, who cares?

Friday morning about 2.00 o'clock.
Hot, humid, impossible to sleep.
Reading a book about the middle ages & pondering Desiderius Erasmus.
Three loud bangs and a forth, slightly less loud one, break the silence. The windows rattle.
The building actually shakes.
Sure, during the wedding parties they fire fireworks, and we do hear shots in the neighborhood, now and then. And i do know how to differentiate between those sounds.
A terrorist attack? At this hour? In a mostly Palestinian neighborhood? A clock challenged terrorist exploding him/her self a little too early and in the wrong spot? Cooking gaz bottle explosion? A car? Grenades?

The radio & news sites say nothing at this time, so it's not a bomb. That much is clear. News is fast here, even at these hours.

Sirens start, they must be police cars, ambulances. Not a lot, given the loudness of the bangs.

Only next morning things become clear. In the ever-increasing violent war between criminals, "Lau" missiles were fired at some peoples homes. Two wounded, an elderly couple.
In fact the wrong home, a case of mistaken identity, the police think.
Weird, i would think anyone's house to be the wrong one. But then, that's the police "thinking".

And something else:
Lau missiles are manufactured by a company called "Raytheon" meaning "Light from the Gods".
Said company also produces bunker blasting bombs and other likewise goodies.
Ask the victims what they think of that little lamp burning bright, light from the gods alright.

Tuesday, August 23

All those women

A large green tent has been erected next to the delapidated building in which she used to live. Black plastic chairs were brought in from the near by mosque .
A CD player plays a loop of a praying voice, soft, gentle.

The men sit in the tent outside, the women in the cramped room inside the building, where it is hot and stiffling.
Some cry, some play with the little children on their laps.
Coffee goes around, bitter, concentrated, in small cups.
Bottles of water and plastic cups on the table.

A large wedding photograph of her grandson on the wall, next to a framed sentence from the Koran, gold on a green background.

It's hot but the fans don't work, the electricity was shut off several months ago, as she couldn't afford to pay the bills. The bottled water is brought in by the neighbors. The municipality cut off the water supply as well.

Aisha, the youngest and not yet married daughter sits on the floor and cries. Quiet sobs.
Asma, 5 years old granddaughter, plays with a doll on the bed. The mattress has been removed.

Zainab died last night.

לזכרה של דליה רביקוביץ

Daliah Ravikovitch died. I love her poetry.
I hope i create no copy rights problems by presenting one of her poems here.
She says it so much better than me:

אפילו אלף שנים/ דליה רביקוביץ

אני לא יכולה להכין את העולם מחדש
וגם אין טעם.
יום ליום ויום ללילה דבר אינם מביעים.
באביב תפרח אפונה ריחנית, ורדים ופרחי אזדרכת
הכל בגודל טבעי והכל בצבעים.
חידוש אמיתי לא צומח גם פעם לעשר שנים.
מי שרוצה לשאוף ריחות שושנים
יאסוף אותם מן הרוח
ומי שרוצה לנטוע עץ שיטע לו עץ תאנים,
לטובת הדורות הבאים.
אשפר לשאול אותי אם ראיתי פעם יופי,
ואני אשיב שראיתי הרבה אבל לא במקומות הנכונים.
ניקח לדוגמא את אשדות הנהר
מובן שראיתי,
אז מה?
מפלים אדירים הם מראה שאיננו נעים.
הדברים היפים באמת אינם מתהלכים בחוץ
לפעמים הם קורים בחדר,
כאשר הדלתות נעולות וגם התריסים מוגפים.
באמת, הדברים היפים
הם אינם נהרות או הרים או חופים.
אני יודעת עליהם יותר מידי מכדי לרמות את עצמי,
ולחשוב על דברים נוספים.
מה שנותר לאחר הכאב הוא הסקרנות
לראות איך יפול דבר,
מה יהיה בסוף,
לכל הדברים היפים.
אני יודעת: אינני חיבת לנטוע עץ תאנים.
אפשר גם לנהוג אחרת.
אפשר לחכות לאביב, לורדים ולסיפנים.
אבל אנשים במרוצת הימים נעשים קשים כציפורניים,
אפורים כסלעים
עיקשים כאבנים.
אולי זו תצפית מפתה להפוך לגוש של מלח.
עם כוח מינרלי.
להשקיף בעינים ריקות על מפעל האשלג והפוספטים
אפילו אלף שנים.

Adjami - for your eyes only

The early morning hours, when it's not yet too hot, are best for walking around the neighborhood. Towards dusk the light becomes more beautiful, the old walls look like gold, almost. Yet the heat keeps me in, during this time of the day and season. It's hot and humid.

Time for cold watermelon, some grapes.
Time for Jabaliya beach (or Hof Aliyah as it is called in Hebrew, these days).

Jaffa, Adjami, keeps changing. Many of the beautiful old houses are being destroyed, in order to establish fancy new housing for the wealthy. Usually in closed compounds, well guarded. The rich like their privacy and real Jaffa looks better from the distance created by the guard at the compound entrance.
There is much poverty. Large families live, right next door to the rich, in small flats. The lovely mansions once owned by wealthy Palestinian families, have been sub-devided into many apartments. Each small appartment houses a family. Twelve people in three rooms is not uncommon. The families often add a room or two, without obtaining a building permit. (In many cases, even if they tried to get a building permit, they would get it). The municipality destroys these "illegal" additions. As people need the rooms, they will rebuild them, but often from inferior, cheap materials. So it won't hurt too much if it's destroyed once more. Over time the houses start to look like patchwork. A quilt made from blocks, recycled wooden doors, pillars from other, destroyed buildings, car windows and cheap iron or asbestos roofing, a quilt that tells the history of a family.
A quilt that can be read and understood.
The drying laundry hanging outside tells the current history, the people who live there now, what they do, how they live.
You can learn a lot from laundry.
Use you eyes, your imagination, your heart.

Monday, August 22

Images from a Violent Society

I live in Jaffa, an ancient seaport, once "the Bride of the Sea" or the "Bride of Palestine, today a slummy suburb of the Tel Aviv.
Adjami, to be more precise, is home. A very beautiful as well as ugly, violent and tough neighborhood .
Close to the sea and "Givat HaZevel", the rubbish mountain, which covers the once beautiful beach of Jabaliyeh and Adjami.

Most of my neighbors are Palestinians or "Israeli Arabs" or "Arabs from 1948" (selecting the correct term is more than just semantics). Some are Jewish Israelis, some rich, some poor.
I live here, because i chose to live here. And it is an ongoing decision
(Will i be here, 5 years from now?). There are so many problems here, violence, drugs, extreme poverty. But there is also so much warmth and the people are so "real". There is so much beauty and yes, it is romantic too.

An emotional choice, for many and complex reasons. It's where i create and where my images come from.
Words aren't really my preferred media.

It's where i live, love and create and try to survive.