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.