Saturday, September 30

"Ringo & Taher", a Jaffa movie

Joni Arbid's movie "Ringo & Taher" was screened last thursday at Jaffa's "Al Seraya" theatre. The movie, entirely shot in Jaffa, tells the story of a little boy, Taher, who finds a puppy he names Ringo.

Taher tries to raise Ringo against all chances and especially against his father's wishes.

Taher lives a life like many little boys in Jaffa; his family is poor and they have a hard time getting by, putting food on the table. His brother gets pulled into a life of crime, as there appear to be little other options.

Some of the actors are professionals, others are my neighbors, playing more or less themselves, the acting is good.
The soundtrack, composed by Ala Abu Amara, is special and impressive.
The editing is so good, it saves the movie from its weaker point: its photography, which is problematic.

Definitely worth a view.

Chopping off the trees & robbing the bats

Next to my house there is a little square with beautiful ancient ficus trees, huge ones.
On old aerial photographs of Jaffa, made by the British in the twenties, it's always easy to recognise my street, because of those trees, they were mature already in those far away days.
They were home to many birds as well as numerous small fruit-bats flying out at night.
They provided shadow as well as a green feeling: When sitting on my rooftop balcony, i felt as if in a wood, while looking in the direction of the trees, seeing only green, as if in a forest.

Last thursday they turned up, the guys with the big saws.
I live close to the sea and during winter the winds can get very strong. Thus, every few years the trees are pruned a little. However, what happened last thursday wasn't "a little pruning", like they used to do.

Suddenly i have a "skyline", seeing other rooftops, balconies, drying laundry and solar waterheaters. The trees have been cut down to about 1/3 of their original size, both in height and general size. Barely a few branches have been left.
In true "Jaffa style" the cut-off branches have been left in the street, and no one , so far, has picked them up.
As sad reminder of what was home to many bats and birds, a nice view and a green feeling. I hope enough of the trees has been left so they can grow back to their original size once more.

Friday, September 29

Gallery Talk at the Lighthouse Gallery in Jaffa

Once upon a time Jaffa was the cultural center of Palestine. There were book publishing houses, literary clubs, cinemas and theatres, but all that came to an end in 1948 (or to be exact, much of it had been gone already by 1947).
Jaffa became a slum, and the only galleries existing in the so-called "artists quarter" (Jaffa's old city, not even one Palestinian family or artist live there, are really tourist traps, with kitschy souvenirs passing for "art").

Over the last few years alternative and not so alternative theatres and galleries have started to open their doors in Jaffa and something is happening. Although Jaffa's former proud Palestinian cultural past is not related to in many of those galleries and art spaces, the very existence of the new spaces is a happy event. So:

Gallery talk at the Lighthouse Gallery in Jaffa (13 HaMigdalor Street)

in relation to the curent exhibition by Osnat Balkind.

Saturday the September the 30th at 12 o'clock

Thursday, September 28

Awaiting death

Yefet street, fairly close to the Ba'al Shem Tov junction a little slaughterhouse sprung up on the street opposite the well-known ""Hinnawi" butchery over the last few days. A Hebrew sign simply reads "Kaparot".
On the sidewalk a large truck unloads crates of chickens, packed tightly together, one on top of the other.
A queue of elderly people and some mothers with small children wait patiently on the side walk. Each of them selects a chicken and pays the young man attending the ever-growing row of people.
The shohet, (kosher butcher) murmurs a blessing while holding the struggling chicken above the head of the first person in line, who repeats the blessing.
The chicken is then turned upside down and its head sort of bent backwards, while the butcher thoroughly checks its neck feathers and then, with one quick strike of his knife, cuts through the main artery and drops the still moving chicken into a specially prepared bucket.

Cleaned of his (or her) sins, the first person in line thanks the shohet and continues with shopping, it's Yom Kippur after all, in another few days and one needs to make preparations.
The day on which we ask for forgiveness. Our sins sent away together with the chicken's life, a reminder of far away, biblical times, when there still was a temple.

In a few months it will be Id ElAdha, sheep will be slaughtered on Jaffa's streets for the same purpose more or less.
A reminder of ancient times, age old rituals, something raw and almost primitive (in the true sense of that word) , but then, i am a vegetarian.

Employers = Thieves (well, not ALL of them) and Bastards

An article in yesterday's "Ha'aretz", somewhere in the back pages, describes the results of an operation carried out by the Ministry of Labor: Over the last few weeks some 300 controllers went to many workplaces in the south and central area of Israel, to check upon employees' conditions.

The result: 90% (NINETY, yes NINETY, this is not a mistake) of the employers were found to disregard their employees' rights, in most cases paying less than the minimum wage.

And what does that mean? Let me give you an example. No, it's not out of Dickens, but today, in Jaffa:

My dear friend Aisha* works full time in a store in Jaffa. What do you mean by full time? Seven (7) days a week, between 10 - 14 hours a day.
She receives less than minimum wage, no over time, no holidays.
Her break?
What do you mean break? She doesn't have one (unless 15 minutes of coffee, once a day, while sitting on the floor behind the meat counter is considered a break).

She is the only one who receives a payslip (which never states her hours, only the global pay) at her place of work, because she insists on it.
None of the other girls receive pay slips. She suspects the employer doesn't pay social security and other payments for those girls. Each payslip staes the current month as her first month of work. Her employer refuses to sign the payslips.

She works as a check-out girl at a small but very successful minimarket. She is a very good worker, never late, quick and attentive, polite to customers, always doing her job well.

She also has a full matriculation certificate, is VERY clever, has good computer skills and has a certificate as kinder garden assistant.

So, why doesn't she leave that horrid job?
Because no one wants to employ her: She's a young religious Muslim woman, long dressed and head-covered. She has submitted countless CV's. Called employers, but the jobs are never available.

As a test we sent an identical CV with a Jewish name. We then called twice, once with Aisha's name and once with a Jewish name.
When Aisha called, using her own name, she was told, the position was no longer available. When she called using a Jewish name (5 minutes after the first call) she was given an appointment for a job interview.

She supports her whole family (parents and brothers) and her salary is their sole source of income right now. So she's scared to complain, afraid of loosing that miserable job.

*Aisha is not her real name. All details are true.

Saturday, September 16

Evil Private Owners, Rent Control and Public Housing

Ha'Ir , one of our local rags in Hebrew, runs a series of articles of on rental housing in Tel Aviv. (Jaffa is a part of the Tel Aviv - Yafo municipality).
This week's article is on rent control and i can only say one thing: RENT CONTROL NOW!!

Tel Aviv's (and Jaffa's) greedy and mostly evil house-owners are inventing tricks to raise the rent on a weekly base. Contract? Whadayamean you have a contract? So what "contract"?. Thankfully, my own current house owner has been decent so far, and the rent i pay (so far, so far) is reasonable. (touch wood, cross my fingers, hamsa hamsa hamsa). You think i'm superstitious? Actually i'm not, but having been forced to move from one appartment to the next so many times, "one cannot be careful enough", so there i go, "hamsa hamsa" once more.

Rental prices in Jaffa are on a continuously rising slope. The worst hovels go for prices for which you can rent a villa in the rest of the country. Contracts have become monstrous and nobody seems to care very much.
People pay more than 50% of their income in order to rent a small flat.
As Israel's housing market is basically based on home ownership, it means you can never save enough to make the first downpayment for a mortgage to buy your own home.
The problem is has been getting worse over the last few years and house owners can basically do what they want. Flats which 2-3 years ago costs 400 - 500 $ a month go now for as much as 700 - 800 $ a month, whereas wages have not gone up.

Free market economy? Supply and demand? We seem to be going towards a social catastrophe!
Poor people are supposed to receive aid in housing, but that aid is limited. Social housing projects are bad and have turned into slums over the years. The better ones have been sold on the private market and in all of Jaffa only one social housing building has been contructed in the last 10 years!!

We can learn form other countries: rent control is one idea.
Another good idea is to have social housing as part of regular housing, that is, council houses are not all concentrated in one neighborhood, but a certain percentage of all housing projects constructed in the area. It prevents the creation of slums and allows also the poorer people to live in a decent environment, with decent services and good condition houses.

Jaffa's public housing estates are literally falling apart. Much should be done about this, but first of all, decent housing for a reasonable price should be seen as a basic human right.

Short and long term planning should be part of the municipality's program for Jaffa and Tel Aviv.
The private rental market is driving people towards more poverty, as well as homelessnes.

A first good step would be rent control.

Friday, September 15

Sounds of Jaffa

A rather nasty eye infection forces me to do without lenses and glasses give me a headache, so i spend most of my time inside, listening, as even reading and web browsing for more than a few minutes have become an effort.

Jaffa has its sounds, that are different from those in other places, specific for each hour of the day.

Early morning the muezzin, then the sounds of the first birds waking up, the neighborhood cockerel making its first announcements of the day, then the soft cooing noises of the pigeons waking up (they sleep on a ledge of my neighbors' house) , the louder crow, the first buses passing on Yefet street. Sometimes the sound of the bricks and tiles thrown by my neighbor at the cockerel (and his swearwords when he misses said animal, as he always does).

An occasional ambulance on its way to nearby Wolfson hospital. My espresso-making "machineta" announcing coffee is almost ready, the news, the electronic sound of the onset of yet another school day at the "Hasan Arafe" school (or does it come form the Ahva school?) Or perhaps from "Terra Santa" or from all three?), Jaffa's fully awake by now.

Cars, screams, the occasional carpet seller or fish monger passing the street.
In the afternoon the electronic sound of the sugar spin couple, announcing their arrival to the neighborhood kids, who all come down to buy a pinky-sweet sugar spin, the sound of kids playing football, the testing of the sound system at the Muslim club (yet another wedding held there today), the sound of fireworks announcing the beginning of the wedding, the loud music (depending on the type of wedding traditional songs, or any combination of popular Lebanese singers) and ofcourse every few hours the muezin from one of Jaffa's many mosques and the churchbells, the loud bass sounds emitting from the cars owned by Jaffa's young men (car worth 5000 NIS, stereo valued at at least 30.000 NIS) usually playing Haifa's last song, then fireworks once more.

Suddenly the sound of automatic gun fire (warning shots? another murder?) cars, sirens, screams, fireworks, yet another wedding. At night it all slows down. When it is reallly late, i can hear the surf of the sea, the wind in the big ficus trees, night once more.

Hopefully my eyes will be ok tomorrow.

Saturday, September 9

And the earth trembled

Sitting on my rooftop with the first espresso of the morning (the most important one of my day), reading "Ha'Ir" on the intrinsic evilness of Tel Aviv houseowners, a topic i identify with , as i had to move suddenly, a few months ago , after my previous flat had been sold before my rental contract ran out and the new owner (EVIL owner) came to threaten me that if i would not be out by the end of the month, he would throw me and my stuff over the balcony. As the guy is gorillasized, i immediately started looking for another flat. Anyway, so i was sitting on my rooftop balcony (with a view of one of my favorite blog-topics, Jaffa's rubbish mountain, and beyond that, the, Mediterranean i suddenly felt something moving, moving weirdly, completely and i am not talking about an emotional experience, the earth moved beneath my feet, so to say, or, in a more clear language, an earthquake.

Now ofcourse, my three steady readers, know that i will always connect anything to what's happening in Jaffa in the wider sense, so , in order not to disappoint you, dear 3 readers, here i go again:
The earthquake committee which investigated the preparedness of Israel (physical and human infrastructure) came to the conclusion that "We are NOT prepared" and especially older buildings (and in Jaffa in general and in Al Ajami in particular) are not safe enough and "something should be done about it by someone". So a few months ago the municipal tax and water bill came with an attached brochure on "what to do when there is an earthquake", I guess that means that "something has been actually done by someone". We have been warned, but when it happened i didn't even think of jumping underneath the table, as, according to the booklet i should have done. It was just weird.

Afterwards i read on ynet, the earthquake was 4.4. on the Richterscale and its epicentre in in Jordan Valley, a little north of the Dead Sea, on the SyroAfrican Rift.

Monday, September 4

Border police in Jaffa

Jaffa, Yefet Street, early morning. Three border police soldiers patrol on foot. All three carry m-16 rifles, bullet-cartridge inside and ready for shooting.

Any young "Arab-looking" man is stopped and asked for his ID card. They are stopped one after the other and their details checked against those in the computer terminal in the close-by jeep.
If they don't carry papers, they are handcuffed, hands behind their backs, immediately. Sometimes the checks take time but each of the young men knows that if you dare to challenge the border police, you can be easily arrested and taken for a tour to the police office. And you stand the chance of being beaten up on the way. After all, it is your word against theirs. So you keep quiet, and you wait.
After a while you are released, the handcuffs cut, free again. for a while, until tomorrow.

The young men in Jaffa have learned it already, even when you go downstairs to pick up the newspaper, throw out the garbage or pop into a nearby store for some fresh rolls and chocolate milk for the kids, you better take your ID card with you. You 're always a suspect.

Image taken this morning on 142 Yefet street, in Jaffa

Friday, September 1

Rubbish and more rubbish (including asbestos), instead of a park

Jaffa has a lovely beach, but it is a relatvely small one.

Jaffa also has a huge mountain, covering what used to be Jaffa's gorgeous ancient Al Ajami beach. A mountain made up entirely out of rubbish, a true monster.

Most of Jaffa, as can be seen from aereal photographs from as late as the 1960-ies, used to have a very long beach, running from south of Jaffa harbor to today's beach, all along Street nr. 60 (or Kedem street as it is called nowadays). A wonderful beach, used by fishermen and all locals for swimming and recreation.
By the 1960-ies many of Jaffa's once magnificent "Arab" houses had started to delapidate as a result of the complex social processes as well as the continued influence of of the salty sea air on buildings which are not properly maintained. Over 7000 houses were subsequently destroyed, their rubble simply dumped into the sea. The Jaffa beach had become the place to dump building rubble and as well as other rubbish completely for free. Contractors from all over the country came with their truckloads which soon turned into a huge mountain, where there once was a beach and water, where fish swam and children played. The mountain runs along the coast for about 2 km's, is about 500 m. wide and is today more than 20 m. high at some places. A mountain made entirely out of rubbish. Some of it Jaffa's beautiful old houses, a true grave for Jaffa's Naqbe.

The idea behind the mountain was to create a piece of artificial seafront land on which villas for the very wealthy would be constructed. The arrival of those very wealthy people would "raise the level of the locals" (yeah right, we really need that).

But, the mountain was dumped in such a way that it proved unstable. So large construction on top of it would be very problematic and unsafe.

The mountain also cut of Al Ajami from the sea. Streets which once had a gentle slope towards the sea now end in a huge mountain, suddenly rising out of nowhere. The fresh seawind in summer and beautiful view has been blocked. On top of the mountain wild plants started to grow and in winter, at some hours of the day, it is almost beautiful.

When the first and the second gulf wars came around, the US army placed a battery of Patriot anti-missile missiles on top of it, surrounded by barbed wires and guards. We in Al Ajami were woken up by American marching music competing with the muezzin, a weird sound, but all that is now memory (and it better stay memory).

This time the Jaffa people (by means of Al Rabita and Yafo Yefat Yamim, two NGO's, one a Palestinian NGO, the other a mostly Jewish NGO) decided not to play the municipal planners' game and took the municipality to court and won. Moreover, the recent law concerning construction on public beaches has saved our beach, so we hope for ever, from real estate interests.

As a result the mountain is to be turned into a park. Jaffa has about 50% of the green areas per resident as compared to the rest of Tel Aviv. Thus, a park serving everyone is actually quite welcome.
The municipality (by means of our local branch, the so-called mishlama) even met with different groups of residents, in order to hear about our needs and share in the planning (which at the time of the meetings had been almost finalized, so perhaps the meetings were meant more to pacify as than anything else) .

The park plan includes grinding the mountains huge concrete and other blocks into smaller stones and sand, completely changing the mountain's shape in order to make it into a natural part of Jaffa, sloping towards Al Ajami and towards the sea and re-creating a few pieces of beach.
The plants used will be natural mediterranean and there are supposed to be bike paths, places for children to play etc. etc. In theory not a bad plan at all.
The grinding of a mountain this big scared us, residents, a lot (and still does), because of the dust and other particles it would create, which are all carried inland by the winds coming in from the sea.
The planners told us not to worry, the dust would be monitored and on very problematic days, the work would be stoppped and solutions find. Whenever i am told not to worry, i tend to get VERY worried.

About a year ago some huge machines arrived on top of the mountain. Walls made out of industrial steel were put all around and the work started.
My house is dustier than ever, but the work seemed to be going quickly and the mountain indeed started to change its shape. Close to the harbor (the northern part of the mountain) it is now gently sloping, more to the south it is twice as high as before. Huge new mounds of differently sized blocks, stones, sand and iron top it off on its southern end.

My house is dustier than ever and my lungs don't seem to like it too much either.

Then all of a sudden the work stopped. They say their is a fight between the contractor and the municipality. As a result, we are stuck with an even bigger monster, twice as high as before, no park, no beach and what is scarier, very unhealthy air.

On my last walk on top of the "thing", yesterday, i noticed lots of small pieces of asbestos roofing. Apparently they have also ground tons of asbestos that were buried in the mountain. I assume that when you grind asbestos, its fibers come loose and the wind carries them inland. And keeps carrying them inland.

So what is the sum of our "beachpark" sofar: 1 monster, no park, no beach, no view, lotsa asbestos dust.
Thank you very much, mayor.

GivatHaZevel, the Rubbish Mountain
Jan 9, 2005 - 33 Photos