Wednesday, November 29

The Big Strike, More Than Justified

Yossi Kutzhi (on Galey Zahal radio) just said: "Each strikes ends and always with an agreement of sorts."

This strike is about municipal employees in many municipalities not receiving their salaries for many months now.

My firend Y. is a social worker at a municipal welfare service. She hasn't received a salary for over 7 months. As her partner has a good income, she isn't in trouble.
But she told me about some of her colleagues, e.g. a couple who both work at the same municipality. They haven't received a salary for over 7 months.
No phone, electricity by means of the neighbors, in danger of loosing their small home, as the bank has stopped being "considerate & understanding of the situation", no repairs, food through the food bank, the soup kitchen and relatives.
All go to work every day, doing their very best. They bring office supplies, tea, coffee and sugar, toilet paper etc. from their impoverished homes as it is no longer supplied by the municipality they work for.

So you're pissed off the municipality doesn't take care of the garbage today?

Perhaps join us in the demonstration this coming Saturday, of the "Veidat Ha'Ashukim" (the Council of the Robbed), at 19.00 o'clock, opposite the David Intercontinental Hotel in South Tel Aviv. The hotel where the wealthy of the country are gathering for their annual "Veidat Asakim" (the Council of Business) that very evening, planning to rob us a little more by funneling more public resources into their businesses and affairs in order to become yet more rich.

This strike is JUSTIFIED

Sunday, November 26

Legal Robbers

Tamy just contacted me. She's all of 18 years old, occasionally working as a kinder-garden teaching aid (read: the one who changes nappies, feeds the kids and does the cleaning) and spends much of her time learning how to read and write.
She grew up in shelters for battered women, each time in another one, and before dropping out, she had visited, for some time, at least 20 different schools. Tamy's a clever girl but she never had the peace of mind to study.
Tamy's mum was a battered wife. Several times she was hospitalized as a result of her husband's violence against her and against Tamy.
Some years ago she managed to divorce him. In order to get the divorce papers (the "Get") she gave up everything, the house she jointly owned, no alimony for her nor for the children and she also took all of her husband's debts on herself.
As head of a one parent family she had a difficult time. After the last violence related hospitalization, she was left with limited movement and post traumatic. She was given some social security money, but as she was not able to pay back her husbands debts (the ones she had taken upon herself in order to get the divorce) she got more and more needy, and deeper into debts.
She tried to spend as little as possible, but growing children need food, clothes, books, school fees etc.
Her debts became very deep. At the same time, due to her physical and mental problems, it became difficult to work.
Yet her social security was taken from her. And After that her rent aid.
She's penniless, with impossible debts, not the result of over spending, but of taking on her violent husband's debts, buying food and clothing for her kids.
Over the last Several weeks the court and municipal services have taken away almost everything she owned. TV, video, Tamy's computer, the furniture. the house is now almost empty. There is nothing to take. They do so in a completely legal way. After all, Tamy's mum doesn't pay her debts and she owes a lot of money.
Yet today those legal robbers came once more, and robbed some more. Now the house truly is almost empty.
Last week the water and gaz were cut off.

Tamy talks about killing herself.
Her mother is considering the same.
Tamy, and i know her quite well, might also turn to robbery, or stealing. She has nothing to loose, she feels.
Tamy and her mother are not criminals.
Poverty is a form of violence against these two women. Tamy is only 18 years old.

Jaffa Cats - the pampered ones and their competition

Some of Jaffa's cats are quite lucky, lucky to have been born in the city's wealthier & gentrified areas, where good souls feed them on a daily base & take them to the vet, whenever that need arises.
They can be recognized quite easily: big, well fed, self assured. They don't run away when you come close to them, jumping and hiding in the closest bin.
They gather at the correct hour when they know the food will be arriving in its steady spot, in throw away containers.
They even allow themselves to be picky, not eating everything on offer.
You can stroke them, they are quite used to human attention, in fact seem to like it.

I made a few portraits of those cat feeders, many of them women living in the area.
Yesterday i noticed a homeless guy picking up a piece a chicken from one of the cat trays, after the good, well meaning, cat-feeding lady had left her charges.
Hunger makes people do things. I wonder if the cat lady knows her charges have competition. The cats accepted him as "one of them", i might say. No hissing, no scratching, they are well fed and certain of their daily dinner.
Unlike the competition, the homeless guy, obviously hungry and not so certain of his daily dinner.

Jaffa, winter 2006

Saturday, November 18

The king is dead, long live the king?

Milton Friedman died. I'm not an economist and didn't study much beyond an introduction "101" course in economics.

However, I'm a trained photographer, i have good eyes, i'm an observer (some will say a peeping Tom) by nature. I watch, i see, i wonder and i ask questions.
The enthusiastically embraced so-called free market economy introduced by Bibi and co has done very well for co (read: owners and shareholders of big companies).
But rather less so, for those who are no part of "co". Indeed, the "co's" freedom has increased. Freedom to move money where ever it is most worth while, freedom from paying taxes cooked up by their accountants and wisely invested in offshore easy tax economies. When they need government investment in their business (in the form of grants and tax exemptions as well as a very easygoing policy of disregard of ecological problems, labor agreements or selling their products to regimes with bad human rights records etc.) they have their close friends high up the political ladder.
Whenever it becomes cheaper to manufacture elsewhere (Egypt, Jordan, China where ever) they are also very free: the productions lines are quickly replaced, all temporary employment agency employees sent home with or without their last payments. Goodbye to the investments, made by the government with your and my money. It's a free market after all. And it is more profitable to produce elsewhere.
Of course there should be no taxes on imports, so the cheaply now elsewhere produced products flood the local market and local manufacturers close down. On the short run, some of us even have a feeling of wealth, as suddenly we can buy foreign elsewhere cheaply produced stuff for low prices.
For else where read e.g. China with its lovely employment conditions and "green" ecology record.

Previously nationally owned companies (meaning yours and mine) have been sold to "big money" for a fraction of their true value. The new owners, all friends of our politicians, earn fantastic amounts of money, while doing what they want, disregarding the law on 101 ways, because they can (e.g. see the movie "Shvita" "Strike", on what happens at Dimona's chemical factory).
On the run they also waste terrific amounts of Israel's national resources, water, clean air, phosphates etc., but no one seems to care very much.

The income gap is ever increasing, more and more people live below the poverty line and services previously provided to all by the government are more and more privatized, thereby becoming less and less available to an increasing group of people.

The Lebanon war showed this clearly: the weak, elderly and poor were left on their own (read lack of food, lack of medical care etc. etc.) , in badly equipped or non existing bomb shelters) while the more wealthy had to find their own way to evacuate, and the poorer ones among them ended up in Gaidamek's private tent camp.

This is not a temporary by-product, but the direct and planned outcome of the economic "free" market policy of the last several governments.
Free? Free for whom?

When one out of every three children in Israel live below the poverty line, that is NOT freedom.
Being poor implies spending most of your time and energy on mere survival. Not having enough money for very basic things, such as decent housing, food, good schooling.
Poverty in Jaffa is staggering.
Lately i assisted a few families by accompanying them to the court in order to go bankrupt (i do some assisting in a Jaffa community advocacy project)
One of the limits of a bankruptcy procedure is that you cannot leave the country for at least a few years. Nor can you normally operate a bank account, meaning no credit card, no cheques etc.
For many of us these would be serious limitations on the way we live and our freedom to move. Yet for those few poor families it means nothing. They have never been abroad and do not expect to go there in any case. Many have never even owned a credit card. They are so poor they think twice about taking the bus downtown. They haven't seen the inside of a cafe or restaurant for years (unless it was as cleaner or waitress). They are forced to work through employment agencies (yes, many of our poor are employed and work in fact very hard) for often below legal wages and under bad conditions.

Every now and then their houses are invaded by the hotza'a lapoal who carry away their few belongings, to be sold in order to cover their ever increasing debts. Sometimes they are even arrested, for a debt of 2000 NIS (but that is a lot of money when you have to feed yourself with an income of 770 NIS a month). Is that "freedom"?

"Why do they have debts?" you ask. Because their wages are to low to survive. Their social security payments have been cut again and again. Yet housing. electricity, water, food, health and education cost more and more and more.
There is no way they cannot go into debt. Is that freedom?

They are the "see through" people, their freedom is so limited by their poor conditions, the "freedom limiting conditions" of a bankruptcy process don't limit them at all, they never had those freedoms.

Poverty is a crime committed against the poor by the affluent decisions makers and corporate world in our society. The poor lack basic freedom, the freedom to live a normal healthy life. That lack of freedom is perhaps one of the worst forms of social injustice prevalent in today's Israeli society.

Milton Friedman died, I truly hope his ideas will die with him, but i know that won't be the case. Freedom exists for the wealthy, and they are the new kings.

Friday, November 17

Only Fleas Ride for Free

Jaffa's flea market is located in the ancient meat and herbs market area. Some of its stalls are in fact fairly fancy stores, owned by people from Jaffa as well as from Tel Aviv and else where. Other stalls are not much more than a small table in the street or a car hood, or even a plastic tablecloth spread out on the floor.
You can find almost anything, from used tables, chairs, fake Victorian and Edwardian furniture, crockery, books, long out of print magazines, old family photo albums (i always wonder who has the heart to throw these out) , clothes from India and elsewhere, old videos, used phones, whatever. some of the stuff is dead cheap, a lot of it quite the opposite.
The part i like best is not the streets with the stores, but the place where people simple spread out their stuff for sale on the earth and wait for a hapless buyer. Whenever i need "something special" for a studio photograph, i go to this area first of all.

On one of the corners, there are a few elderly Russian migrants whose whole life seems to consist of selling each other the same things. I suspect they go home with their own things every night, and with the same amount of money they came with. They appear to be selling the same stuff to each other over and over again. I guess it's a habit. I wonder what they would do if i'd try an buy that pair of red patent leather shoes of them. It would surely upset their system, they might go into shock.

One needs a permit to sell on the flea-market, even they need such a permit. Just to spend the day there and put your stuff on the ground in the hope someone buys it, you need to pay a tax to the municipality.
I guess the money is used to cover the cleaning and maintenance of the area, but given the many stalls and people selling their wares, the municipality must be doing quite well.
An armed guard goes around ticketing those who haven't paid for their permit, no consideration at all.
Today i noticed an older man, suffering from a physical impairment. He had an official document showing he's he suffers from physical problems ("teudat nekhe"). He sells old, used videos and cheap or used DIY tools.
Last week he paid for the permit, but his place had been taken by someone else, so he left. He had paid for the permit but had not been able to do any business. So today he opened his stall informing a supervisor of last week's mishap, under the impressions that last week's payment would cover this week's permit.
Withing a few minutes the guard came and started to threaten the elderly man with fines as well as a trial at the municipal court.
The man tried to explain and called the supervisor, to explain about what happened last week, but nothing helped.
He got fined. Rahamim is a beautiful word in Hebrew. But words, i guess, come cheaply. The municipality makes more money from fines & permits.

Jaffa, Friday morning

Monday, November 13

Provocations by Ultra-nationalists in Jaffa

If it wasn't so sad it would be funny, but instead of laughing, i feel angry, frustrated.

The well-published Jaffa visit by some ultra right-wing politicians out to gain a few cheap political points, has led to a media craze talking about "the transfer of the Jews from Jaffa". Yes, that's what i heard today on the radio and quoted to me by worried friends who called me. "Was i in any danger", they asked.


"What the hell are they talking about?", was my first reaction.

Yes there is violence in Jaffa, yes there are drugs, yes there is horrid, degrading poverty and yes there is hatred between some people and other people
But NOT "between Jews and Arabs" as quoted by those politicians, out to make cheap & quick gains,without really being aware of what is going on in Jaffa.

Palestinians & Jews live in Jaffa, peacefully. Neighbors.

Yet Jaffa is plagued by a variety of very difficult social problems. Many of those problems have their source in the naqbe (the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948) as well as the decennia long disregard of the Tel Aviv municipality of Jaffa's problems. The weak public education system, a lack of social spending, unemployment (often, but not always, with its base in discrimination) and poverty, an ever widening social gap, housing problems etc etc.
And yes there is also anger.

But trying to explain every discussion between neighbors by "hate" is a fantasy- based over simplification.
Ofcourse there are a few ultra-nationalist hotheads (on BOTH sides), making life a little unpleasant now and then for some people. And sometimes there are disagreements between neighbors which can lead to violence, however unjustified.
But "anti semitism", actions against Jews etc. I have NEVER ever encountered any of that in Jaffa.
There are social problems, there is tension between some of the extremely wealthy new residents living in the closed compounds and the old timers, living in poor shacks next door.

There are also thefts by some of the junkies and i am the last person to say that it is nice. But to turn poverty related social problems into "hate and transfer" is simply ridiculous as well as untrue.
Social problems can be solved. It is a matter of priorities in funding, policy decisions made by the municipality and the ministries of education and welfare. It is a matter of long term community oriented planning instead of running after the money to be made by wealthy real estate developers.

The solution is simple: education, good community development, employment programs and vocational training, opening up opportunities, investing in a viable community and once more EDUCATION.

By demanding more policing and law enforcement nothing has ever been solved, rather problems gave been worsened. Besides, there is FAR too much police in Jaffa already.

The hate exists in the heads of those politicians. They like to create a moral panic, to justify more spending on security, more limitations on civil liberties etc.

Friday, November 10

The Jaffa Conference, 2006

It is difficult to discuss coexistence or cooperation between Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel, when 20 people in Bet Hanoun (the Gaza Strip) died as a result of an Israeli artillery shell, a war crime.
How can Jaffa's only knesset member, the Palestinian MK Nadia Hilu possibly cooperate and be part of the coalition party, when ultra rightwing Ivet Liberman has become a minister.
The two events happened in the same week.
The Jaffa Arab Jewish Community Center has a lovely view of the sea. The weather is nice and sunny, the area is quiet.
Some 130 people sit together, in order to participate in a discourse concerning life in the "mixed cities".
During the first sessions panel members highlight certain aspects led by an incredibly overbearing and self satisfied Dr. Eli Peled, who instead of facilitating a discourse, takes up most of the time for presenting his own rather right-wing views, until several people in the public make their voice heard. But there no longer is time for a true discourse.
The conference is strange. After all, the majority of the participants LIVE in these cities, are aware of the problems and have been thinking about solutions. Instead the panel states the same things we have heard before and very few new ideas arise.
The new CEO of the Mishlama was there, another non-Jaffa ex air force buddy of mayor Ron Hulday.
Less than 15 minutes are left for the public's questions and ideas. The few members of the public who were allowed to talk (hell, where did they find that Peled guy?) pointed out the need for affirmative action. Palestinian Jaffaites should not only work in low level positions, but in all functions in the municipality, and that should include in functions in which they define policies and manage Jewish employees, not just as clerks serving the Arab population.
Sad to hear the new mishlama guy point out "Ahmad shelanu" ("our Ahmad", i guess he mean Ahmad Balahe, the ONLY Palestinian employed in a mid level mishlama position, the rest are cleaners and simple clerks).By using that term "our Ahmed" he said more than he intended.
Sad, sad, these guys seem to conceive of their function in Jaffa as a starting point, a jumping board so to say, in their careers, instead of a true aim and goal. So sad.
The next item on the program was Colette Avital, "the first woman candidate for president".
I don't see any connection between her and Jaffa.
I really didn't feel like listening to MK Collette Avital, so i used that time to get an update ex-camera info setting on some of the stuff that is currently happening in Jaffa.
The next session concerning NGO's was somewhat better, but also left me very depressed. True, there are about 60 NGO's in Jaffa and there is a certain level of wasted of resources, and a lack of coordination now and then.
But there are reasons for that, and solutions are not simple.

By its end i started to wonder what the hell i was doing in this conference. It seems more like a kind of "oh we are so nice" sort of meeting, in which we Jaffaites are serving as a picturesque background, than as a place where action can be planned. The public was silenced again and again.

Due to work commitments, yours truly needs to do some work now and then to pay the rent after all, i couldn't stay during the afternoon session, which was dedicated to the possible cooperation between the Waqf in different places, in relation to the safeguarding of Muslim religious places.
It's a pity i missed it.

But the truth? The part of the conference in which i participated was not very relevant, shallow and not at all geared towards solution seeking or thinking. I felt used as a background for some people needing to show they are doing something.

Not a success.

Thursday, November 9

Just a few thoughts

Nineteen people died in Gaza, and many many others were wounded.

Today the Jaffa conference took place and i have a lot to say about it, or so i thought. But there are nineteen people dead, and everything else seems so futile.

This never ending bloody cycle of violence doesn't seem to stop. The monster is hungry for more blood.

And more blood.

And more.


Tuesday, November 7

Doing well by doing bad

Yes, we can be proud, Haiti, Myanmar and Iraq are doing worse.

So are Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe and Belarus. But in the western world, we are true champions of corruption.
Today, the watchdog "Transparency International" published its annual report on perceived corruption. Those on the defence may of course state "that in reality all is well" and it is only those horrible people from the media and the prosecution "who make us believe that we are so corrupt", so perhaps we should be proud instead. We are not as bad as above mentioned countries. It truly could be worse. But somehow it doesn't pacify me. Corruption has become so "normal" we've started to accept it as a "norm".

To quote the site of "Transparence International":
The 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index is a composite index that draws on multiple expert opinion surveys that poll perceptions of public sector corruption in 163 countries around the world, the greatest scope of any CPI to date. It scores countries on a scale from zero to ten, with zero indicating high levels of perceived corruption and ten indicating low levels of perceived corruption.

The weak performance of many countries indicates that the facilitators of corruption continue to assist political elites to launder, store and otherwise profit from unjustly acquired wealth, which often includes looted state assets. The presence of willing intermediaries – who are often trained in or who operate from leading economies -- encourages corruption; it means the corrupt know there will be a banker, accountant, lawyer or other specialist ready to help them generate, move or store their illicit income.

Olmert, Katzav (OK OK, he hasn't yet been indicted, i know) , Omri Sharon, Tzahi HaNegbi and so many others, some as yet "only under investigation", others already indicted or found guilty, but the atmosphere of corruption is there.
WE don't believe "in the system".
In fact the system makes a lot of decisions that are very profitable for itself and its wealthy friends.
How to turn that around?

Hell knows. And i guess hell is not really interested.

Sunday, November 5


Finally, an atm in Yefet street.
It seems absolutely ridiculous, to be happy about an ATM, but since 2000 we, the Al Ajami residents, have been forced to walk or drive all the way to Jerusalem Boulevard (Nouzha, for the old-timers), as there wasn't even one bank, nor an ATM in all of the neighborhood.
Uneccesary to explain how difficult that can be sometimes, not to have a practical service which elsewhere is normal, and no one thinks about it. The elderly, women with small children, expecially when they do not have cars (and many Al Ajami residents are poor and do not have cars).
So, thanks to Bank Masad for opening its Jaffa branch on Yefet street with a real, honest, fully operational banking machine, the First Yefet ATM.
Blessed be whoever needs to be blessed for this miracle.

Summer's gone, it's wet & cold

The cold and the rain, the strong winds now and then are, at least when i'm inside, fun to listen to. The trees in the street next to my house carry out a strange and beautiful wind choreograped dance.
The rains are a blessing, we need water, after all.
Yet for some they are a curse.
Zohara's leaking ceiling leaves her room humid, black spots of fungus adorn her walls, the white plaster forms bubbles, which later rain down on her spotless floors.
Zohara's house belongs to a housing company, but she has to wait for repairs which should have been carried out years ago. For reasons unknown to her, they are postponed again and again.
It's freezing in her house, so she tried to stay in bed most of the day, or covered by a thick winter blanket on the couch.
The winter blanket was a present from a welfare association. She's happy with it.

A neighbor brings her some hot soup, another neighbor sends her daughter with a piece of freshly baked cake. Zohara is not alone, poor as she is, she always has a smile for all. Now that she is not well, following the radiation therapy she has to undergo, her neighbors care her.
It's cold, it's winter. Just her roof needs repair.

Poverty, Jaffa 2006