Saturday, December 30

Eid ElAdha Scouts Parade in Jaffa

The Muslim Scouts organized a huge parade through Yefet and all of Ajami neighborhood today in honor of Eid elAdha, the 4 day long Muslim holiday.
Kids dressed up in various types of colorful scout uniforms marched through the 'hood, playing a (rather small, believe me i know, i live close by the scouts' practicing grounds, so i've been an almost daily captive witness to their practicing) variety of songs on their drums, clarinets, flutes, bagpipes and trumpets, to the cheering of their proud parents and more or less all of Ajami's residents.
Store owners threw sweets, which were quickly gathered by many of the bystanding kids (and some of the little drummers, who now and then missed a beat or two, in order to catch a colorfully wrapped gum or toffee). The kids marched from the scouting home (Yefet Street) through Salsela street, along the Arab Jewish Community Center, close by the French Embassy (the ElRahim house of pre-1948 lore) , the old folks home and back to Yefet street. Although it was really really really cold, it was dry until the very end of the parade.
And now it's time to go and meet with friends, to eat yet more and talk about what's happening in Jaffa, as not all is well.
Or perhaps we should try not to. not to relate to the violence and in stead think about those soon coming back from Mecca. that's the good thing about Jaffa, we share in each other's festivals. Tomorrow it will be New Year and in another week the Orthodox Christmas. (With another parade).

Eid Mubarak to you all, Happy 2007!

Another murder attempt in Jaffa, during the Eid elAdha Parade

Fireworks? Not really. The Muslim scouts of Jaffa organized a huge parade today, with music and fireworks all over Ajami. The atmosphere was wonderful, happy. People in their best new festival clothes watching the parade and cheering. Fireworks all along. Some shot by the parade organizers, many others by young boys, who always love a loud bang.
As a result no one reacted immediately to the loud boom and only after the victim fell down on the tarmac, bystanders understood that it was not firework, what they had heard seconds ago.
A 20-year old man, riding his vespa down crowded Mendes France street, close to the Abu Hilwe butchery was shot in his helmeted head. Falling from his vespa he hit a parked car.
Bystanders took him to nearby Wolfson Hospital in a private car, not wishing to wait for an ambulance which would have taken long to arrive, due to the parade and Jaffa's many traffic jams.
The police were actually present while it happened, due to the parade.
Another victim of violence in Jaffa. I hope this will not be the onset of another series of murders. We've seen too many of those in Jaffa.

For Hebrew info:,7340,L-3346302,00.html

Emek Amok or Sharm... meeting 2

A little more about the Israeli bloggermeeting at Ben Harim' located in the Yizre'el Valley, known in Hebrew as Emek Yizre'el, in short, the sequel.

Yoav Gal, blogger and Ben Harim resident owner, our host in short, took us on a little tour of the cemetary right next to his home.
In his own and special way, he told us a little about the history of the Yizreel Valley, Emek Israel or Emek Amok, valley of people gone mad (my interpretation, not Yoav's). By pointing out specific gravestones (and the lack thereoff on some of the graves) and the layout of what, at first sight, seemed to be just another small countryside graveyard, he took us on a ride through history.
The lands of Ein Harod, Tel Yosef and Gidonia etc. were bought, so Yoav told us, from their Palestinian owners. The sales' records still exist.
Yet i have that suspicion the story isn't all THAT simple. The lands of nearby Afula were also bought form their owner, a wealthy big landowner living in Beirut. the tenant farmers were then expelled with a small amount of money, from the lands they and their families had farmed for a long time. Some made it, others were just too poor to rent land elswhere, and died of hunger. It made a lot of people very angry, as yes, businesswise it was all very "kosher" but humanwise much less so.

The people who moved on the land instead of the Palestinian tenant farmers, were young, inexperienced and very idealistic. Cut of from their families who had stayed behind in Europe, from their culture and their way of life, they wished to create something new.

However hardship, inexperience and the sheer sillyness of being very young and very certain you are completely right caused trouble. Some died, some committed suicide, others went more or less mad and many ofcourse survived and created settlements driven by ideology. An atmosphere not always too welcoming of newcomers or weaker people.
Children who died, were not given gravestones, as they had not been "productive" during their lives. Just a small mound of stones markes a child's grave. No name, no date, no identity.
How must their mothers have felt?

Parents of kibbutz members were buried in a special part of the burial ground. After all, they had not been idealistic members of the group either. But they HAD been productive, so at least they had a stone and a name.

Amongst the kibbutz members, there were many very young people who die; 17, 18 20-something year olds.
Some of diseases rampant in that area, where proper medical care was often lacking. Others of sadness or suicide, deserted by their lover, or made fun of by the all powerful group, as no one would love them; "she's too ugly for love", Yoav told us. So she killed herself.

The Emek scenery is beautiful, green soft, gentle almost, i want to say.
I'm reminded of that nursery rhyme "Ba menuha leyagea, umargoa le'amel". It's a lovely tune, to be sung quietly by a mother, putting her baby to sleep.
The text tells the baby about the time to rest, as the work has been hard, the dew is on the fields and the moon has risen, night has fallen over Emek Yizre'el, .... It's dark over the Gilboa Mountain, the sounds of a shout and of a shot...who died between Bet Alfa and Nahalal?", a nursery rhyme you get it?

Uri Katzir spoke about telling history, about blogging to tell about the human side of events which happened long ago.
The graveyard told me that story and i'm sad.

The collage above was made based on images i shot at the graveyard.

Friday, December 29

Israeli Blogger Meeting (aka, hmmm.... sharmouta meeting)

Too early on a friday morning (that was today, sometime, early, when it was still too cold to think), opposite the Green House (no, that's not a place where they grow plants, it's the military prosecution offices, located in what once, pre 1948, was the spacious home of a wealthy Jaffa orange grove owner) on Yefet street; Amos and Lisa (yes, yes THE Lisa of "On The Face") wait for me to go to the Israeli Blogger Meeting at "BenHarim", a small hotel in Gideona (Gilboa mountain Range) run, ofcourse, by a blogger, Yoav Gal.
The greenhouse is very close to my house, but navigating Ajami early mornings i do not even wish upon my enemies. (Thanks for the ride, btw, i appreciate it).

First of all, it was fun to finally see the faces behind the some of the blogs i like reading. People i felt i knew a little, without having met them.
The morning sessions of the "unconference" (underbroken by the memorable fresh "kremschnitt" or millefeuilles) provided me with diferent ways of thinking about blogging in general and my own blog in particular. Why do i bother? Who do i write for ? (yeah, you, i know).
Can blogs bring about change at some profound level? Or rather, can blogging be part of social change processes?
What's special about the Israeli blogosphere? To my disappointment there were no Palestinian Israeli bloggers present. The majority of the 22 participants were Hebrew writing bloggers.

And the above mentioned sharmoutot? Amos differentiated between different categories, and i guess i belong that one, yep that's me, a sharmouta blogger alright.
Wanna know why? Yeah i guess you do, but you weren't there.

It's friday evening, it's also the beginning of Eid ElAdha and in Jaffa that means partying, and that is NOT a time to write about such matters, so enjoy the pics: click on the Tali's image to make it all the way to picasa:

And btw, Amos has promised me some clothing for the family of the 8 children, so also some practical good came out of the meeting. Thanks Amos!

Thursday, December 28

Eid ElAdha Donation Drive for the 8 "ghost" children from Jaffa: Update

It's three more days to Eid ElAdha:
Holiday Gifts donated so far for the 8 "ghost children from Jaffa", so they can have a true Eid ElAdha include:
  • 2 brandnew baby suits for the 4 month old girl baby
  • 1 baby toy for the 1 year + a few months boy
  • 1 brand new barbie doll for the five year old girl
  • 1 can of "materna" baby formula for the baby
  • 2 money donations on their way
Hey guys, may i be rude? This ain't enough. My 3-4 readers have turned out to be some 200 (since i installed a stat counter, now i know) people, so some of you..... There are always many reasons not to, don't let them influence you.

To recap it: 8 children from Jaffa, in the ages of 4 months to 15 years don't exist on paper. They are not registered as a result of complex burocratic reasons and as a result they go hungry.
It's THAT simple.
Eid ElAdha starts this saturday, today is thursday, so especially those of you who live nearby:
Whatever your political views may be, they are children who live in poverty most of you have never experienced and i hope none of us ever will experience.
I realize more solid help is needed for this family, but that's somewthing i cannot really bring about.
However, i am convinced that together we can do something small and give these kids a true Eid ElAdha Festival.
So help me, please. For donations in kind, drop me a mail with your phone and i'll get back to you, or send your financial donation to "The Women's Court" (a registered NGO with Israeli tax clause 46 so yes, your donation is tax exempt), 220 Yefet Street, 68061 Jaffa, Israel.
Make sure to earmark it "for the eight children".

Ah yes, Eid ElAdha is the major Muslim festival. It starts this saturday and takes 4 days.
It reminds the believers of Abraham's (Ibrahim) willingness to offer his son to God. It's also the beginning of the New Year and it just feels good to be nice to a child so....

Wednesday, December 27

More than 30% of Israel's children live below the poverty line, but there might be a new welfare minister some time soon

Y. aged 10, needs medicine for his heart problem, but his mother doesn't always have the money to buy it, so often towards the end of the month, when there are still a few days to go before the social security payment comes in, she halves his pills, to make them "last longer". She is aware of the danger, but not eating is problematic as well.
The water has been cut off.
So has the electricity.
But these are mere technical problems, overcome with a little help of the neighbors. Not legal, ofcourse, but at least the family can warm the house and take a hot shower.

The family is in danger of eviction from their home. It's rented on the private market and Y's mother receives some help with her rent. but it simply is not enough. So the rent has not been paid for some months now and the landlord is loosing his patience and becoming quite unpleasant.
The children visited Jerusalem, once, on a school trip, but many years now, they have been refused participation, as their mother cannot afford to pay for the trip. She by herself has never been to Jerusalem, she's hardly ever left Jaffa, in fact. Her children are good students, but it's difficult to pay attention when you are hungry. And hungry they are, quite often. They have been given tickets to go to a free soupkitchen (well almost free, that is, the food costs a small symbolic fee), but it takes 2 buses to go there, so it's simply too expensive.

That's what poverty means.
You get it? More than 30 % of Israel's children live below the poverty line. That's one out of every three.
In Jaffa these numbers are higher, especially amongst the weaker populations: one parent families headed by women, many of them new immigrants, large Arab families, families suffering from long term unemployment.
It's the children who pay the highest price for poverty.

There has not been a welfare minister for about 2 years now. They say the current minister, Herzog, of tourism may be appointed. No one seems to care very much.
The welfare budget is cut again and again and even then not all is used so towards the end of the year the unused funds go back to the treasurer. Who cares, it's just the kids who suffer, and the weakenend people, and THEY don't vote, they don't really count, they are not really seen, the see-through people of Jaffa

Tuesday, December 26

When a girl needs a smoke, she

Gets her smoke, whatever it takes. Even when it's really cold and very wet
Anti smoking laws aren't popular in Jaffa, but slowly they're becoming more accepted and smokers rest in their lots, knowing they have little choice.
In Jaffa's cafes smoking is still acceptable and no smoking areas don't even exist in theory. Who cares about the law.

However, some places do enforce the law. So smokers are faced with new problems: finding an acceptable smoking corner (or mahshesha, in localese).

As long as the weather is nice, that isn't much of a problem, but once it get's tough, the tough get going, and they are very tough, Jaffa sized tough.

Break a leg

A truck loading building materials overturned on Jaffa's Yefet Street, this morning at 8 o'clock, after one of its supporting legs broke off.
On its way down, it destroyed a roof and wall of a construction materials storage room.
Thankfully, no one was hurt and collateral damage was fairly limited. It's good kids are on Eid elAdha/ Christmas holiday, as normally around this morning hour the streets are packed with children on their way to school.

Jaffa's Ex-Fountain

"Where?" "Ah, next to the fountain where all the drug addicts hang out." "No, it's north of the fountain". "No, no it's just south of the fountain". How often have i explained or received an answer on how to get somewhere along Jaffa's Jerusalem Boulevard.

Jerusalem Boulevard was once known as "Nouzha", named after the lovely mosque of that name, located there.
Nouzha was a fancy shopping street, in pre-1948 Jaffa. Shops, hotels, the main post office, the "AlHambra Theatre (where Oum Kalthoum performed during one of her Jaffa visitsm today's Discount Bank branch) , the municipality and ofcourse the fountain.
As Jerusalem Boulevard is a long tree-lined street, running from south to north, the fountain has always been a kind of reference point: "Is it north or south of the fountain?", people ask, when told to go to an address somewhere along Jerusalem Boulevard. The fountain was once located right in the middle of the boulevard. On old photographs you can see it was opposite the old Jaffa municipality (today's Welfare Department building) . All around the fountain were geranium flowers or roses. In my mind they are red flowers, although i have no way to know that, as all photographs from that time were black & white (the ones I have seen, that is) .
After 1948 the fountain was removed and put somewhere in a municipal warehouse. In the fifties it was returned and placed in front of the Welfare Department ("Sha'ar Yafo), a little to the east of its original location and became a landmark: when giving instructions for a place along Jerusalem boulevard you indicate it's either to the north or the south of the fountain.
The fountain itself was (yes WAS) a simple affair, sinple in the good sense of that word, of simple elegance.
No more.
Yesterday i was shocked to see it destroyed. One more piece of Palestinian Jaffa removed.

There is a lot of construction going on. The Reform Judaism Daniel Center is almost complete. Perhaps the fountain will be returned (a part of its basin was laying, in tact, on the side) but it's won't be the same.
The systematic removal of Palestinian cultural landmarks from Jaffa, the renaming of streets etc all serve one purpose: telling the Israeli narrative,

Update January 2, 2007: It appears they are reconstructing the fountain a little to the east of its previous place. Let's hope so. It's not only pretty, but also an important landmark.

Sunday, December 24

Blogger Meeting Friday December the 29th at the Gilboa

Blogging is somewhat anonymous now and then, writing out aboutwhat you feel or believe in, nor always knowing who's out reading all of it.
So: another option to meet with each other "unconference style":

When: Friday, December the 29th, between 9.00 - 17.00
Where: in "BenHarim" at the Gilboa.
Why: Fun, interesting, get to meet each other, perhaps cooperate

I really want to go, but i'll need a ride, at least on the way back.

Anybody joining me?

Saturday, December 23

Help Needed

It's almost Eid ElAdha and the family of 8 "non-existant" children, living in poverty in Jaffa, won't have much of a festival.

I got it into my head i might be able to do something small about this with your help, my dear readers.
Normally children receive new clothes, new shoes and presents for the festival. This family has NO income. They live on what some people donate, now and then. There are days when they go hungry. Mostly, they eat food that's nor very healthy, left overs, things that can no longer be sold. The children wear give aways. Brand new clothes is not something they have experienced a lot.

Eid ElAdha is a 4 day long festival, during which families eat well, while paying visits to family members, where they also eat well. Eid ElAdha will start this coming saturday.

So what can you help with?

Clothes for (sorry, i really do not know children's sizes):

  • Tall big girl, 15 years old, wears religious Muslim dress (known in Jaffa as "Pakistani suit", a pair of wide trousers and a knee length tunic, made out of winter fabric) and head cover.
  • Girl, thirteen years old, wears jeans and sweatshirts or colorful warm tracksuits
  • Tall, very thin, 13 year old boy, likes hoodies & jeans
  • 11 year old boy who's somewhat overweight: tracksuits or jeans and a sweater
  • Six year old boy
  • Small five year old girl who loves pastel colored tracksuits with barbie , flowers or butterflies, she always feels cold and wears many layers on top of each other.
  • Boy aged 1 year & a six months, about the size of a 2 year old
  • 4 Month old girl baby, relatively big for her age
It would be nice if the clothes are new or VERY good condition (like new) & clean 2nd hand, they're a holiday present after all.
They need shoes as well and "na'aley bayit" (what 're these called in English?)

What else?
Toys, children's books in Arabic (especially the three oldest children love reading).

And food or a money donation with which to buy food & baby formula for the baby. A gift can of "materna" or "similac" is also ok.

Financial gifts can be made through a registered NGO, the Women's Court, who have full tax exemption status (Israeli tax clause 46) and all necessary paperwork. Send your cheques to The Women's Court, 220 Yefet Street, Jaffa, Israel, earmarked for "the 8 children". Please leave your address, so they can send you a receipt.
For gifts in kind, please send a mail to with your phone number, so we can coordinate.


Tuesday, December 19

Eight "ghosts", alive but not well, in Jaffa

Eight small children grow up in Jaffa, although they do not really exist on paper. Eight minor children, all of them hungry & without medical insurance! Eight small children not attending school in any normal way. Eight children who "do not really exist", as far as Israeli burocracy is concerned.

R. was born and raised in East Jerusalem. She always had a blue ID card as many other East Jerusalem Muslim residents, implying she is a resident of the state of Israel, not a citizen.
She married D. and for about 3 years after her marriage she lived with him in Bir Zeit (West Bank) where her 2 oldest children, 2 girls now 15 and 13 years old, were born.
After about 3 years the family moved back to Jerusalem, where 5 more children were born.
For a strange reason, the Ministry of the Interior cancelled her residency permit, but she has no other citizenship or residency, as R is Jerusalem born.
The two oldest girls were registered in the father's West Bank ID.
The other children were NEVER EVER registered anywhere.

Her husband assisted the Israeli security forces in some way or other, and as a result the family's home in East Jerusalem was torched. After a lengthy legal battle, D, R's husband, was given a status as "threatened" person and allowed to settle and work in Jaffa. D. was abusive and after another small girl was born (now 4 months old), D and R divorced. In the divorce agreement (made by the Jerusalem Sharia Court) D does NOT have to pay any alimony for all of his small children who are all left in the care of R.
R lives illegally in Jaffa. But then, she's illegal anywhere in the world, as the only residency she has, that of Jerusalem, her place of birth, was cancelled.
Her younger children have never been registered anywhere as she had no money to pay the hospital costs when they were born. Only the small baby has a sort of release letter from the Bat Yam Wolfson Hospital, where she was born.
The other children "just do not exist" ,anywhere, on paper. They have no ID numbers and as a result no registration, no health fund, nothing.
The Israel Ministry of the Interior is simply not answering her requests. The strange thing is that her residency was cancelled in an illegal way, because she never lived for a long period in the Occupied Territories. But as she is waiting for their answer, for a long time now, there is nothiong she can legally do.
Since her divorce, she has no income what so ever.
The family tries to live on hand outs.
Only the oldest three children have managed to go to school, where they do not officially attend.
At school, in addition to education, they receive food.
Often there is no baby formula, so the little 4 month old girl is fed things unsuitable for her age. Some friends of mine have been donating cans of Materna Formula and toys, but it's not a solution. Doctors for Human Rights will start providing medical assistance to the family.
But the simple question remains: how on earth can there be 8 children in Israel, who simply do not "exist".

One woman, 8 young children, hunger, illness and distress.
Jaffa 2006

Monday, December 18

The Big Strike - the sequel

A few weeks ago, a general strike declared by the labor federation led to promises being made by the Ministry of Finances.
Steve Adler, a national labor court judge enforced that strike's quick ending after a mere 24 hours.
And then?

Nothing happened.

The Financial wizzards of the Ministry announce in the news they have solved the problems, however, in 44 municipalities the employees, who haven't been paid their salaries for 8 months now (in some case far more than that) are still waiting.
It's Hanuka, next week the Christian Palestinians in the country will be celebrating Christmas, and in another two weeks it will be Eid ElAdha. Yet the employees are still waiting for their salaries.
Indeed, some money was actually transferred by the ministry, however, none of that reached the emplyee's bank accounts.
These people are going hungry, literally. They have no electricity, no schools books for their kids, no winter clothing, and they cannot heat their homes in these very cold winter days. Presents for the holidays? Are you joking?

The strike is about to be renewed.

Oh, before i forgot, in SOME of the municipalities SOME of the wages (about 1/3) have been partially paid, guess to whom?

Saturday, December 16

Lazy Bums & Egoists

Using a bike, walking or travelling by public transport is healthier in quite a few ways. And in parking space starved Tel Aviv it's also quicker.
Jaffa however, has a lot of public parking spaces, and they happen to be free as well.
Jaffa is ideal for responsible car use: use it when you have no choice, otherwise go public, by bike or walk. As many of Jaffa's people are not wealthy, car ownership is lower than in Tel Aviv.
Many houses and streets in Jaffa have been torn down over the last 30 years and little was built to replace the lovely old houses once gracing its ancient streets. As a result, there is much parking space.
Raziel street (once known by its original name of "Boustrous" street, after the idealistic peaceloving Christian Palestinian business man who founded the first houses along that street) is in the northern part of Jaffa.

Graced by some lovely old houses, a home for immigrant elderly and a few rennovated buldings, there are also a number of very mediocre restaurants mostly frequented by well-to-do Tel Avivians preferring the "Jaffa Lite Experience", that is, saying they went to "authentic" Jaffa without really going there.
Really really close by there are a few large public parking areas, where they can park their cars for free, a rarity in Tel Aviv, where normally one has to pay a lot of money for the "pleasure" of parking ones car.
However, the creeps frequenting these restaurants, are too lazy to walk 30 m. As a result, they tend to double park along Raziel street, creating horrid traffice jams.
Another nasty habit is ofcourse parking in busstops. Especially during the darker hours (which start early in winter) it's very difficult for young children waiting for the bus. The cars hide them from the sight of the busdriver who then passes the bus stop without stopping.
As a result, the kids run on to the street when they notice the bus is about to arrive, thereby endangering themselves.
Why? Because some asshole (excuse the language) was too bloody lazy to walk a little and instead parked his (or her) car right in front of the clearly marked bus stop.
This happens daily.

Jaffa -Tel Aviv Municipality and the Carrier Pigeons

The Jaffa - Tel-Aviv Municipality (that's its official name, by the way, Jaffa first) has a weird way of collecting municipal taxes and water bills.
They simply never send them in Jaffa.
And ofcourse when you don't get a bill, you wait, sometimes quite happily, as your financial situation isn't always all that great (understatement of the century), nicer to postpone that payment.
Municipal taxes in Ajami are as high as in north Tel Aviv, for houses constructed over the last 20 years (thankfully the building i live in is older).
Now if the services we receive would be on a north Tel Aviv level, there just might be some sort of justification for that.
However, municipal services in Jaffa are way below the level in any other area in the city. Way below what they should be. Once upon a time bills used to arrive every 2 months. But that time is past & gone. Perhaps they switched the delivery services, or perhaps the carrier pigeon they use got lost or was caught by one of our neighborhood's tigercats.
Instead we have to go al the way to the municipal building to pay the bills. There they insist bills were sent, only they never arrived.

The "Mishlama" offices (our local municipal branch) moved to its new offices between the Christian graveyard and the gaz station. So symbolic.

Friday, December 15

Akhbar Al-Madina - Jaffa's Newest Weekly

Before 1948, most of the country's Arabic language newspapers, magazines and books were printed in Jaffa, which had several tens of printing houses and many bookstores. On sunday mornings Jaffa's well educated elite would gather at the literary club to listen to poets and writers reading their latest work.
At times there would be over 500 people listening, and chairs and a loudspeaker were placed outside as there was barely space to breathe inside the overcrowded club building.
Jaffa was "Arus AlBahar", the Bride of the Sea, the cultural center for the Palestinian population.
All that had been finished by 1948 (in fact Jaffa's elite had started leaving in 1946 when conditions in Jaffa were becoming unbearable, often extendeding their summer stay abroad "until the situation would improve", not expecting the Naqbe, not understanding they would never be able to return to their beloved city.
The printing presses had been silenced.
In fact, there were no bookstores in Jaffa for many years. Then the small Steimatzky store was opened, which carried mostly Hebrew books and a tiny selection of books in Arabic, mostly for young children. A few years ago, "Jaffa, Coffee & Books" was opened but that's mostly a coffeeshop with a small selection of books, some in Arabic. They claim "human rights", but their employment practice proves soemthing rather different. As a result, I make it a point not to go there, although it is quite popular with some of the left.

Office supply stores sell schoolbooks in Arabic at the beginning of the school year. But if you want serious literature or academic materials in Arabic, you have to go to the Triangle, Haifa or Jerusalem.
Some people prefer going to Jordan or once a year, the the great Arabic Book Fair in Egypt, often bringing back many books for themselves and for bookloving friends.
The cultural price of the Naqbe paid by the Jaffa residents has not been researched much, to the best of my knowledge. Researchers and authors Danny Monteresqu, Mark Levine, Sami Abu Shade, Adam LeBor and Dan Yahav all relate to aspects of this loss in their works.

So imagine how wonderful to finally see a Jaffa made weekly magazine on the newsstands today!

I want to say "Mabruk!" to Akhbar Al-Madina.

Tuesday, December 12

The unbearable easyness of punishment

N is a single mother of a young boy, aged 2 years and 3 months. N used to be a drug addict but has been clean for 5 years now.
Since the birth of her little boy she's been unemployed. She lives on social security, trying very hard to be a good mother to little H and not go back to drugs.

N. doesn't read nor write and in the past worked as a cleaner.

H's kindergarden starts each morning at 8.00. He's always on time, well dressed and well fed. N. tries very hard to be a good mother to him. Her older children were taken away from her into adoption, while she was still on drugs.

N. wants to work and when the labor exchange sent her to a place to clean an office, they were happy to have her start working for them, she 's a good cleaner and always has a friendly laugh on her face.
The first day they allowed her to start at 8.30, so she could bring H. to his kindergarden, on her way to work.
Yet the second day they told her she should start every day at 7.00 o'clock.
She said she couldn't as she has to take her son to his kindergarden, which opens only at 8.00 and she doesn't yet know other parents who might be able to help her out, as the kid is new in that kindergarden.

They told her not to come back. She went back to the labor exchange where they told her she will not be given her social security payment for three months "as a punishment for refusing to work".
She cried and demanded to speak to managment, who told her the same thing.
She tried to explain to them she has no solution for her little son, who's only 2+ years old and cannot go by himself to kindergarden.

N is considering returning to prostitution....

Jaffa, 2006

Festival of Festivals

The "Amal" Highschool in Jaffa is located in what used to be the "Manshiye" neighborhood. Close to the sea, in an area somewhat run down these days.
It's a small not adequately funded public school, trying to assist students, most of whom have dropped out of all other schools. Kids who do not believe in the system, and worse, who do no longer believe in themselves.
Different from the majority of Jaffa's public schools, the school caters to both Jewish and Palestinian students.
The teaching language is Hebrew.
Many of the children come from "broken" homes or very poor families. At the end of the schoolday, many of the kids run off to work. In a few cases, the children's income is the only one the family has.
For almost all students, it is the last chance they have to study.
Many of the staff are very idealistic, care about the children. Some are tired, it's not easy doing a diffecult job with inadequate resources.

As the school has children from many religions (a rarity in Israel's single track system) they today had the "Festival of Festivals: a joint celebration for Hanuka, Christmas and Id El Adha.
The Reut Sedaka (a joint Palestinian Jewish youth movement) band gave a rap performance of Jaffa related political songs in Hebrew and Arabic, called "System Ali".

As i myself facilitated an art workshop, i cannot tell you about all of the day, just about the atmosphere.
It was wonderful, great, special. I guess it was the way festivals should be, happy, fun, together.
Respecting each group's traditions, willing to try out , to listen and to appreciate.

Sunday, December 10

The Flourishing Economy of Thieves

Fifty percent of the Israeli working population earn less than the minimum wage. Although paying less than the minimum wage is illegal and punishable by law (one year in prison), employers feel safe doing so, as very few cases ever come to court.

Many of the low earners work through employment agencies in temporary jobs (although some stay in these jobs for over 10 years).

Between 10 -20% of the Israeli employees do not receive payslips. This usually implies their employers do not pay taxes nor social security. As a result, the employees are not eligible for unemployment money, when dismissed from their work. If something happens to them, the employer can deny knowing that person.
They cannot prove they are being paid less than the minimum wage or made to work more hours than legal.

Many of the country's wealthiest people are currently wining and dining in the David Intercontinental Hotel on the Jaffa border, the the Israel Business conference. They are meeting and planning yet more tax cuts and subsidies to their businesses, how to circumvent laws and make a better buck.
They are the employers of those 50%. They are the thieves.

Saturday, December 9

The Hunters and Their Prey

Let me be clear, Mr. Sela, the convicted escapee serial rapist is a dangerous person, a criminal. He violently raped several young women and girls after having broken into their homes, while threatening them with a knife, thereby traumatizing them for life. Their families and close others have been victimised as well.
The guy continued his sexual violence while in prison, towards female staff members. Many women, myself included, felt threatened, knowing he was on the run. For the first time in my life i felt happy my downstairs neighbors keep this very big and mean rotweiler in our common yard.
However, we should also remember the majority of all sex offenders are never sent to prison, because in the majority of cases, women do not file complaints. They are scared the complaint will do them more bad than good. Their are scared of having to testify and be made to relive the trauma in court being victimized once more. They are scared of being objectified by the media as well. An i understand them. It is not as if we are "safe", now that Sela has been caught.
For the sake of honesty, i must also admit here, that i used to be the general manager of one of Israel's rape crisis centers. On princinple i never thought much about the rapist, as i needed all my energy for his victims.
I am absolutely convinced Benny Sela should be in prison, first of all, in order to protect us. Secondly, because justice needs to be done. He victimised and terrorised several women directly, and perhaps all women in the country indirectly. His long sentence (35 years) is just.
Having said all this, making clear where i stand on the main issue, i need to say something else as well.

At first, when i noticed the street posters with his mug and the caption "Let's catch him together, call 100", i felt dis-taste. Something very wrong, although i couldn't exactly put my finger on it.
Then the media coverage showed me the people hunting him, literally proud, certain of their righteousness, civilians just like me, becoming hunters going for their prey.
The forced photographs of Mr. Sela after his capture (he appears to be hiding his face, unable to do so, because of his hand-cuffs), showing him like a prey helt up forcibly by the proud hunter policemen made it clearer to me. The policemen are all very proud. the press must have been invited to make this picture, to show the proof, "yes, he is back in our hands".
Once more, i feel it is good Mr. Sela should be under arrest and sent back to prison.
However the glee of the hunters scares me as well. Yes, Mr. Sela has committed terrible crimes, yes he should be in prison but after all of that, Mr. Sela is still a human being, not an object, not a prey.
The objectification of Mr. Sela causes me no happiness. In fact it scares me. Very much.

It seems i have been given a glimpse of what is underneath the very thin veneer of our civil society. And what i have seen worries me.

I remember that as a child i saw an image in my history text book: the crowd of onlookers cheering as the decapitated head of French queen Marie Antoinette is being held up by the guillotine operator. It scared me, as i couldn't understand how people could possibly cheer when another human being is being killed. At the same time i told myself that "today something like that couldn't happen", not here, not us." The thoughts of a naive child.

Wednesday, December 6

Promises promises

Last week's strike was over quickly after promises were made by the government offices, to transfer money to the municipalities who have not been paying their employees' salaries for many months now due to their dire financial situation.
Some municipalities indeed paid, but he majority never received money and 12.000 employees and 40.000 pensioners are still waiting.
52.000 people who are not eligible for any social aid "because they receive a payslip", yet they only receive the slip without the money.
The strike may be renewed tomorrow.
The worker's unions have done everything to assist those workers. They went to court and the labor court decided in their favor, but the municipalities disregard the judges' decisions. They were asked to provided the government with a few days to find a solution. No solution has been found and days passed by.
52.000 are going hungry, cannot buy medicine or pay for their housing. Their children do not have school books. When will this stop?

Monday, December 4

The Crime of Poverty

A report published yesterday by "Latet", an organization dedicated to donating food to needy people, shows 27% of the poor in Israel expect their children will not be able to escape the cycle of poverty.

There are several ways to read these data: On the one hand, one might say that 73% expect their children will be able to escape the poverty cycle. It sounds better, that's for sure. A little bit more comforting, there is hope, so to say.

However, twenty seven percent is a hell of a number. Especially when realizing that 1 out of every 3 children in Israel lives below the poverty line. (source: the last "Bitouah Leumi" Report on Poverty, 2006 דו"ח העוני). Poverty usually implies having less to spend on education, food, medicine, clothing, housing and culture.
Poor children tend to live in areas where educational, social, cultural and medical services are mediocre or less available. When wealthier people live in less affluent areas (e.g. in the periferial areas), they go private, whenever the need arises.
Poor people cannot afford themselves that luxury. As a result, over time, poor children lag behind. The ongoing budget cuts in social spending are paid for by the children of the poor. The so-called "privatization" of many services has lead to less services or no services to poor people in weak areas. Services have become less available, often because payments make them so, or special conditions, the poor cannot meet.
Poor people know what they are talking about.

It's their children who pay the price, over time, slowly, surely, devastatingly.
There are many organizations providing some sort of services to the poor: Soup kitchens, used school books (often of an older edition, which makes it more difficult to follow lessons) , used clothes etc. I do not wish to criticize the wonderful people spending much of their time volunteering their services. Yet it is shameful that soup kitchens and food hand outs are necessary.

Food, housing, medicine, education and clothing should be a basic right, not a handout that you sometimes receive and sometimes you don't.
A society that allows itself to do less, commits a crime against its children. the crime of poverty.