Wednesday, May 30

Shooting in "GanTamar", Jaffa

A young man, apparently from the Ashur family (although not from THE famous Ashur clan, who apparently have been involved in a bloody vengeance war over the last several years), was shot this afternoon in Yefet Street, close to the junction with HaLotus street. While leaving a small store on Yefet street, the man was shot twice from a Renault car passing by. His wounds are said to be not severe. He's hospitalized in nearby Wolfson hospital.
The incident happened on once of Jaffa's busiest junctions at 16.15 o'clock.
It was witnessed by the police (!) who managed to arrest the driver and the shooter in Kedem street after a chase. During the chase the gun was thrown from the car and recovered by the police.

A few words from the bystanders: "i hope he dies, he's a violent creep, the victim". "Enough, those idiots, we've had enough violence. Let them all rot in jail" and other similar statements.
There was very little sympathy and much anger. The young guys hanging around on my street's corner are conversing among themselves. The women are worried, sitting outside on the porch and discussing the case amongst themselves, afraid for their sons. Only the small children run around with their kites and bicycles. Unaware and not yet involved.

Sunday, May 27

Home demolitions

A balcony, a wooden entrance door with a brass knocker instead of a bell and a hamsa, for good luck. Home to a young couple. No children as yet. A living room and kitchen, a bedroom, nothing luxurious, but it's a home.
The curtained windows look out over what once was an orange grove, green trees, shacks, muddy streets, car repair workshops, Jaffa's neighbourhoods on the far horizon: the grey apartment blocks of Yafo Daled and Gimmel, the pastel coloured ones of the border with Bat Yam.
There is something inherently evil about destroying a home.
The land of Pardes Dake belongs to the people living there. Many of the homes were constructed prior to 1948 yet after 1948 no regional development plan was made for the area and as a result it is not possible to receive a building permit, even if you ask very very nicely.
Over the years the family grew larger, and the sons constructed their homes in the pardes, close to those of their fathers, as is the tradition in this part of the world. Illegal? Yes, in a strictly legal manner of speaking yes, illegal. But they had no choice as there was no way to get a permission. Why is there no development plan for the pardes? There is no regional development plan for most of south Tel Aviv and Jaffa, as a matter of fact. But there were ways to circumvent this and somehow building permits were given to those close to the hearts of the municipal regulators and surprise surprise, the Dake family are not that close.

however, a home is a home, a roof over one's head a very basic necessity. The quick gentrification in Jaffa (as in Tel Aviv) is forcing many people out of their homes which are bought by the rich, strong and wealthy. Illegal building rules don't really apply to them, it's amazing how much illegal construction goes on in Tel Aviv. But when you are strong and have good lawyers, who cares? Even if that illegal manner of construction seriously damages the life quality of your neighbours. As i said, when you are rich here, the rules don't really apply to you. and if they do not fit, you just buy your way into changing the rules. So yes, a roof IS a basic necessity, but no longer does the state see itself responsible to ascertain that all its inhabitants can afford a decent home. As such, "home" no longer is something to be assumed as "certain". More and more people are loosing theirs in Jaffa. they do not necessarily move into the streets (although some do), many move in with family members, the kids in oje place, the parents in another, the family falling apart. Small 2 bedroom flats having become home to 20 people is no longer a rare occurance in Jaffa. Living in cramped quarters influences children's lives in many ways. It is difficult to concentrate on your homework. Small spaces often lead to much tension, which sometimes develops into violence in the family, often against its weakest members.
Several years ago people live in tents. When they had enough of it, they squatted several homes in Jaffa.
there has been no social housing construction for a great many years now. No building permits have been given to people living in public housing. The situation is desperate.
The Dake home is one of many.

The municipality calls it "the free market forces". I call it a crime against society's weaker members.

News Update on Pardes Dake

Some 60 activists, yours truly included, gathered today on the roof of the four-family home in Jaffa's "Pardes Dake", when police forces and municipal employees arrived in order to carry out the demolition order.

Omar Siksik of AlRabita, Fadi Shabita of Reut-Sedaka and labor party knesset member Nadia Hilu (a Jaffa resident herself) and ofcourse Moussa Dake, the house owner, undertook lenghty talks with the representatives, while receiving on-line legal advice.
Right now we are at a standstill. The demolition order has been postponed until June the 4th in order to try and receive some sort of legal understanding which will, hopefully, allow the family to stay in their home.
It's really important to find a viable legal solution, as this will reflect upon other homes in the Pardes Dake compound.

Violence is scary and police presence, amongst others in form of a border police jeep automatically raises fears.

At the same time there was something moving in seeing so many people from Jaffa involved and showing their solidarity. People from different families, political groups and backgrounds, from all ages, Palestinians and Jews together struggling for the right to viable housing.

Saturday, May 26

House demolition at Pardes Dake, take 2

The threat over Mousa Dake's family's home is up once more and it appears the bulldozers may come tomorrow morning, Sunday May the 27th.
So demonstrators will meet at the corner of Yefet / HaBa'al Shemtov street at 8.30 in the morning.

The house to be demolished is a two story building. It serves as a home to 4 families. The bottom floor was constructed prior to 1948, the second floor was constructed some 7 years ago. Without a building permit, true, but that is because it is not possible to get a building permit in the Pardes area, as there is no general municipal building plan for it. The area, 22 dunam, belongs to the Dake family.
Parts of the land have been sold in principle to Flatto Sharon, however, nothing has been paid for and offcially the land still belongs to the Dake family. The sale is supposed to go through in another 18 months. It makes one wonder why the municipality is so intent on destroying the home now, when they KNOW the family will leave in another 18 months.

The family doesn't plan on leaving. In any case, they have nowhere to go.

Thursday, May 24

So far it is quiet in Pardes Dake

"Pardes Dake" is not a place one easily walks into. It used to be an orange-grove many years ago, owned by the Dake family. Over time it became a living compound where car repair shops, shacks, garbage-strewn unpaved streets and alleys run haphazardly. Some nice 2 story houses, next to asbestos-roofed shacks give it the look of a refugee camp rather than a Jaffa neighbourhood. On my walk around, i saw a sort of cage looking like a compound for dog fights. there is much poverty. The compound doesn't have a very good name.
The Dake family tends to keep to itself. Some are said to be involved in crime, others are highly educated young professionals. The Dake family has special standing in Jaffa. Lately there have been rumours some of the Dake family started to sell their lands to wealthy developers, such as Shmuel Flato Sharon. 250.000 $ for a small 2-room shack, so the rumour goes.Apparently some papers have been signed, but so far none have received money. It has happened before in Jaffa, that people were swindled out of their homes, and Flatto Sharon, a convicted crook, doesn't have an honest reputation. They say Sharon wants to construct another gated compound in the area.
Life in the pardes is not easy, especially during the winterdays, when the houses are often flooded.

Moussa Dake has lived in the Pardes all his life, born during the British mandate period, he has seen it all.
He is a practical man, who has lived all his life, in the house in which he was born, prior to 1948. The lands are registered in his name in the "tabu" and there are no disputes over his ownership.
Over time the family increased and his son added a second story on top of the old family house. True, he had no building permission, but the family paid all the fines and that seemed to be it. Until last night, when the announcement of the coming demolition of ALL of the house (including the pre-1948 bottom floor) arrived.
The news passed quickly amongst the various Jaffa activists and some 40-50 people turned up this morning in the Dake compound to peacefully resist the destruction of yet another home in Jaffa.
The bulldozers didn't arrive. But it doesn't mean the home of Moussa is safe.
So far so good...

Wednesday, May 23

Prevent a house demolition in Jaffa tomorrow, Thursday May 24th

The home of the Thakka family is in danger of being demolished tomorrow morning. The house is located on the border between Ajami and Jabaliya neighborhoods in Jaffa. It was constructed on land owned by the family ("Tabu").
Activists and sympathisers will meet tomorrow morning, Thursday, May the 24th at 9 o'clock on the corner of Yefet and HaBa'al Shemtov streets in Jaffa, to prevent a family from loosing their home.

Saturday, May 19

The Jaffa Heiress

Intissar is seventeen, bright, funny, streetwise, the youngest of 10 children and until yesterday, full of hopes and dreams. A knock on the door of the small apartment where she lives, ended those dreams. Her sister's little, 3 year old, boy opened the door and several police men entered, with arrest warrants for Intissar, her elderly disabled mother and all of her nine sisters and brothers (2 of them disabled as well). That's 11 arrest warrants in one go.

Because of debts, not even theirs. Debts they inherited.

The story goes back a long time. Intissar's mum developed a mental disease, when Intissar was very young, a tiny toddler, and became unable to care for her children. Intissar's father was addicted to to drugs and alcohol. The welfare department removed all children from the home and placed them in boarding schools. Intissar was only 2 years old, when they took her from her parents' care and placed her in a home, in order to give her a chance, by juvenile court order.

Intissar's father died about 4 years ago. Junkies with alcohol problems don't live long. After his death, all minor children were returned home by the welfare department. Their mum is still suffering from the same severe psychiatric disorder she's had for many years, and not really able to care for her daughters. But Intissar is strong and in spite of many difficulties, she copes, somehow. But how can a 17 year old girl cope with her "heritage of debts"? Because that's the problem here.

In Israel, when a person dies, and he or she leaves behind money or other possessions, these are shared by the inheritors according the the person's last will or, if there is no will, according to the law on inheritance.
BUT, if the person died owing money, his or her inheritors inherit his or her debts. If the person owned a house, usually the house can be sold, the debts covered and the remainder shared among the family, the cat or dog or whoever else.
Yet, in Intissar's case there is no home to be sold, there are no possessions. Her large family lives in a tiny public housing apartment in one of the worst slums in Jaffa.

All of the children grew up in boarding schools and children's homes. They hardly ever saw their parents. Their father was interested in one thing: getting high before cold turkey sets in.
Over the years he made incredible debts. How exactly is only partially clear. Each time the water. electricity or phone were cut, he renewed the connection not by paying the bills, but by putting the new bill in the name of the next child of his 10 children. Thus, all of the 10 kids, while they never lived at home and were minors, ran huge debts at the various utility companies without knowing anything about it.
I do not exactly understand how the utility companies accept contracts made by minors who are not present at all. Minors who have been made "wards of the state" and are under the responsibility of the welfare department.
But these are not the only debts. There is an "inheritance" of over a million NIS shared by all of the family members, and arrest warrants against all, including minor Intissar (which is illegal, by the way) because of those debts.
Intissar comes form a very weak background, but she is a fighter. Life in the many homes she stayed in, has toughened her. But she has no tools coping with this. In a few months she will be 18 years old. Instead of starting a career, and doing things 18-year olds like doing, she'll be facing impossible debts, her "inheritance".
When she works, most of her salary will go towards paying those debts. She'll become a slave to her father's "inheritance" of debts.
Through legal aid, she may be able to pay off those debts in monthly instalments always facing arrest if she doesn't meet them. Career? Study? Intissar can forget about those for years to come and perhaps for ever.
There is something VERY wrong with a system that allows this kind of injustice.

Intissar is not her real name, for reasons of confidentiality. The story is true, i wish it weren't

Friday, May 18

Something not so weird in Jaffa - Drugs

Last night, a police heli keeping me from concentrating on my book ("Bnot HaDrakon") by hovering with its powerful searchlight over my house, occasionally keeping me in its blinding focus.
Two streets more or less from my home, at Donollo HaRofe street, a huge drug search had been going on, successfully apparently.
Drugs and Ajami go pretty much hand in hand. And it was no secret to anyone from our 'hood that some of the inhabitants of that particular home were deeply involved. No longer so. Sixteen police cars came and the Israeli keystone variety arrested and carried off several people suspected of being involved and that trade.

Thursday, May 17

something weird is going on

Right now a police helicopter has been hovering above my house for several minutes. A strong light beam circles our rooftops, apparently searching for something
What? Who? Why? Hell knows.
Most of my neighbours are out on their balconies, rooftops and the street. Nobody seems to know much.
Perhaps this will turn into a developing story...

So far, not really.
It costs over $1000 per hour to keep a helicopter in the air. That's a lot of money for the short funded Jaffa cops, so it must have been something major. But there isn't a thing about it in the papers or on the news sites.

It feels exposed, to stand on one's rooftop balcony in the focus of a blinding search light.

Friday, May 11

Boycot "Mul Yam"

Today's Ha'aretz carries an amazing article, which just goes to show how much employers care about their employees' safety and health:
Mul Yam, a very fancy and expensive seafood restaurant in Tel Aviv's harbour is owned by Shalom Mahrovksy, who's most proud of keeping the names of his clients, some of them quite famous and others perhaps rather infamous, confidential, even when they try to abuse his employees.

According to the article in Ha'aretz, two female employees who volunteered to stay working late after the restaurant closed (and the rest of the employees had gone home after a long day and night of work), but a party was still going on in one of the private VIP rooms.
Both employees were offered a sip of wine by the client whose name is kept confidential by Mahrovsky.
Soon after that fateful sip, they started to loose consciousness. Another employee, who had not tasted the laced wine, managed to release one of the employees, when the guest tried to push her into a waiting taxi.
The other employee was too much out of it, to even close the restaurant.
Te next days both employees woke up after many hours, dizzy, confused and unable to remember anything from the previous evening. Symptoms consistent with so-called "rape drugs", like ketamine and others. The victims went to the hospital, but as these drugs break down quickly in the body (which is exactly what makes them so "attractive" for pervs and creeps) obviously it was too late to detect any signs.
Both employees were sacked (to be returned to their work later, when Mahrovsky understood all of the 48 man strong staff were very angry with him because of the victims' dismissal).
At the same time, Mahrovsky stated he keeps the name of the client confidential, but told him "not to come to his restaurant any longer". Which basically proves two points: Mahrovsky KNOWS exactly who the guy is, and protects him and his own business rather then his replaceable employees.
I suggest hitting him where it will hurt him most: his pocket. Boycot "Mul Yam".

Tuesday, May 8

So angry

Sometimes, i suppose, it 'd be much healthier not to read the paper early mornings.
Today's Ha'aretz tells me the minister of welfare wants to re-establish food coupons for the poor, to ensure they will receive food safety. What about paying liveable wages (some 40% of Israel's poor are employed full-time, but do not make enough money, the so-called "working poor") and enforcing these? And returning the horrid cuts in social security payments? These will do much more for food security.
The brilliant plan is an answer to the demand of various food charities, who believe they should not be held responsible for something so basic as food security. They are right of course, but a coupons program is NOT the answer.
Simply: PAY more.
Funny enough that has worked in several countries where it was tried. No, people did not loose their jobs and factories were not closed, and no there was not more unemployment as some of the cronies of the very wealthy want us to believe, whenever raising the minimum wage (and bloody well enforcing it) is mentioned.
Another "lovely" one from the Ha'aretz front-page: Netanyahu our next minister of defence? Noooooooooo, tell me i'm still asleep, please.

Which reminds me of the fact pointed out by "New Voices" that 18 families in Israel
"earn one-third of Israel’s commercial revenues, totaling approximately 44 billion dollars. This revenue counts for 32 percent of income within the State of Israel, but does not reflect the families’ inherited wealth, savings or any income from investments outside the country. The families’ earnings increased four percent from the previous year".

The same article also points out 7 of those families are friends of our beloved chairman (aka Olmert) , who, with Netanyahoo, sold them many of the country's assets in the framework of their beloved "privatization".

Where's the emergency exit?

Monday, May 7

Les Miserables, in Jaffa, in a way.

Several years ago i lived in a small street, just behind the "Nouzha" Mosque, in Victor Hugo Street. What i loved most about the small house, was its garden. I planted a vine, rosemary, morning glory "Leylet el kader" (a big green bush with tiny white flowers opening only at night, with a wonderful smell) flowers, herbs; my own small paradise.
I thought i would always live there.
True, the two drug-dealers in the street operating their business like a banking machine (put your money in a slot, collect your wares through the window) wasn't exactly my idea of "nice neighbours, but i loved the street, the house and the garden i planted.
Victor Hugo Street connects between Dante and Michelangelo streets. Somehow referring to both hell and heaven.
And yes, there were some really wonderful people living there too. And some very funny ones. Opposite my house there was a small 2 room apartment. The owner filled it up with 3 layer bunk beds and some 22 (yes twenty two) Chinese workers lived there. Only one of them knew English and none knew Hebrew nor Arabic. The English speaking Chinese guy had become a good friend over time, and spent the Seder night with us and many a regular evening in the small garden, joining us for some tea with nana or luisa.

Then, the shooting started. . Automatic guns, that is. A hell of a sound to wake up to. The greengrocer on the corner had been shot. Everybody out in the street at 4 o'clock in the morning. Shouting, scared, angry, fed up.
And me? When the lease ran out, i moved out of my little paradise.
I kept contact with some of the (other) neighbours.

Yesterday evening, the neighbours in Victor Hugo Street sat outside, as usual. People carry some chairs, a small table outside and enjoy the mellow evening temperatures with a tea, a coffee, a water-pipe, some sweets. The children play in the street. Just another evening, like so many others.
The sudden sound of shooting, automatic fire, rapid. Muhamad Zeynab, falls down, mortally wounded. His wife and a female neighbor are wounded as well.

Les miserables, Victor Hugo Street, Jaffa, 2007

Saturday, May 5

Lag Ba'Omer in Ajami

Some holidays are simply made for all.
On Purim all kids in Jaffa, including young Muslim children, dress up. Little girls in long flower-fairy dresses, little boys running around proudly as as spiderman or ninja turtle.
Some adults criticize this trend, but try kids to convince them NOT to dress up.

Towards Lag Ba'Omer Ajami's many villa building sites put up extra guards, as Jaffa children, ALL of them, walk around with old shopping carts (and some not so old ones) gathering wood for the their "LagBa'Omer fires": the higher the better and nowhere you find as much wood as on building sites. After the place has been selected, the kids start bringing out the wood they have been gathering (and carefully hiding) for a few weeks. While bringing on more wood, they always leave a kid behind to guard the growing pile from other groups of equally ardent youngsters.
Tonight it's "big fire" night in Ajami.

More images:

When a brothel goes on fire...

Shivering in spite of the strong midday sun, the clients stand, rather wet, in their underpants. A uniformed policeman takes their details. their ID-cards are still inside. Most of them look very young, in their late teens and early twenties.
The smell of smoke, burnt plastic and soot hangs heavy in the air.
The area is ugly, small industry, second hand car lots, right behind the new regional police headquarters in Salame street.
It was called the "Aquarium Spa", but the business-cards laying around in the mud, around the place leave no doubt, this was no health spa or naive "massage" parlour, but a brothel. The women are no longer there. Perhaps they ran off through a back-door. I hope none are still inside, the firemen enter the place wearing oxigen tanks on their backs and the burn smell, also outside, is overpowering.
The heavily tattooed, Russian looking "manager" (pimp is perhaps a better word, or maybe he was a guard) is being questioned by a policeman. He shouts at me when he notices i shoot his picture. the heavy Russian accent leaves no doubt. He's angry, but realizes he cannot do much, with police and firemen present.

A little further away a white, new Volkswagen with the number 98 613 24. A woman with Slavic features stands next to it. She looks worried, scared, keeps her mouth covered with her hands. It seems she has tears in her eyes, but maybe i am imagining things. She quiet, doesn't say a word.
The clients are worried, their things are still in side. One of them tells his friend he's pissed off, as he paid money, but had not yet received "service". After a while they laugh and ask me to take their picture in front of the fire truck.
A fireman brings a pair of brand new sports shoes outside. A wet flowered underpants wearing teenager picks them up. They are still white and new looking, and wet. The young man is pleased. He looks like any other young guy. Shoulder length hair, a beaded necklace, a kid from "Sheinkin".

No one talks about the true victims, the women.

more images:

Wednesday, May 2

"Bimkom" Conference in Jaffa

"Bimkom" a non-profit organization of Planners for Planning Rights with the goal of strengthening the connection between human rights and spatial planning in Israel, in cooperation with the Arab Center for Alternative Planning held a two-day conference on civil society's right vis-a-vis the establishment.
The second day of the conference was held in Jaffa at "AlRabita" and dedicated to the fight for affordable housing and against the demolitions and ethnic transfer of the Palestinians from Ajami and Jabaliya neighbourhoods.
As i make it a point never to work on the first of may, happy mayday, by the way, i decided to attend the second day of the conference.
As the demolition problem is urgent, in Jaffa most of us concentrate on the immediate, preveting the close desistaster of ethnic transfer. Yet it truly is important, to pay muoch attention to the larger implications and the long run effects of the activities as well.
What is happening today in Jaffa, is part of a wider tendency, by which extremely wealthy developers and their cronies, all out to make a quick buck, push away very basic human rights, such as affordable housing and sustainable community life. On their way, like a bulldozer, they do away with whathever bothers them even slightly.And they can do so, as they know how to have the law on their side, and if they don't they have enough power to manipulate it to be on their side.
True, Jaffa in general and Ajami and Jabaliyah in specific the problems are more urgent than anywhere else. And it is important to loose every round in the fight to save those neighbourhoods as the Palestinian neighbourhoods they are and have always been.
The fact that the lands and houses were originally Palestinian property taken away from the owners in 1948 by the Israel land administration which then made the owners pay rent for the properties they had been robbed of, makes it al the more horrid.
Yet similar processes take place in Florentin, Kfar Salame and other southern Tel Aviv neighbourhoods: huge office buildings and dwellings for the very rich are being put up at the cost of the inhabitants who are in danger of being kicked out. The developers and investors make tons of money "living of the rent" or making much money by buying and then selling when the price is even better. Thus housing no longer is a need and a right, but a commodity, cynically manipulated for making tons of money by those who already have a lot of it.
The community? The people? Affordable housing? Historic neighbourhoods? Ecology? Who cares. Money, money money...

Architect Busayna Dabit (see image) from Ramle put the discourse in its historical, political, cultural and spatial context, of house demolitions of former Palestinian property in Ramle, Lod and now in Jaffa.
Michael Edwards (UCL, London) provided a description of the very long struggle against developments in the Kings Cross area in London, a struggle which initially was successful in preventing massive developments which would have left the local population homeless as well as destroyed many historical landmarks, yet the war has not yet been won, as a new, only slightly less horrid development plan has been introduced and it has much support from Blair's cronies and much money stands to be made.
Yet, at the same time, the inhabitants of the area have started direct talking with the developers, instead of the discourse being mediated by the establishments' various organizational bodies. An interesting approach, possible, because the their are a few large developers. In Jaffa the situation is different in that respect. Yet to be learned, analysed and adapted in other areas in the country.
Emily Silverman of the Technion described various interesting models of "improving without moving": gentrification without kicking out the original population. Mixed income neighbourhoods as an alternative to gentrifying an slummy but attractive area by kicking out the poor to nowhere. Some of these models might be excellent for Jaffa and i believe suggesting an alternative plan incorporating solutions of this kind, might be a good long term housing and community solution for Ajami and Jabaliyah.
Erez Zafdie emphasized the problematic dynamics happening "below the surface": the colonialist tendencies as well as the ethnic nationalist logic's dynamic interaction with the economic "development" principle. The Israel land authority owns most of the land in Israel since 1948. By using a development logic it serves other needs as well. As these incredibly discriminatory methods are difficult to defend in court, the tactic is carried out through privatization of the development. Thus "community settlements" can defend their racist "admitting committees" etc..

There is no doubt the municipality wants to turn Jaffa's Ajami and Jabaliyah into a Jewish neighbourhoods. In fact, the major refused to use the term "mixed city" and describes Jaffa as a Jewish city with a small other ethnic and religious minority, thereby wiping out Jaffa's proud cultural past and much of its current identity as a Palestinian city.
The question of Jaffa becoming a separate municipality was rightfully raised in this respect.

During the afternoon various practical workshops concerning the fight for a Palestinian Ajami and Jabaliya were held, and the results will be obvious in the field.

"Bimkom" conference in Jaffa