Saturday, November 24

Mother earth took me for a ride.

The truth? I didn't feel this one. That is, not when it happened, which was apparently sometime very early this morning, just after midnight, when yours truly was asleep.
However when i woke up there was something faintly disturbing: my bed, which was located, when i went to sleep last night, next to the southern wall of my bedroom, was right in the middle of my room when i woke up....
My bed consists out of a big, fairly heavy, wooden platform, placed on large industrial type wheels instead of legs (my design). When not on its breaks, it rides very smoothly, e.g. to the balcony when it's too hot to sleep inside.
But still, the earthquake did its thing and there i was, waking up in the centre of my bedroom, having been taken for a ride by mother earth, in my sleep.

Tuesday, November 20


Oops, so this wasn't a heavy truck passing by after all.
The epic centre was north of the Dead Sea, on the Syro African rift.

Small one. This time.

I guess we're counting on our luck more than anything else. But at some point luck tends to run out and quake-resistant construction standards exist (for new building projects, that is), but are not checked as very few local councils and municipalities employ specialists in the field.

So when the big one comes (according to geologists and sysmologists this is not an "if", but a "when") there will of course be a lot of damage and then an official investigation committee to investigate why the standards were not adhered to.

Wonderful as usual.


Intissar* is 20 years old. When she's in a good mood, there's a big smile on her round face. But she's hardly ever happy.
She's been homeless for most of the last two years. Living on the streets, occasionally staying with families who feel sorry for her and try to help her.
Intissar has no family. Her father died, 2 years and 2 months ago, as she told me yesterday, Intissar has a very good memory for dates. Her mother suffers from mental retardation and lives in a special home by court order. She cannot take care of Intissar, who herself is lightly retarded as well. Intissar suffers from a personality disorder and is supposed to take psychiatric medicine.
Due to her many suicide attempts, the doctor doesn't want to give Intissar all her of medicine in one go. But there's no one who can take the responsibility of giving her her daily dose. As a result, Intissar suffers badly and occasionally becomes very violent. Which makes it even more difficult (for help providers) to assist her as they are the first Intissar selects as victims. In a simple sense Intissar is right about that selection: no one has really helped her (although, to be honest, people have tried over the last 2 years), so she is right to feel very frustrated.

Intissar receives monthly social security payments, which she spends on cigarettes and candies, two things she cannot live without. She spends the monthly money she receives (1800 NIS, about 420$) ) very quickly, within a few days. After that she has to survive the rest of the month on nothing...
Intissar doesn't have the skills for living a normal life independently. She she's left to suffer on Jaffa's streets.
Until about a year ago, Intissar who grew up in total institutions (for people mental retardation), was recognised as a woman with mental retardation. In spite of professional recommendations and psychological testing, Intissar was declared "not retarded" by a committee. As a result she lost her right to a large number of services for mentally challenged people. She was also declared, by implication, mentally competent to independently live her own life. The only problem: she doesn't have the skills to do so.
And there is no one in her family to assist her. Her sisters are all minors, living in boarding schools and with foster families.
Over the last 2 years Intissar was out on the streets for most of the time. She also spent a few days in a mental hospital, from which she was released as she is not mentally ill, in a regular hospital (both after suicide attempts), a hostel for mentally ill people (from which she was kicked out after 2 months, after she attacked someone of the staff) , in prison after she was arrested, for violence.
Yes, Intissar has problems and sometimes her behaviour is VERY problematic.
However, the prolonged total lack of care is responsible for most of that behaviour. She's frustrated, helpless and very very angry.
Over the last year or so, 5 cars and a business have been registered in her name by people wishing to abuse her. They do so by not paying taxes and insurance, driving on toll road nr. 6, not paying parking tickets etc. One of the cars was caught smuggling workers from the occupied territories. The police questioned Intissar and that is how we found out about the cars. The problem is that the social security payments may be stopped as a result of those cars and the business.
Truthfully, some people have tried to assist her. But there is no one, except the official welfare system, who cab take the responsibility for Intissar. And they simply refuse to do so, stating she is just like any other young woman. She should take a job, rent a room and help herself.
They forget, that she IS mentally challenged and doesn't have the skills to do so unaided.
Intissar is a big woman. She's very strong. And very angry.

I contacted BiZhut, the Israel Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities. Their spokesperson tried to interest the media in Intissar's story. But there was little interest. It appears they know of no other way to assist her.

One day things could go very wrong, someone might be seriously hurt and Intissar might find herself in prison. This did can be prevented.
If social services will do their job. If...

* Not her real name, the story is true however.

Monday, November 19

Jaffa Housing Rights - Another site dedicated to the struggle

The Popular Committee for Housing Rights in Jaffa opened its official blog at YaffaStruggle

I'm happy i'm not the only one :)

Saturday, November 17

Jaffa Architecture Revisited

This week's Ha'aretz property weekly supplement carries and article about that infamous Jaffa abomination the "Givat Andromeda" gated community.

This week's Arab language weekly "Al Medina" carries a front page article about the Jaffa H. Family, titled "Save Us". They are fighting to continue living in their home, the home the H. family has owned literally for over a century.
A sad coincidence; Ahmed H. used to be a guard at the Andromeda Compound, safeguarding the property of its wealthy inhabitants. He personally knows many of Andromeda's wealthy inhabitants, but i wonder if even one of them will be willing to assist him and his family in their legal fight against Amidar.

The housing & property weekly of Ha'aretz is usually rather capitalist in its outlook. Property value, how to make money out of your property, how to receive more rent, raising young property tycoons to the status of cultural heroes etc. characterizes its writing. The paper hardly ever carries an article in which housing is seen as a basic human right. Nor it is ever suggested society as a whole has a responsibility to provide decent sustainable housing to its members. The point of view is always that of the owner, the tycoon, the guy (hardly ever there's a woman involved, gender is another weak point of this particular rag) who's making the bucks. Never that of the people paying over 50% of their income for a shitty little room in a sub-standard housing estate about to fall down.

The Andromeda article is different. It tries to critically approach the social meaning of the gated communities.
Architect Sharon Rotbard (author of "Black City White City", when will that important book be translated into English?) is quoted towards the end of the article. He wonders if it is at all possible for a Jewish architect to design and construct any property in Jaffa without being unjust, without feeling at least quite uneasy.
Rotbard is both right and wrong. (I do not know, of course, if he was quoted correctly). The problem is not the ethnic origin of the architect, but rather a question of true ownership of the particular piece of land, as well as who is the client.

If in each new complex constructed in Jaffa, 30% of the flats would go towards sustainable housing at a reasonable price for Jaffa's Palestinian and Jewish poor population the situation would look very differently.
If property developers would, in order to receive their building permits, (in addition to the 30% social housing) have to donate to the community in the form of constructing a youth club, a school, a day-centre for the elderly or a clinic for drug addicts, i wouldn't feel very bad about new constructions, designed by Chinese, Jews or Iranian architects or who ever.
Ofcourse only on land truly owned by the developer, not on land confiscated frmo its original owners in 1948 or after that.
An something else, the developers should be made to actually carry out their social obligations: until now the Andromeda developers have not constructed the children's playground they are supposed to develop. Nor is the compound open to the public the way it is supposed to be according to court order.

When you are rich, maybe the law doesn't apply to you..

Saturday, November 10

Jaffa's Garbage Mountain revisited

Jaffa's garbage mountain is continually changing. About to be turned into a park, "Midron Yafo", huge quantities of dumped building rubble are ground into smaller stones and then into sand, to be used in the construction of the Tel Aviv local train rail road.Tens of thousands of truck loads are being carried off. The mountain's surface keeps changing literally from day to day.

The garbage mountain covers much of what used to be Jaffa's beach. Jaffa's thousands of destroyed buildings were simply dumped into to sea to create and artificial piece of land on which villa's for the wealthy were to be constructed. That plan didn't work out as the Jaffa population took the municipality to court and won.
The mountain consists of rubble, garbage and a plethora of nasty stuff, such as asbestos. The grinding process releases particles into the air and the nice sea breeze carries it into our homes and lungs. Even dusting twice a day is useless. A thin layer of the nasty stuff covers the furniture before you're done dusting.

Yet the mountain also has a strange and dramatic beauty to it. An ever changing wasteland high baove what used to be our beach.
They are turning back part of the mountain into a beach once more. The waves and the sea sand grind the bits and pieces, creating a dazzling colourful mosaic of what once were the the floor tiles of Jaffa's houses.

The Garbage Mountain Today:

The Garbage Mountain about a year ago:

Tuesday, November 6

Ahmad was released from prison 2 days ago

Ahmad is 20 years old. A bit stocky. Always smiling. The neighbourhood's prankster. Playing practical jokes on everybody, all the time.
I have slightly known Ahmad for many years. "Hyperactive", they said about him at school. Always on the move, always doing something, always causing everybody to laugh. The neighbourhood's clown.
And then a joke went wrong. Very wrong.
Had Ahmad lived in north Tel Aviv, the fancy lawyer his parents would have taken for him, would have gotten him off. Perhaps a few hours of volunteering somewhere, as an educational punishment.

No one could believe it, when Ahmad was sent to jail for playing a practical joke on a taxi driver. The least of all, Ahmad himself.
But Ahmad, with no previous criminal record, a good boy from a nice Jaffa family, was sent to jail. For playing a practical joke. Ahmad, the innocent clowning kid with the smile on his face. Playing football in Rifat Turk's soccer school, participating in educational camps, in spite of his learning disability. A good and positive boy, growing up under difficult conditions.

Not to an "easy" jail, for first-time offenders, but to one of the tougher places of Israel's prison system, Atlit (or Carmel Prison as it is called these days, as if a fancy name can hide the misery behind the high white-washed concrete, barbed wire covered walls).

Why? Hell knows, or perhaps the shabak.
i wonder what prison has done to him. He looks older, more grown up. He's become religious. But he still has that same smile, that makes you laugh, the minute you see him.

This evening there will be a party for him. Mabruk, kid. I hope i can still call you "kid".

One street in Ajami

I'm slowly, very slowly, getting used to my new home and street.
The view: wonderful, in all directions. My direct neighbors: lovely people. The house-owner: dunno yet. A little strange, but much less worse than the creepy couple from the previous place in Shapira, my two-hour event outside of Jaffa (for those following my legal battle with said couple: no i still have not received back the rent - their lawyer tries to make me pay for the renovvations. The appartment was declared dangerous to live in and in "danger of collapse", while i had the keys, ergo "it's my problem & responsibility"). But then, it would be difficult to actually be worse. And believe me, i'have met some horrid landlords over the year.
The scarcity of housing in Jaffa has led to the worst profiteering in the field. There apparently is a never-ending collection of worms trying to make some quick money.

What else about the new place? OK, the water is a mere trickle, the electricity more than a little shaky. The doors of the kitchen-cupboards keep falling off and opening spontaneously due to the strange angle of said cupboards (or perhaps a poltergeist?).
The previous inhabitant had airconditioning in what is now my very large and airy, well-lighted bedroom. He took the airco with him and there is a huge gap in the wall. The current owner is in no hurry of repairing it. Oops. It might rain tomorrow. The blessed "yore" is about to arrive.

My street: There is no pedestrian pavement. The are several large and smaller and smallish holes everywhere in the thin layer of tarmack covering part of the street's surface, true third world style. Thanks municipality! I wonder if it will turn into a muddy torrent when the first rain will come down. We are always "surprised" by the first rain and the damage it does to our streets.

My street: there are two drugdealers, operating openly. Everybody knows. Nobody talks. Jaffa.

My street: While walking home, i'm offered two plates of food to take with me, by my neighbors. "Take it Yudit, i just made it, "kusa mahshi". Mine is the best, so they say in the family. Eat it quickly, for it is still hot." "We got oil from the village. It's the first of the year. Here, taste some, it's the best. There is no better oil than this".

I taste it all. It cannot get any better.

Friday, November 2

Ajami, ajami, what's in a name

"All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over an Ajami nor an Ajami has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor a black has any superiority over a white - except by piety and good action."

Muhammad, from his last speech to the Muslims

Ajami is the name of my neighbourhood. Names of Jaffa's old neighbourhoods are often derived of the names of the tribal families who first built their homes, or owned the lands on which they were constructed. No one actually decided to provide the neighbourhoods to be given those names, or they somehow developed over time.

Many streets in Jaffa did not have names. There were simply known, as often happens in villages and small towns, "next to the orange grove of e.g. the El Abid tribe or of the "AlMasris" or of the "Boukharys". The names point to the origin of the families: the El Abids were black Bedouin apparently brought over as slaves (abid) from Soudan in much earlier ages, the Masris came from Egypt, the Bukharys from Boukhara, many centuries ago.

During the 19th century Jaffa developed very quickly not only due to natural births and immigration from abroad (especially from Egypt), but mostly due to internal migration, when whole families from Nablous, Jerusalem, Um Al Fakhm and other places in the north of the country and Bedouin families from its southern regions moved to Jaffa.
Each family acquired lands, or rented them for many years from the owners, and settled as a tribal family on those lands, which then received the family's name; "the neighbourhood of so & so". Usually families married "within" according to the custom of the land, and the sons settled with their brides in the family compound or close to it. Over the time the neighbourhood developed which was then named for the named family.

Al Ajami started to be constructed as a neighbourhood for wealthy Muslim families in that time. In Arabic, "ajami" is someone who's silent, doesn't speak Arabic well or a stranger. In early times it was used to indicate a Muslim of non Arabic speaking origin, e.g. from Persia.

Over time it developed as a family name. I suspect the ElAjamis were the owners of the land or perhaps one of the first families who started to construct their homes on it. Thus the neighbourhood received its name.