Sunday, April 27

Mugging the poor

Yesterday, three young guys from Jaffa robbed a Chinese migrant labourer in the area of Jaffa's Gaza street.
They took all his money.
Chinese migrant labourers usually pay very large amounts of money to manpower agencies (aka slave traffickers) when coming to the country to work. Often they have mortgage their and the families' homes to make the payment and as a result they have to work for months and sometimes years almost without pay, in order to return the loan. During the weekends, when the "official" construction sites lay idle, they tend to do their own thing, painting homes and doing small repair jobs to at least have some money in their pockets. They often carry around all their savings, as banks for a number of reasons are not really an option for them.
Thus, they become easy targets for muggers and robbers. As the Chinese labourers usually have work visas, they can go to the police, which is what happened in this case. Three arrests have been made. I just hope the victim will get his hard earned money back.

Rationed Rice - Back to the "tsena"?

Just heard it on the news, rice is being rationed in some of the super market chains in Israel, due to the higher global energy prices.
But as the dollar exchanger ate vis a vis the NIS has gone down, for Israeli transporters the fuel price has not REALLY gone down, so something doesn't add up.
How much of this is "real" and how much is it hysteria and perhaps a cynical manipulation by the supermarket chains? After all, they bought that rice for the old prices ages ago.
Yesterday i read the main buyers in the US of cheap rice are restaurants and they made a run on some supermarkets because they didn't appreciate having to pay a little more prior to a price hike. However they created a chain reaction: the perceived shortage became a real one when more people made a run being scared of there being no rice. Stores ran out, stated they would ration and thus even more people made the run.
Yes, rice will become more expensive and that is no joke, as it is a basic staple. But the run and the rationing? Right now?
What is the real dynamic behind it? Globalism? Differential use of resources such as land? Control over markets and stocks to create artificial shortages in order to get a better price?

From prison to the "gagon" and back to Abu Kabir, murder investigation update

One of the three arrested people on suspicion of involvement in yesterday's murder of a 40-year old man at the Gagon shelter for the homeless in Jaffa , was released a few days ago from prison.
The suspect spent the last 6 years in prison after having been found guilty of manslaughter. He was released from prison a few days ago.
One wonders why someone is released from prison without, so it appears, a rehab program, a place to stay for at least some time, until one finds a job (which is very difficult when you have a criminal record), receives one's first salary, so rent can be paid. Being homeless isn't an easy start.
When people are released directly into the streets after a prolonged stay at a total institution (be it jail or a hospital or some such) and when they have no support from family or friends, the options are slim and rehabilitation becomes almost impossible.
Perhaps the man is innocent, and maybe he's not. I have no idea. But certainly he is innocent until proven otherwise. Whatever the case, released prisoners should at least receive some form of support.
Gagon isn't a very good place from which to start a rehab program.

Friday, April 25

Murder at the "Gagon", the Jaffa shelter for the homeless

The body of a man appearing to be in his forties (but homeless often look much older than they really are, life on the streets is rough and tough on the human body) was found early this morning at the entrance of the Jaffa "Gagon" shelter for the homeless.

"Gagon" is Hebrew for "small roof".
Today Tel Aviv has a few "gagonim", the Jaffa one is for men with addiction problems and in the Tel Aviv central bus station area there is another one for homeless women. There is also another one for non-addicted men. And many more are needed. Homeless people sleep in corners, in ruins, in building sites, on park benches and in the area of the central bus station. Or in bus stops in the main streets, or in the lovely little park next to the HaBima Theatre and the Rubinstein pavilion. Some construct small shelters out of boxes and plastic bags. Others try to attract as little attention as possible, so they will not be evicted by the neighbours.

During the day hours, when the Jaffa shelter is closed, many of the addicted homeless men hang around in the northern part of Jerusalem Boulevard begging for money from the drivers stopping at the traffic lights. Some give, others look straight forward, as if they do not see anyone, or play with the buttons of the car stereo or advanced GPS system. Homeless are sort of "see through" to many people, i guess.
Yet, each of them has a story to tell, and usually it is sad; Migration, alienation, a ruined marriage, unemployment. But once life was different, there were hopes, ideas and dreams.

This weekend's "Ha'aretz tells about 1000 homeless teenagers and young people on the Tel Aviv streets. Elem, an NGO, operates a day-center for the young, but no shelter. The young homeless have no where to sleep. Unless a cheap hotel with a client is considered "somewhere to sleep".

A man lost his life. There are wounds on his body. A fight between drug or alcohol addicts , they say. He hasn't yet been identified, apparently he wasn't one of the gagon's "regulars".
What kind of person was he?
Did he have a good childhood, with games and fun and laughter? Was he a good student or was school more of a punishment to him? Did he create anything or keep his poems in a drawer? Did he love anyone and was he loved? By whom? Will anyone cry for him? Will there be a minyan at his burial?
Will his grave be unmarked?

Homelessness is a matter of social justice. Homelessness is NOT God-given. It's a problem that CAN and SHOULD be solved, Shelters are not more than an emergency solution.
The Tel Aviv municipality started a special welfare unit for the homeless. I tried to contact them just before the holiday in order to receive aid for a young woman with retardation who has been -on and off- out on the streets for the last three years. They did not answer the phone nor return calls.

Talk on the street is that three people, a woman and two men, have been arrested or at least brought in for interrogation.

Thursday, April 24

Trying to tell the truth about the "liberation" of Jaffa

Some 20 - 30 demonstrators and at least 40-50 police men, including special forces (Yasam) and border police.
In spite of the law, none of those last two groups wore name tags on their uniforms.

At the etzel museum a small audience listens to a sound & light heroism performance,
We are kept at "a safe" distance, but using old pots and sticks as well as small flutes we raise a lot of noise.

Banners tell the story of the naqbe in Jaffa, of the acts of terror carried out by Etzel against civilians. Sixty years ago, the naqbe.

Reuven Abergil tells the story of how that happened, while the Brits and the Hagana conveniently looked in the other direction. They controlled the road blocks on the way to Jaffa and the Etzel people dressed to look like local Arabs, passed through with their weapons and explosives.

Bombs hidden inside a watermelon cart and a truck exploded in Jaffa's market. Children and women were murdered. The aim was to create terror and make the population want to flee away.

The police tried to force us to another location, close to the Turkish railway station, where no one passes by and no one can see nor hear us. So much for democracy. So much for our right to express our views and be heard.
We disagree to move to that far away spot. In reaction they bring iron fences and "cage us in".
More police arrive on the scene.

The atmosphere becomes uneasy, then violent.

Four (?) people are arrested, some are lightly wounded, one journalist's press card appears to have been taken away by a police man who refuses to identify himself. Some of the police become very violent.

The police move us even further away in a concentrated and violent effort. It appears the noise we make bothers some of the "etzel heroes".
Their public doesn't really want to know the true story.
But the true story can be well learned from the etzel themselves. Prior to "pc" language in the fifties and sixties, they published books about their "heroism" against Jaffa's civilian population as well as the acts of looting Jaffa's homes and stores.

The police actively assist in telling the Etzel narrative.
They do all to keep us quiet.

But we won't, we won't be quiet.

And by the way, i found a camera in the area of the demo. I think it belonged to participants, please contact me.

H and her 8 children, still no home

Last week H. and her 8 children were evicted. They still have no where to go. They are staying with the neighbours, but that solution is moving towards its end.

If anyone of you know about a place for rent in Jaffa or in Bat Yam , close to the Jaffa border, please contact me ASAP.

Join the party, demonstrate!

The Etzel (Irgoun) museum is having a party tonight, to "celebrate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Jaffa" on "Manshiye" beach, just north of today's Jaffa border, at the Etzel Museum, that architectural monstrosity next to Alma Beach. (in case you're confused by now, Manshiye was the mixed Palestinian Jewish poor quarter of Jaffa, around the area of the Turkish railway station more or less. Today's "Alma Beach" and the Charles Clore Park are located on what used to be Manshiyeh beach).

Jaffa, the "Bride of of the Sea", the "Pearl of Palestine", was destroyed in 1948. Jaffa's people were murdered and expelled. In 1949 there were less than 4000 Palestinians left in Jaffa (about 15% of the population prior to 1948). Jaffa was the cultural center for Palestine, with its theatres, cinemas, radio station, printing houses, newspapers, schools etc. About 85.000 Palestinians were forced to leave Jaffa. Many of their homes were destroyed and their property looted.

The irgoun used methods of terror and extreme violence, such as placing bombs in the market, in cafes, in a children's soup kitchen etc, all civil targets, killing innocent citizens. As they said it in their own words "to demoralize the Arabs of Jaffa".
And today they are having a party to commemorate these "heroic acts".

We 'll be "joining them" in order to make sure the other narrative will be heard as well. To make people understand that what is happening today in Jaffa, is a direct continuation of the other process, the "liberation", or rather, destruction, of Jaffa in 1948.

Join us at 19.00 outside the Etzel Museum, today, April 24th.

Saturday, April 19

Another armed icecream robbery in Jaffa and an arrest update

Jaffa has three legendary ice-cream parlours, each with their specific public, who would never buy ice cream at "the other places"; "Andre", "Victory" and "Dr. Leck".

Last night, when they closed and one of the employees took the day's income with her, she was threatened by a gun holding robber, who grabbed the money and escaped. The employee got away with a scare and a shock.
The police are investigating.

To days ago, 2 arrests were made in the murder case of Muhamad Marshrawi, last Saturday.

Halamish's little bag of tricks

In Jaffa there are several public housing apartments boarded up instead of being in use by the 200+ approved families on the waiting list.

To be approved for public housing, you need to be very poor (completely long term-dependent on social insurance payments only, due to e.g. disability and have at least 4 children, or a one-parent family social insurance dependent family, with at least three children). You need to take out an eligibility document, which needs to be renewed every 2 years (which costs money and is quite a procedure).

Families stay on the waiting list for many years. Some get tired or are to poor to renew the eligibility document (or realize that it leads only to more waiting so why bother?) so they no longer appear on the list, as they move in with family to live under impossible conditions (18 people in a small 2 bedroom flat) so the real needs are even more than appear on the list.
More over, there are some 500 eviction and demolition orders so the list will become even longer.

We (the popular committee against home demolitions, of which i am an active member) are trying to find out exactly how many flats are not in use. We know for a fact some flats have been empty for more than a year.
Halamish explains the flats are not fit for living because the Housing Ministry is not providing the money for the necessary renovations.
In a few cases i know for a fact this isn't true: there might be need for some minor repairs, but not more. e.g. the flat squatted by H and her 8 children (from which she was kicked out this week, onto the streets) was in a very fair condition, the windows had been taken out by Halamish themselves) to prevent squatting yet the flat had been empty for over more than a year.

Of course in other cases it may be quite true, but it isn't the whole truth. Last January Oreib Said Ahmad and her family were evicted from their home in Al Ajami's Etrog Street. The apartment they lived in had been renovated some years ago in a sloppy and dangerous manner and 2 of the rooms have serious problems. However, these are construction problems of a type that can be easily taken care of. The apartment is large and could easily house a family with 8 children. Yet it stands empty and boarded up since the eviction and the renovation has not started.
Yet there are 200+ families on the waiting list.

No money for renovations?
Weird, because that same Housing Ministry pays the 200 + families on the waiting list 1.200 NIS rent subsidy every month for renting housing on the private market.

Somehow the facts don't add up.

Or perhaps they do. Because when M. a disabled woman in the 4th month of her pregnancy and her disabled husband asked for public housing (they live in a privately rented flat on the 3rd floor no elevator). M has been informed by her doctor that from the 5th month of her pregnancy she will need to be in a wheelchair and her disabled husband will not be able to carry her in her chair up and down the three floors. They have been trying to find another flat (bottom floor or in a building with an elevator), but nothing they can afford (with rent subsidy), is available.
Halamish offered them a solution "within 48 hours" - if they will move to Lod. Right, to Lod. This is what they offer other families as well.
M. and her husband need and regularly receive the help (due to the couple's disabilities) of their extended family, who all live in Jaffa. In Lod , that help will not be available, therefore that "generous offer" is NOT a solution.
Jewish families can move to other public housing in Tel Aviv (e.g. or perhaps Bat Yam), but Arab families do not have that choice, as there are no Arab schools, mosques nor churches in Tel Aviv nor in Bat Yam. Therefore, Jaffa is their only option.
If all these poor and often weakened families move to Lod (which already is a completely marginalized slummy dysfunctional town), Lod will become even more desperate, as will the families, when their social networks will be broken.
The logical thing would be to construct more public housing in Jaffa. Not as another slummy estate, but as a part of each new building erected.
Building permits should be conditional upon allocating at least 15% of the flats for public housing in EACH project constructed in Jaffa, to be certified, guaranteed and maintained by the housing ministry.

Yet Halamish is doing something completely different: they are now offering people on the waiting list a deal: 10 years of larger rent subsidy (up to about 1800 NIS monthly) without having to renew the eligibility document. On first view, this sound like a good deal. The private market rent of a 2 bedroom "shikun" flat on the southern part of Jaffa's e.g. Jerusalem boulevard is about 2800 -3000 NIS. The offer takes the family off the waiting list for ten years. It SEEMS like a good deal and attractive to some of the absolutely desperate waiting list families.

But the deal carries a payload: 10 years is a long period of time. When a family enters a public housing flat, it's for life. If , however, the family accepts this deal, after 10 years the children will have grown up and once a child is 18+, he or she is no longer counted. Thus, the family may no longer be eligible for public housing after 10 years, as they no longer meet the criteria. Yet knowing the poverty life cycle, they probably will be as poor as before if not poorer. Halamish shorten the waiting list using a trick, but not really solving the problem.

The true solution (as poverty will not be ended so easily) lays obviously in construction for public housing.
Not 1 public housing flat has been constructed in Jaffa over the last 10 years, (although Halamish bought one small building with very large flats for eligible large and poor families) and that is where the root of the problem lays.
Jaffa has a very large poor population. The prices of housing have risen beyond all proportions. And Jaffa's sons and daughters (even of the middle class) can no longer afford housing in Jaffa. For Jewish families other neighbourhoods in Tel Aviv are an option. For Arab families this option doesn't exist, as there are no schools nor community and religious services in those areas. Their only option is in Jaffa.

Halamish and Amidar do not even consider construction in Jaffa. The municipality calls it "attracting strong populations" and i call it ethnic cleansing.

Passover, 2008

Tuesday, April 15

Back on the streets, mother and 8 children

We lost the fight and the family no longer has a home. A mother and 8 children are homeless. Halamish, the municipality, no one really cares very much.

Right now i have very little to say.

Monday, April 14

No Eviction Yet - update on today's activities

The flat is tiny, windowless and stuffy in today's very hot weather. People are sitting all around, on the couches and on the floor; Activists, community leaders, caring neighbours, friends, everyone and of course the mother and her young children.
The family is about to be evicted.
The little curly-haired girl sits on my lap, crying. She's stressed, scared of loosing her home any minute now. Two weeks ago, she already spent 2 nights in a public garden with her mother and 7 young sisters and brothers. I try to comfort her while holding 2 phones, while the third phone, on my lap, keeps ringing, i find it difficult : on one phone the media, on the other one Ms. Vered Sued, the priminister's counsellor for welfare:
Reps from welfare services, the ministry of housing, but nothing really moves.
Nothing, well hardly anything. The housing ministry took away the mother's rent subsidy 7 months ago, a bureaucratic mistake, which we managed to repair, the new rent subsidy eligibility form arrived today by fax, the ministry are willing to pay her back the money she missed out all those long seven months during which she did not receive rent subsidy (and could not pay her rent, which led to her being evicted from her privately rented apartment 3 weeks ago and squatting the current flat from which they want to evict her). The public housing (Halamish) flat she squatted 2 weeks ago, had been empty for over one year, in spite of the long waiting list for public housing.

We managed to find her another apartment, but the place will become available only towards the end of the month and the family doesn't have that time.
We try to convince the public housing company (Halamish) to allow the mother and her children to stay for 15 more days in the flat, until they will be able to move into another rented flat. Halamish do not want to hear about it. Unless, unless we deposit a guarantee of 100.000 NIS .
None of us have that kind of money, if we did, we would have solved the problem with it.

We continue to update the police outside, informing them we are trying to work out a solution and can they please wait a little longer, to give us time to find an acceptable alternative. Over time it becomes obvious they don't like this job, they'd rather not kick the family out into the streets. A silent truce is formed with them.
If the family will be evicted, welfare threaten to take the family's children away. The children become so scared, one of the young children runs off, to hide from the welfare services. The family is poor and they have no other options. But taking away the children is inhumane. Why should children pay for the mistakes of the housing ministry? For the stubbornness of the public housing company, Halamish?

As of now, the family are still in their home, but a real solution is not in sight, so the mother has started to wrap up the family's few belongings, ready to at least save a few things when the police will arrive, as we all know they will, perhaps tonight, maybe tomorrow.

Jaffa, almost Passover, but there is little freedom in Jaffa.

Over 200 families are on the waiting list for public housing. They have been on that list for years. About 500 families stand to be evicted from their homes and they will need public housing too. Yet over the last 10 years not even one public flat has been constructed in Jaffa.

Eviction now in Jaffa, people needed

QA one parent family of 8 small children are about to be evicted into the streets NOw

The family lives in Shem HaGdolim 6 in Jaffa,
Aanybody who can and wants to help , should go there now to assist.

Last week the Ministry spokesman promised help and said things would be ok (this was on radio with yours truly) but promises are not kept.

COME NOW to prevent the eviction

Saturday, April 12

the Tasa Muslim Cemetery in Jaffa: the fight isn't over yet

Many of Jaffa's religious Muslims are spending part of their day today at the Tasa cemetery, Jaffa's only active Muslim burial place.

The other, more ancient burial places are full and no longer in use.

The Tasa plot was donated by a wealthy family to the Jaffa Muslim Waqf, in order to serve the Jaffa Muslim community as a burial site. After the establishment of the state of Israel, the ministry appointed yes-men, who would serve the state's needs rather than those of the community. The yes-men sold property to the state without receiving the community's approval or by devious and misleading means, such as making people sign paperwork in Hebrew, which they couldn't read, not telling them WHAT they were actually signing. It appears money has gone into private pockets as well, so i am being told by many of Jaffa's elderly. who still remember those days.

Fact is that, so far, even with the help of "Bagatz" it has not been possible to receive an updated list of the Wafq property in Jaffa, what was sold to whom for how much and when, nor what property is still owned by the waqf.

What IS known, however, is that part of Tasa was sold to Jewishj developers. When the community found out, some 30 years ago, they took the case to court, trying to fight it. About a month ago, according to the High Court of Justice, the community lost. And if they owners will be stupid enough, they will soon start uprooting fresh graves, thereby upsetting the community.

If, while preparing construction anywhere in the country an ancient or not so ancient grave is found, construction is stopped. Graveyards are protected, respected, at least, when they are Jewish.
If anywhere in Europe construction is started on top of an (ancient) Jewish graveyard, it is called "anti-Semitism" in the Israeli media, questions are being asked by the Israeli ambassador in the respective country and much efforts are being put in preventing the construction.

Not so in Jaffa. And we are not talking about an old historical cemetery, but about a place where the Jaffa Muslim community buries its dead today. And they have is no alternative cemetery.

There ARE of course solutions to the problem. The Ministry of Religious Affairs in cooperation with the municipality and the land administration could offer the new owners alternative land. But will they?

If the construction plans will be carried out, they will lead to violence. And listening to what people say, the violence will be worse than what Jaffa has seen since 1949. People feel insulted. They feel this is done specifically to hurt them. Their direct family members are buried at Tasa. Today's murder victim will be buried there perhaps today or at the latest tomorrow. How insensitive to the community's needs can one be?
And if, indeed, the developers WILL select to disregard the feelings of the community, the reaction will be scary.
If they wish it, this violence is completely preventable.

Illustrative photograph

murder & violence, the sequel, as expected

"Bicuray Zion" is one of the silliest street names ever encountered in Jaffa. It's also the location of today's murder.
About a year ago i assisted a movie production team in finding a good location to shoot a certain scene supposed to be taking place in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. "Bicuray Zion" fitted the purpose just perfectly.

Even post delivery people have trouble locating this crooked, graffiti-covered alley somewhere off the Gaza (yeah :) , seriously, that's what it is called ) and Ehrlich Street crossing.
It's where very poor people live, those who have been treated roughly by life, a small alley with rules of its own.
I have friends there, a poor family, with 10 children, robbed of their only source of income; social security child allowance. When the food is finished before the next hand out, the kids go hungry except for their regular school dinner. Holidays and weekends are the worst, as school is closed.
This is poverty as many people think exists only in the third world.
But it's here, right on our doorstep, in Bikuray Zion alley.

And it is also the background of the murder that took place early this morning.
Muhamad Mashrawi, a 23 year old man from Jaffa was killed and two others wounded by shots.
As usual, the media will try to link it to the ongoing family feuds in Jaffa.

But what is really behind the violence on our streets, is poverty, a lack of chance, a lousy public school system, no employment options for the Jaffa's young Palestinian population, no housing options and the alienation and anger triggered by all of those.

Sure, there is tension between the families. But the anger and frustration, the undignified way society relates to Jaffa's young are important factors.
By stating it has to do with the family feuds, society can absolve itself of its responsibility; there probably will be increased border police presence in the streets over the next few weeks. the usual and inefficient reaction.

More money spent on education, creating job-opportunities, cancelling the ethnic transfer and building homes for Jaffa's Palestinians instead of villas for wealthy yuppies make more sense. Is anybody in the municipality listening?

The truly guilty are those making the policies that keep Jaffa's Palestinian population uneducated, poor. Who make people live in inhumane conditions under a constant threat of being evicted.

Saturday, April 5

Stabbing at Jabaliya Beach

A seriously wounded young man was admitted, during the very early morning hours, to Wolfson Hospital. The young man, from East Jerusalem, had been stabbed at Jaffa's Jabaliya ("Givat Aliyah" as it is called in Hebrew) beach.
Especially during the late night hours, the beach is a popular hang out for Jaffa's young men. They like to smoke a water-pipe, have a drink and talk the night away. And sometimes discussions erupt, occasionally leading to fights.
At times, the location is selected to fight out discussions started elsewhere. The police are investigating.

Thursday, April 3

Disease does not discriminate

Two months ago my friend Mariam, a young Palestinian women from the territories, needed urgent medical care.
She does not have a visa to say in Israel and no medical insurance. So she went to the free clinic run by "Doctors for Human Rights" in the area of the central bus station in Tel Aviv.
She received excellent medical care by the very friendly staff.
Over the years i have referred and accompanied more than a few friends in need of medical care to this wonderful clinic.
The clinic is of major importance to some of the most weakened communities in the country: migrant labourers, visa-less and insurance-less people, victims of trafficking in human beings and of course, refugees, many of them , over a hundred per day.

The clinic was closed about 2 weeks ago.
The relatively small clinic, run by a volunteer medical staff can no longer cope with the ever increasing flow of refugees in need of urgent medical care. They do not have the ability to treat so many people per day; there are not enough professional staff, equipment, rooms, medicine etc.
so instead volunteers accompany the ill refugees to the emergency wards of the hospitals in the area.
The health of so many people is not a problem to be taken care of by an NGO, responsibility should be taken by the government.

Yet the ministry of health refused to take the responsibility on itself, even in such cases as are demanded by international conventions signed by the the state of Israel.

The number of people lacking medical care in the country is growing.
This is NOT a matter of money, but of human rights. Diseases can attack anyone, they do not discriminate between skin-colour, race, ethnic group or religion. The ministry of health quite obviously does.
And that scares me. And angers me.