Saturday, June 28

Shem HaGdolim 2

It is unbearably hot inside Salwa's* clean and cosy home; A living room and a bedroom shared by her, 2 of her adult children and a number of grand children.
A very young boy sits on the floor making a drawing and school books and copybooks are scattered on the small table, the holiday is about to begin, but there is still homework to be made. "Being good students, that's the only way for them to get out of here", says Salwa, while smiling at the earnest face of her little granddaughter. The girl doesn't notice it, she's concentrated on writing an exercise.
It is stifling and humid inside.
However, opening the window is a very bad idea. The over flowing sewage is right underneath her ground-level flat's window and entrance door. The smell is unbearable.
Getting out of here (meaning, the Shem Hagdolim housing estate owned by Halamish) is not an option for Fatma herself. Disease and long hospitalizations made it impossible for her to work. She has to get by on her social security payments. She cannot afford to live elsewhere. But she hopes her grandchildren will be able to escape. "Escape" is the word Salwa uses. Escape from the jungle.
We called the municipality "106" and after about half an hour of waiting a guy called Shmuel promised us they would send someone. "Yes today, or tomorrow". They will contact Salwa so she can show them the problem. This was Thursday.
On Friday morning we call again. This time, after "only" 25 minutes a guy called Rafi anwers. He checks on his computer and states someone had been over there (no one contacted Salwa), but it is NOT the municipality's problem, the house-owners should take care of it. I explain to Rafi the
buildings are Halamish public housing and they don't work on friday. Moreover, we contacted them on Thursday and they said it's not their problem.
Rafi insists it IS the owners' problem "and we will send them a letter". "When will this letter be sent?" we ask. Well, in sunday a report will be filed by the men who checked the problem. After the report has been filed, we will check who the owner is and we will send him a letter."
Patiently i explain to Rafi that we are talking Halamish here, not private owners. And that Halamish has already been contacted but they claim it is the municipality's responsibility.
I also explain to Rafi that we are dealing with a river of shit, flooding the entrance to a large apartment block where many children live. Maybe they can come and carry out the necessary repairs and fight over the paying the bills afterwards? After all Halamish is a municipal housing company, so it doesn't matter very much in the end if the work is paid by the municipality or by Halamish.
Rafi is not convinced.

The stench is horrid.

In the afternoon, Salwa's son calls a friend who works for a company providing sewage services to the municipality. The friend loans equipment from his boss. We do not ask questions. After several hours of work, assisted by several men from the housing estate the problem is solved. For the time being.
The friend informs us the sewage system is in bad condition and this type of things can happen again and again. More serious repair works are urgently necessary.

We will send letters to Halamish and the municipality and i guess they will pass on the responsibility to each other.

Shem HaGdolim, they call this housing estate. The "jungle" is what the inhabitants call it.

Later, over dinner at my friend Aisha's*, i tell her about today's developments (earlier she overheard my phone conversation with the municipality). She informs me that when she was working as a nurse, they used to get a special "danger" addition to their salary, when they made house-calls in "the jungle". They were not allowed to go in there alone, only 2 nurses were allowed to make house calls in the jungle together. "If something happens to one, the other one can call for help".

Shem HaGdolim indeed

*names have been changed for the sake of confidentiality

Tuesday, June 24

Jungle fever

Last friday a neighbourhood committee was formed in Saknet AlArabi, or, as this neighbourhood is known in Jaffa, "the Jungle". No, not my name, that's what everybody calls it, it implying what perhaps should be known as Israel's public worst housing estate. The official address is "Shem Hagdolim Street. I guess "HaGdolim" refers to the biggest drug dealers (for those not able to read Hebrew, the street name means "the name of the great") .

The neighbourhood (most of it is public housing owned by "Halamish") is plagued by great poverty (read: not enough food on the table in many homes) , very high crime rates, much violence, few kids complete school, drugs all around. A place with very little hope. It's also filthy beyond description and dangerous: All of the estate shares two open garbage containers which tend to overflow. The wind and the stray cats and rats do the rest. The sewage flows freely in some areas. There is no light in the staircases and corridors and the stairs have no bannisters in most cases. There are no post-boxes. The gaz balloons stand here and there, unprotected, while the central gaz supply has become unsafe, yet its cover is used by the jungle's small children as "monkey-bars" for lack of anything else close by. The electricity wires are exposed in many of the staircases, which, given the darkness and the running sewage (whenever you see green weeds and grass growing somewhere in that desperate place, make sure you watch your step, that's where the sewage runs through) in many of the buildings is simply an accident waiting to happen.
Most of the neighbourhood's families have been disconnected from the central gaz company, as they cannot afford the very high bills. Instead they made their own, unsafe, gaz connection with private gaz cannisters standing and laying about here and there, waiting for an accident to happen.
This is the kind of area in which the police only enter in big groups with a helicopter flying above.

Some time ago the youth club was closed. Less time ago the only youth leader was fired. Maintenance of both the public and private space is non existent. In public housing estates that responsibility is shared by the housing company and the municipality. But they don't care. they haven't cared for many years in fact.
Most of the people living there were robbed of their original homes in Ajami and Jabaliya and offered a flat in the complex as a solution to their housing problem. There is much anger and frustration, when people living in the Jungle see what has become of the homes they were kicked out from. These have been turned into villas for the very wealthy and sold for much money while they, the original owners got stuck in a slum beyond description.

The jungle has become a place of despair from which it is almost impossible to escape.
Yet there is also solidarity and strength. And those led to the establishment of a neighbourhood committee being establishment. True, a few less successful attempts have been made before, but this time it feels and looks different. People, women and men from all buildings, are focused and with the help of activists and lawyer Rasha Asaf the first steps were undertaken.

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Saturday, June 7

loud shooting just beside my house...

Just heard it; a volley of about 6 shots outside my house. Everybody is running into the direction of the sounds.
There is screaming outside.