Tuesday, December 29

The 2010 municipal budget - good for the wealthy and who cares about the rest?

Yesterday evening the Tel Aviv - Yafo municipal council voted for the budget proposal for the year 2010: 
The coalition praised themselves for their great sensitivity and the wonderful budget proposal. That included Jaffa council member Ahmad Mashrawi (Meretz) who, like the total bunny he is,   voted in favour of a budget in which the south of the city, Jaffa included, continues to be discriminated against.
Mashrawi, who just loves publicity,  claims to vote in favour of  Jaffa but the facts show the opposite. Meretz are part of the coalition and their current track record is highly embarrassing.  

The outnumbered opposition (to Ron Hulday's wide coalition) asked to vote separately on a number of clauses, in order to try and make at least a few improvements and do some social justice:
Omar Siksik of the Jaffa list asked to vote separately for an added 200.000 NIS for the Jaffa based "Hirsh" early childhood development center. 
The Hirsch centre provides testing and treatment for development problems for children at a young age.   The centre is highly professional and the only service of its kind in the whole city able to provide these services in Arabic. The centre's very existence is threatened due to the continued budget cuts.  The implication of the centre's closure or limited ability to provide services is obvious: Parents will not be able to provide their young children with the most basic services. Not even privately (the majority would not have the money for that in any case) as their is no alternative in all of the city for Arabic speaking young children. 
Mashrawi (Meretz, that supposedly socially conscious party, now part of the coalition, what will people do for a little money) has been posing as the big fighter for the Hirsch centre, but reality is rather different as he did NOT vote in favour. He abstained, what a hero!

A city that spends 70 million NIS on a bicycle rental project does not have 1.100.000 for the Hirsch center, or 55.000 for the teenage health clinic, which will receive 0 money in 2010.

Or, another example: the Toulouse Club for the elderly, the only one serving Jaffa's elderly Palestinian population in Ajami, has an annual budget of 70.000 NIS. Its sister club in Neve Golan (Yafo Gimmel) which serves that area's Jewish population receives 220.000 NIS in the budget.  I am in favour of Neve Golan's budget. But Why does the Ajami Club for elderly Arabic speakers receive so little? 
And these are only a few examples. I could go on and on and on. The budget is highly biased.

Tel Aviv is positioning itself as a city for the wealthy only, disregarding its poorer inhabitants. In addition the 2010 budget is totally greenwashed. More and more car parks and highways. 
It was embarrassing to see Peer Wisner (the Green Party also in the coalition) vote in favour of the budget. What a little money does to these "freedom fighters".

Sunday, December 27

Jaffa for Gaza Demonsration

"Stop the siege of the Gaza Strip" was the main message in yesterday's demonstration in Jaffa, where over 1000 people, Palestinian and Jewish Israelis. marched through Jabaliyah and Ajami neighborhoods from the public housing estate at south Kedem Street (aka "the Jungle") to the Ajami Mosque. The demo had been organized by the Jaffa popular committee in coordination with several other organizations.

One year ago Israel started its murderous atteck on the Gaza Strip, which resulted in some 1500 dead, many of them civivlians, women and children, over 5000 wounded and a total destructon of the Gaza infrastructure and many homes. Complete neighborhoods were demolished.

The continued siege of the Gaza Strip has created an additional catastrophe, when basic medicine, food, fuel for the power station and the sewage treatment and water cleaning plants, school books etc. cannot be imported.

The Gaza Strip has become a prison camp for its inhabitants. Many families cannot meet, as some of the family memebers are ni the West Bank, others in the strip. Students stucjk in the West Bank cannot go home, others, who were accepted into higher education programs are not able to leave. People cannot recveive life saving medical treatment available outside of the Gaza Strip at a mere 40 minutes car ride.

Many of the Gaza Strip's residents have Jaffa roots, their families forced to leave the city in 1948. Many are connected by family ties, so whatever goes on in Gaza, is important in Jaffa and the other way around. The peaceful Jaffa demonstration opens a week of world wide activities in support of the people of Gaza
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Saturday, December 26

The crime of being poor as defined by the Tel Aviv municipality

Yafo Gimmel is located at the very southern end of Jaffa, almost Bat Yam. Nowhere close to any of the fancier locations much in request by the gentrifyers and real estate investors looking of yet another option to make a lot of quick money.

Long concrete blocks with many entrances, "shikunim" as we call them. No elevators, small box-like flats stacked one on top of the other. You always know what the neighbors are at, the walls are thin.

When Jaffa's lovely old buildings were demolished some 40-30 years ago, many of their Jewish inhabitants received public housing flats in the large estates of "Yafo Gimmel" and "Yafo Daled", thinking they had made the deal of their lifetime. No longer would they have to share the same kitchen and bathroom with several other families in Ajami's old crumbling mansions of pre-naqbe age. Instead they would have their own little kingdom with the unknown luxury of a private kitchen and shower. Very small, that's true, and not too well contructed, but it was their own, rented for a relatively low monthly fee from the public housing company.

Over time, those who did well moved out and new migrants from the ex-Soviet Union and very recently, Ethiopia, took their place. The public housing company sold them their flats for a thieving  very "reasonable"  price and all felt they, once more , had made a good deal; they had become home owners. 
Of course the tiny and by now quite old homes were (and are) heavily morgaged and the monthly payments weigh heavy on the population many of whom have become unemployed and dependent on ever shrinking social security payments or on minimum wages. Food isn't always secure. Medicine cannot always be bought when necessary. Very few children have all the school books they need, but at least their families own their own homes. And that gave many of the people living in the Yafo Gimmel's Saharon street a (false) sense of security.
The public housing company's maintenance standards had always been low (and that is an understatement) and the construction level of the buildings was less than shoddy to start with. And the poor homeowners pay all their money to meet with the morgage requirements, leaving very little for necessary home repairs.
Two years ago the municipality defined a large block in Saharon Street, with close to 100 flats devided over 10 entrances, as "dangerous" and the demanded the home owners carry out immediate extensive (and very expensive) repairwork to the crumbling structure.

In the past this sort of work would have been taken care of by the Neighborhood Renewal Project ("Shikum Shkunot" שיקום שכונות) and the inhabitants would have had to pay only part of the cost against a friendly loan certified by the project. Yet but the Neighborhood Renewal project was fazed out in Jaffa (well, officially it still exists, its total annual budget for all of Jaffa standing at 20.000 NIS for 2009 which is being used as a partial salary for some educational work in the center of Jaffa as far as i know) .
The inhabitants of the block did not carry out the necessary repairwork. They simply don't have the money to do so.
In addition, many of them simply don't speak the same language (Russian and Amharic are more popular here) and in any case it is difficult to organize such a large group of inhabitants (over 90 densely populated flats).

So the burocrats of the municipality thought they had a good solution. One that tends to work quite well in North Tel Aviv: a law suit. One that usually forces the refusenik home owner into compliance.
The Tel Aviv - Yafo municipality criminally sues every single adult inhabitant of the block!
"Criminal"? one wonders. Yes, not carrying out a repair order of this type is a criminal offence, as the criminally inclined homeowner endangers all those living in the building or passing near by. It might collapse if the repairs will not be carried out.

The option of criminally suing repair refusing home owners was made to force slum landlords into taking care of the buildings they own. That law was not made in order to abuse poor people who were tricked into building their homes from a public housing company that wanted to get rid of property on which they would have to spend much money. The real slum landlord is the public housing company (partially municipality owned) that made a lot of money selling the flats, instead of spending it in repairing those very same flats.
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Today at 5 p.m. "Break the Siege" demonstration in Jaffa, from 163 Kedem Street

The Jaffa Committee for Gaza invites you The Jaffa Committee for Gaza invites you
To join the "Break the Siege" demonstration
Today, saturday, Dec. 26th at 17:00, from Kedem 163, Jaffa

One year ago the Israeli attack on the Gaza strip began; 1440 people were killed, over 5000 wounded, most of them civilians and many among them were children. This on top of the large scale destruction of infrastructures and houses in the strip.
Over 70,000 residents became refugees following the attacks. Notwithstanding the popular worldwide movement denouncing the war and demanding of Israel that it lifts the siege on Gaza – Israel continues on with its policies. The siege remains, and its victims are countless; children, elderly, sick, hundreds of families whose houses were destroyed during the war and who cannot rebuild and overall one and a half million Gaza citizens who live in the world’s greatest prison.

As response Gaza civil society’s call, an international protest movement was established to call for a lift of the siege on Gaza. Activists from all over the world have joined thousands of Palestinian activists from Gaza, the West Bank and Israel.

As a follow up to the protest against the war which took place in Jaffa, we invite you to join the demonstration in Jaffa in order to add our voice to those of our international colleagues who also object to the siege.
Saturday, 26/12/09
The demo will begin at 17:00 from Kedem st. 163 and will end in Gaza park (Gan HaShanyim) (Yefet 74)

Wednesday, December 23

Another Ajami home demolished today

The terra coloured one story building at the corner of HaOgen and HaToren streets in Ajami, next to the "Hasan Arafe" school, housed an extended family. The father, who in the past led the struggle against the demolition plan of his home,  is currently imprisoned.  As a result, the municipality had a relatively job.
The land next door to the home (currently in use as a parking lot for the teachers and parents of the nearby Hasan Arafe  primary school) used to belong to the waqf but as often happens in these cases, it was sold "somehow" to a wealthy newcomer and in any case, the municipality wants to construct another unnecessary road on part of the plot where until today a family used to live. Who cares if a they loose their home as a result?
A part of the home is still there, open like a dolls' house towards the street.A large piece of green cloth offers scant protection against the cold night and prying eyes of all those passing by.

Another family pays the price of Ajami's gentrification.

Street gossip says the guy who bought the plot next door pressured the municipality into quickly carrying out the demolition, because he wants the planned road to be constructed ASAP, before he starts his own building plans. If indeed this story is true, one wonders how he thinks he can live there, next to the people whose home he caused to be demolished.

Sunday, December 20

Phoenix Torcina

About 2 weeks ago "Torcina" was more or less demolished on court orders.Usually demolitions are carried out by police protected bulldozers. The bill for which is later presented to the unhappy previous owner of the building/current owner of the rubble pile.
Mr. Torcina decided he would do his own demolition, in order to save paying the municipal bulldozing bill and salvage some of the building materials for recycling. And "recycling" he did.
On Kedem street, opposite the Hasan Arafe School, "Torcina" had become an institution.
Water pipes, coffee, tea with nana (mint) in summer and maramiye (sorry, no idea what it is called in English) in winter, tales and sheshbesh, it had become the all male sanctum for Jaffa's intellectual crowd.
I didn't write about the demolition, because it was obvious. Torcina is not something to be destroyed. The flimsy glass and wood building was never much to look at. The dense smoke probably supported it from collapsing to begin with. As did the tall tales told by some of its more notorious famous clients.
Not a location for the faint nor the faint of heart. Books and stories were written in and about the place.
I mostly passed by saying hi to this one and waving to the other. Not a place for women. Why? No idea, it simply wasn't and isn't. But i pass by almost every day.
Usually demolitions in Jaffa are quite final. Not Torcina: The smoke goes on, the smell of sweet strong coffee and the stories told by this client or that one, Torcina is back again. Business as usual.

Wednesday, December 16

The supreme court on the etrog case

The Israel land administration sold publicly owned land to a company "Be'emuna" who wish to construct a building "for religious zionist nationalist Jews only" right in the center of Ajami, on the "etrog plot", where our market used to be.
After having won the tender, the company started a marketing campaign marketing the to be constructed flats to the religions nationalist public only. At below the market prices.
Several Jaffa residents and the Israel Association for Human Rights took the case to the Supreme Court in order to prevent the sale of the land.
After all, it is not legal to sell publicly owned land to a company that sells to a certain segment of the public only and not to all others interested in living in the project thereby discriminating against all "others". We called and tried to buy flats, but they wouldn't sell to us, only to their own folks.

The court returned the case to the adminstrative court but accepted our request to prevent, at least for the time being, the handing over of the land to "Be'emuna".
A small victory.

Tuesday, December 15

Playing with fire in the Ajami mosque

Yesterday morning a group of armed settlers entered the compound of the Ajami mosque (next to the Hasan Arafe primary school) in the framework of their tour of Jaffa.

One wonders about the true purpose of that visit. Was it to repectfully view the grave of Ibrahim Ajami? The ajami mosque, unlike some other beautiful Jaffa mosques, is not of great beauty. Not a place a tourist wold go out of his or her way to visit.

Thus, the armed settlers' visit raises serious questions as to their purpose. A  provocation?

The Jaffa community turned to the police and the municipality for protection against this kind of most unwanted "attention".

Monday, November 30

Drug related arrests and other trouble in Jaffa

Over the last few months the police used a drug-addict as their agent. A violent young man, an only son, pampered by his doting parents until it was too late.
A good football player, an intelligent boy, good-looking too. But something went horribly wrong. Violent towards friends as well as towards his sisters and then  his parents. Drug-addicted. Then drug-dealing himself. Home turned into hell. 

The police selected this unstable character as their agent. Last week the police informed the public they had arrested "28 drug-dealers"  in Jaffa. At least  some of them are addicts, not dealers. So several were released the same day, some the next. And indeed, some are still under arrest. 
One of them, in spite of his addiction a gentle man and a great father, was arrested in carried away hand and leg-cuffed in face of his terrified young children. Their home turned upside down in a search which turned up nothing. An addict yes. Someone who needs aid yes. But not a dealer. The police caused much harm to the family's meagre possessions. Some of it unrepairable. But the worst was the harm caused to the children.

And the big dealers were not touched, they continue driving around in their big cars.And selling, wholesale.  The smaller dealers as well. We all know them and they are still walking around. Who do the police think they're fooling? 

The house of the agent was torched.  
First of all a terrible punishment for his parents, those well meaning hard working people, and his sisters, nice girls.

The agent has been on a hit-list for a long time. He was shot at, about a year and a half go. Had been in hiding for quite some time. 

Maybe that's what turned him into an agent, the hope of a ticket to "elsewhere", a new name, some money. But we are talking about a seriously disturbed young man. An addict with few personal resources beyond a little personal charm. And quite paranoid to begin with. Now he has a real reason for feeling hunted. Police agents have a short life span in Jaffa and Jaffans have long memories. 

Monday, November 16

Asbestos is good for children's health

My friend E. lives in a small shack located next to several large houses and newly constructed villas in Ajami.

She has three young children.
Her much richer neighbors decided to do some home improvement and replace the asbestos roof of their home with a pretty tiled one.
Usually you rent a container and the demolition crew immediately remove the rubble. Especially when there is asbestos involved, the work is carried out by a specialist company and under stringent conditions.
E.'s neighbors are too stingy to do so and they simply dump their filth next to E's home, including a large amount of broken asbestos roof elements.
Whenever there is a southern wind, the asbestos dust is blown straight into the window of the children's' bedroom. The municipality refuses to act and the neighbors don't care, although they themselves have young children as well.
E. herself doesn't have the money to employ a company to remove the ever growing mountain next to her home. Her children love to play outside in the yard, but that has become dangerous. But then,. inside the house it is dangerous as well.
It appears no one really wants to take responsibility. If it was their kids living next door, would they be as careless?
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Update: After an article in Yediot Tel Aviv the municipality arrived and took away the asbestos and other garbage. The municipal spokesman claimed E. had never informed the municipality it was asbestos, otherwise they would have come immediately, or so they claimed. Right. Daily phones and faxes by E. representative in the municipal council, Omar Siksik, were apparently not heard. In any case, the main thing, the asbestos was removed.

Sunday, November 15

Jaffa mud takes hostages

Different streets in Jaffa were opened up in order to carry out major maintenance work. As usual, the archeologists go in first, then all the other relevant companies; electricity, sewage, water etc.

One huge construction and infrastructure company was working on 4 big projects in Jaffa, in four different locations, Stang.
Traffic jams, mud, we all got used to it.

About 5 weeks ago Stang went belly up and a court decree forbids the municipality to employ any other company in order to complete the works.

And Jaffans pay the price.

People with walking difficulties, young children and the elderly have trouble leaving their homes. At different locations the sewage is open and it is just a matter of time until some small child falls in. One of the open sewers is close to the Weitzman - AlZahara primary school complex. And yes, we informed the municipality, several times, by phone and in writing.

After the rainfalls of last week, the open sewage was flooded and could not easily be seen from the muddy streets.

In addition to the great inconvenience and health hazard, this is an accident waiting to happen. Court order or not, the municipality should take more responsibility. Jaffa residents are not hostages
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Sunday, November 8

A brainless monster for a boatless harbour

Israel Hadani, a fairly well known sculptor, designed a six meter high monster, a headless woman, legs-bound, a victim if there ever was a victim;  Andromeda.
Its shape reminds one of a rather unelegant doll of "Oscar" Award style, perhaps something to be placed on a car, not unlike the little sculpture on the hood of a Rolls Royce, but big, XXL.

The idea is to place poor brainless, eyeless and silenced Andromeda at the entrance to the Jaffa harbour close to the rock to which the mythical, beautiful princess Andromeda was chained as a tasty offer for a hungry sea monster, in order to save her city, Jaffa.
According to a Greek myth, Andromeda was a princess, the daughter of the king and queen of Jaffa. Andromeda was offered by her parents to a monstrous Medusa in order to save the city of Jaffa.
She was bound to a rock at the Jaffa harbour entrance, from which she was saved by Perseus, who killed the medusa.
The rock-formation at the harbour entrance is known until this very day as the "Andromeda Rock".
It's part of a very ancient, partially submerged, coral reef. The coral reef was important in the formation of Jaffa's natural harbour. It provided good protection for its ships, against storms and enemies. You really had to know exactly how to enter the tricky harbour in just the right way,  in between the unseen rockformations.
Part of the reef was turned, by the British, during the mandate period, into a breakwater protecting the harbour.

Our natural harbour is not deep enough for tall ships but still in intensive use by local fishermen, as they have been doing so for thousands of years.
At the end of the breakwater, a smallish cast iron beakon indicated the harbour entrance. Over the years, under the oxidizing influence of the saltwater waves, its iron rusted and it started to fall apart.

The 6 meter tall Hadani work is supposed to replace it. That's as tall as a two storey building. With bound legs more fitting the ambience of "the Dungeon" (a seedy S&M club in Old Jaffa) and lacking hands and a head as befitting an ultimate and totally defenceless victim.

I had the impression the Hadani sculpture had been completely cancelled as tasteless and unnecessary. But like a true Medusa, it raised its ugly torso once more and it seems they are going to pace the monster without any serious discourse on the need for it nor on its artistic value.

Frankly, there are enough headless monsters in the municipality. We don't really need another one at the harbour entrance.

The view of Jaffa from the sea is lovely and ancient. Why mess it up with yet another "wedding cake" monstrosity? Slowly but surely the fishermen are being kicked out. Our harbour is dying. Hadani's Andromeda is perhaps more than a symbol for the dying bride of the sea, Arus El Bahar, as Jaffa is known in Arabic..

Friday, November 6

Sheikh Bassam Street in Jaffa

It's a smallish and brand new street leading from the southern part of the harbour to Kedem Street (or street nr. sixty), constructed in the area where the Al Adassi home was until the municipality demolished it, some two years ago.
That very same municipality decided to name this street, used mainly by Jaffa's few remaining fishermen, after some founders of Tel Aviv.
We asked them to respect the Palestinian identity of the area and name the street after sheikh Bassam of blessed memory. Sheikh Bassam was the imam of the Mahmoudia Mosque and well beloved by most of the Jaffa population. He was known as a peace maker and a community leader able to find simple and just solutions, not only for religious but also for secular problems.
After his death, , many in Jaffa (and not only Muslims) mourned for him.
The Bassam family lives near by and it would have been much more fitting than the street names usually given to the Jaffa streets, some of which are still known by their pre-1948 Arabic names.

Yet the municipality is out to wipe out the memory of the Bride of the Sea, of pre- Naqbe Jaffa. But after the catastrophe the white bride, that was Jaffa, turned into a slum and the municipality got used to doing what they want.  No longer so.

Some 40-50 people met this morning at the corner of the street and symbolically replaced the municipal name with the name we selected for the street.
There was supposed to be an official municipal naming ceremony this morning at 10.00 a.m., which they cancelled after they learned about the feelings of the local community and of our intent to demonstrate during the official naming ceremony.

The demo went by peacefully.

Thursday, November 5

Demo in Jaffa (Ajami) tomorrow

The , municipality is doing all it possibly can to wipe out Jaffa's Palestinian character. That includes changing the existing Arabic names of streets  and naming new streets after rabbis, zionist heroes and more.
The Jaffa list as well as the Meretz representatives in the municipal council (Omar Siksik and Ahmad Mashrawi) have been actively demanding the municipality names a new street (connecting between Ha'Ogen Street and the southern part of the Jaffa harbour) after Sheikh Bassam of blessed memory, who was the imam of the Mahmoudia Mosque in Jaffa.
Sheikh Bassam was  a community leader of the type not often seen: revered by all, not only by the members of the Muslim community but by all of Jaffa. His family live nearby the new street.

The municipality saw it fit to name the street after a couple of founders of Tel Aviv, instead.
So while the municipality will have its naming ceremony tomorrow at 10.00 o'clock in the morning, we will have a demo. At the same location. Be there. Friday, November the 6th at 10.00 A.M.

Tuesday, November 3

One out of four Israelis are poor, but who cares?

The Social Security Institute's poverty report shows what we in Jaffa have been feeling for a long time: many are poor and their poverty is deepening.

In fact, today 1,651,300 people in Israel (=25%) are living below the poverty line, and almost 47% of the poor are working poor. That is, families where at least one of the partners is employed, but their salary is so low, they are poor.

Almost 29% of the poor are elderly people, depending on their shamefully low state pensions.

Out of the working population almost 13% are poor.

 The Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, edged up 0.6 percent from 2007 to 2008.

The minimum wage is low, but many working people earn much less than the minimum wage. Many of them are afraid to complain, as they are worried they will be fired. Others are employed through contractors who fired them every few months, so they will not have to pay them social rights, which they get after 9 months employment.

But what do these numbers really mean?
Prices have gone up hysterically. Discounts for the poor have been cancelled and special support programs are being cut due to budget limitations. As a result of the global slow down, many NGO's are closing down due to less donations.
The ridiculous privitization that has been taking place over the last few years caused much work to be transferred from the state to these NGO's, on the flimsy assumption they would do a better and more efficient job. And cheaper for the state in any case.

Admittedle, some NGO's have been doing wonderful work, on a high professional level.

However, now one NGO after the other closes down or cuts programs. The state is no longer responsible for the privatised services and the poor and needy simply do not get what they are entitled to, as the service no longer exists...

So not only are there more poor, but they are poorer and there are less and less services available to them.

Last week i volunteered for a food hand out program for the very needy. I was shocked to find out the closed boxes contained food stuff that was way past the "sell by" date, in some cases almost two years.
The freshest item, a small box of teabags,  was about 1 month past its sell by date. Other products were label-less and one could only guess as to their contents and sell by date.
But people took them never the less. "What can i do?", asked Ibtisal. "It's the only food i will have in my home until the 14th, when my pension comes in." "My daughter got divorced and she returned to live with me with her 3 children. I have many mouths to feed."

Frankly, i do NOT believe in food hand out programs. I think providing higher wages, social security payments as well as stringent control of labour laws are much better tools in the fight for a just allocation of resources and against poverty. More over, when companies donate the stuuf they were not able to sell and can no longer put in the market because it's past the sell by date, they can deduct this as a donation from their taxes, do some PR and feel publicly good about themselves.

As to me, it makes me very angry. Poverty is a social problem that can be solved. It does NOT fall from the sky. It really is a crime carried out by the very strong, the elite, against the weaker people in society. Poverty is preventable.
Not doing anything about it is criminal.


Monday, November 2

No roof above your head

The rain strikes the trees forcefully, the wind blows away the flimsy piece of cloth protecting Ali Sakhafi, his young wife and 4 children from the winter storm.

Last thursday Ali's home was demolished by the municipality and the family found itself out n the streets.

Ali is a construction worker who got laid off a few months ago, when the company he worked for went bankrupt. Prior to the bankruptcy Ai did not receive three salaries and the employer did not pay national insurance deductions for him. As a result, Ali is not eligible for unemployment money, as he does not meet the stringent criteria. The family has no income at all.

Ali is not eligible for rent subsidy either because he was married before and he used to be a home owner. Only, the court gave the previous home to his ex-wife and their children. But if your were a home owner in the past, you can no longer qualify for rent subsidy. Simple, straightforward and totally stupid.

Unable to pay the rent after he became unemployed, Ali constructed a tiny home with the help of some friends. Small, simple but adequate. As a construction worker he had the knowledge and experience. He and his friends had time as well, the company closed down after all.  The municipality destroyed that home  last thursday.
The family have 4 young children, one of them a baby. They have nowhere to go and are desperate. I'm trying to imagine what it is like to put a baby in its cradle in this cold, the rain coming through.

Sunday, November 1

Separation wall inside Jaffa.

The Weizman and Zahara primary schools in the center of Jaffa share their playground. Weizman is a Hebrew language, predominantly Jewish, school with about 25% Palestinian students. Zahara is an Arabic language, Palestinian only school. As they are next door to each other and share the same playground, it was only natural the schools should try cooperative projects. After all, the parents and children are neighbours.
But Zahara is one of Jaffa's worst schools and Weizman's slowly doing much better. Many of the children at "Zahara" are sons and daughters of collaborators who came from the Gaza strip, children of impoverished parents. Children of families encountering major social difficulties and poverty.
The center of Jaffa is not a very strong area.

The (Palestinian) principal of the Zahara school has agreed to the construction of a separation fence between the two schools. A fence that will keep the kids from the two schools apart.
It's not entirely clear to me where the actual idea came from.

Some claim the idea came from the parents of the Weitzman children "who tired of the violence". I do not really know. But i do know one thing: education is NOT about walls and fences. Education is about working with children, dealing with prejudices and hate by means of discourse and talking. By means of playing together, by learning about each other's language, culture, habits etc. Not about constructing walls and obstructions.

And the demolishings continue.....

Today i heard another family received a demolition order. They are living in an old house in Ajami.
The family replaced the asbestos roof with a concrete one. They applied for a construction permit, which they didn't yet get. But the municipality is running quickly and wants to come tomorrow.
The family has applied for court assistance to prevent the demolition.

Thursday, October 29

More home demolitions in Jaffa

Yesterday the municipality demolished the home of the Sakhafi family in Donolo HaRofe Street in Ajami. The Sakhafi's, who have several young children, are out in the rainy streets. Another demolition, planned for today was diverted at the very last moment, thanks to  Rasha Asaf, the lawyer of the popular committee and Omar Siksik of the Jaffa list. However, were are only talking about a postponement of the verdict, as there will be a court-case on November the 6th.
It appears the municipality is going back to its bad old ways. The Sakhafi's intend to build a tent at the site of where their home used to be.

Updates to come.

Monday, October 26

Sweet Threats?

Last friday night shooting was heard all over the "GanTamar" area of Jaffa, to be followed on saturday night by a very loud explosion on Yefet Street. A handgrenade exploded right next the popular "Moutran Sweets Shop and Cafe", after closing hours. No one was hurt, but the warning is obvious.
A police car was parked next to the store almost all day yesterday, but  today things appear to be "normal".
Ofcourse it might also have been thrown at next door "Video Alpha", Jaffa's main bootlegger and absolute ruler of the areal bootleg DVD market.

Moutran is rather expensive and the quality of the sweets they sell doesn't come close to that of the original Nazareth branch of the same name and much fame. The quality of the Jaffa branch coffee is low and that's an understatement. Their coffee  ranks deep below that of the coffee machine at the legal aid office in Tel Aviv and i always thought one could go no lower. I can very well understand one not liking the coffee and sweets, but throwing a grenade is not an accepted form of restaurant criticism.

There appears to be a surge in street violence right now, although i have no idea if there is a connection between the events.

Many of last week's drug-bust arrestees are still under arrest, which may well mean a power struggle's under development in the "market", a vacuum never lasts long.

Monday, October 19

Policing Ajami

The movie "Ajami" must have woken up someone to the reality we live in. Anyone following this blog even slightly knows about the violence and drug dealing going on here.
Yesterday morning 27 people from Ajami were arrested on suspicion of drug related crimes. It appears a cover agent has been operating in the area over the last few weeks.
In the few cases i know about personally from relatives and friends of those arrested, no drugs were found in spite of the extensive searches carried out in the homes of the arrestees.
In a few cases damage was caused to the property of the families involved. Some of the arrestees live very normal lives, working hard and are poor, not exactly a drug dealer's life style or so it seems. They may well be innocent.
Some of the arrestees do have the doubtful reputation of being a dealer.

Kosher pigs

Jaffa has several cafes and restaurants, some of them serving kosher food, others quite distinctly different as to the food they serve.
However, a restaurant or cafe may  serve kosher food, but that it where the kashrut ends. Some of them behave as pigs towards their employees and that makes them very unkosher, not to say treif. In fact, it is not "some" but rather quite a few. Not respecting employees' rights is almost common practice in the bar/restaurant business.

Enter an NGO known as "beMagaley Zedek" who have introduced the "social kashrut" or "tav hevrati" on the assumption a kashrut should go beyond food, and imply respect towards workers' rights (as in minimum salary, holidays, travel costs etc) as well.
Many of the places in Jaffa (some of the koolest ones who have created an image of "human rights" for their business among them) refuse to pay their waiters a salary, insisting tips to be their income. Or if they pay a salary, it's way below the legal minimum wage.

So far the social kashrut certificate has been awarded three places in Jaffa:
"Poua", in the fleamarket area.
"Jaffa" (no NOT Yafa Coffee and Books who in spite of their "human rights image" have a bad employee rights record, paying less than the minimum wage, not paying travel expenses as required by law and a lot of other unpleasant activities towards employees) but the Jaffa place on Oley Zion, also in the fleamarket area.
"Na Laga'at" in the harbour.

So, next time you go out somewhere in  Jaffa, know where you go.

Wednesday, October 7

One wonders

Sometime very early this morning someone broke into the offices of the Jaffa Association for Humanitarian Aid, an NGO handing out food parcils to Jaffa's poor and stole all computers. How heartless can they get?

Monday, October 5

Travel restrictions in Jaffa: Freedom of movement and religion is questioned

Twice a week buses leave from the Gazans' Garden (Gan HaShnayim) in Jaffa for Jerusalem: people go there in order to pray in the Al Aqsa Mosque. Most of them, the very large majority in fact , are elderly devout women. After the prayers they take a walk through the Old City and return to Jaffa.

Today the police waited at the traditional bus stop and prevented the pilgrims from boarding the Jerusalem  bound bus and leaving Jaffa. So much for the freedom of religion in "the only democracy in the Middle East".

How misunderstandings can mess up a community

Last friday there was an event at the Ajami Orthodox club, a favourite hang-out of Jaffa's Christian Palestinian community.
Someone had a little too much alcohol and went into a nearby grocery, unable to hold his drink.  Before quite gettig out of the door, the drunk threw up. One of the grocery guys decided to punish him and beat him up quite badly. Result: the drunkard is in intensive care.

That very same evening the grocery store caught fire. Rather a coincidence.

So on the next day, sunday, close to the orthodox church, when the family went to pray, shots were fired, barely missing the people but causing some damage. Right now tension is high in Jaffa.

Thursday, October 1

October 1st Demo in Jaffa

Moving once more

Many of the stores along Yefet street are closed in honour of the October 1st strike .
Good to see that quite a few store owners in Jaffa are politically aware,

At the same time, (and until the demo this afternoon) i'm working very hard as once more i have to move. This time the owner wants the flat back. He's getting married (mabrouk) and wants to move in with his wife.
Thank all of those who helped me find a new place in Ajami. Close (less than 100 meter) from the sea, a tiny garden with a lovely lemon tree (i counted 5 lemons this morning in different stages of ripeness and grapes) and 2 (as in two) bathrooms. For those of you who had the doubtable honour to visit the miniature premises in my current (tomorrow ex-flat) abode, you know what it means.

But right now i am packing, over 50 boxes of books.......still so many to go.

Picket line today at 16.00 on Clocktower Square in Jaffa

Today a general strike in Palestinian towns, villages and the shared cities has been announced in order to commemorate the murder of the 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel by the Israeli police during the first week of October 2000: 

  • Ahmed Jabarin 
  • Mohammed Jabarin
  • Rami Gharra 
  • Eyad Lawabny
  • Misleh Abu-Jared 
  • Ala’a Nasser
  • Aseel Asleh 
  • Emad Ghanayem
  • Waleed Abu Saleh 
  • Ramez Bushnaq
  • Mohammed Khalib Khamayseh
  • Omar Akawi  
  • Wisam Yizbek
We will join together in a silent picket line at 16.00 o'clock at Jaffa's Clock tower Square. 

Sunday, September 27

"Ajami" goes to Hollywood

And now for some local patriotism: Last night the movie "Ajami" received the Ophir prize for "Best Movie" and it will be the official selection to tthe academy awards (as in Oscars).  It's the first time a predominantly Arabic spoken movie is the official candidate.
Good luck to Scandar Copti, Yaron Sheni and all the other crew & neighbours!!

About the movie  Ajami in Arabic

Wednesday, September 23

The Kishle: A Victory

Tonight the plenary session of the municipal council decided by a small minority not to allow construction on top of the Kishle (Jaffa's ancient police station, a protected building).
A few years ago the Jordache company bought the "Kishle" compound, a series of buildings at the northern entrance of Jaffa on clock tower square.
The square is a lovely location, surrounded by ancient sand stone buildings. The company wants to turn the building into a hotel and applied for a construction permit which would have allowed them to build a huge addition on top of the ancient protected structure. The addition would completely change the view of Jaffa when arriving from the north.
The company used some rather dodgy techniques to hide their intentions from the public, so no one would oppose the plans.
Initially they almost succeeded and received the permit. However the appeal filed by Omar Siksik and Ahmad Mashrawi succeeded and the appeal was accepted. Oh the sweet taste of victory :) .

Sunday, September 20


It's literally pouring now. I hope it  forebodes a rainy year  as we absolutely need it after such a prolonged dry period. Of course my alley is flooded, an ugly black fast flowing river carrying with it the debris and accumulated dust of the long dry season. But it makes me happy, this first rain.

Ajami, not the movie

Cinema reality.

I woke up because of the rain, the first rain of the year, the "yore" as we call it in Hebrew, after the long dry season.. I love its smell, but of course i have to open the "floodgates" of the roof so my rooftop balcony won't get flooded because of the blocked drains. The first rains bring with them everything that has gathered on the roof during the long dry summer (imagine tons of guano, feathers, dead leaves, dirt, whatever). My neighbours are out as well, doing the same little necessary job.

Then the news starts going from roof to roof:  A 22 year old guy from Jaffa was shot and killed last night at the beach. His friends took him to the nearby Wolfson Hospital, but there they could do nothing.
We don't know yet who it is. There are various rumours.  As usual, the police are investigating.
Normally we have the doubtful honour of being among the first to know, the gravedigger lives on the  corner of our alley and bad news travels quickly. I think the family may have gone for the holiday as already on Thursday they brought me a batch of Id el Fitr cookies and talked about perhaps going somewhere.

It's the first day of Id el Fitr, "Have mercy", is all i can think of. Yet another family are crying. More people in danger. Enough.

Later on i learned of the guy's identity; Samir Moghrabi.

Jaffa, New Year, Id El Fitr.

Saturday, September 19

Happy Id El Fitr & Happy New Year

The Jewish New Year and Id el Fitr coincide and there can never been too few parties, Diets will be postponed, too many good home made cookies in the neighbourhood, happy New Year and Happy Id El Fitr!

Ajami, the movie

It hits you in the face, Scandar Kopti's and Yaron Sheni's movie "Ajami"' bluntly. It's overpowering.
And yes, this is where i live. It's about "my" neighbourhood.
Of course this is not going to be an objective film review. I know most , no, almost all of the actors, at least by face and some are very good friends. The cast  has been trained, but they are not professional actors, just my neighbours, more or less playing themselves, playing situations they know, reacting naturally as they would have done were the story real. It could have been real.
However, before continuing, honesty demands i admitting being ever so slightly being involved in a very very early production stage of Ajami.

The film opens with a murder scene, a case of mistaken identity, shot in HaDudaim Street. The scene sent me back to some 7 years ago, Saturday afternoon. Enjoying a glass of wine on my balcony overlooking that  street. The street is packed with children, playing outside, enjoying themselves. A motorcycle drives by, on it someone wearing a dark helmet. A few shots ring out, loud, then screams and crying, a young guy lays badly wounded on the street. It all went so fast it took me a few seconds to understand what i had just witnessed. The opening scene takes place at almost the same spot. Only on the other side of the street. In this case the guy survived. They say the murderer was someone from Ramle or Lod, and he didn't know the intended victim well enough and thus mistook him for someone else. Just like in the movie. The similarity is chilling and it doesn't stop with this scene either.
The movie is made out of a few story lines which initially seem not entirely connected, but over time they do, as in real life, as in Ajami.

Many in the audience were from Ajami, so some scenes were funny to us in a way they may not be to others.
I highly recommend, run to your nearest movie theatre.

Monday, September 14

Municipal thugging

Q. is in his seventies. A good humoured elderly man from Jaffa. His wife died several years ago, his children no longer live near by. He lives on social security (payment for the elderly)  in addition to a tiny income from selling pencils on Jaffa's streets.
Whenever i see him i buy a pencil or two. Not that i need them, but i enjoy the talk, the smile, the "salamat habibti" at the end of our conversation.
The Tel Aviv municipality has its own goon squad of controllers. Selling on the streets is not allowed. Usually Q. notices them before they see him. If it's the other way around, they will take his pencils away and warn him.
Lately they have started fining him. After all it is a punishable crime to sell a pencil n the street. His income is very low, so a fine means hunger. If you don't pay, the municipal goon squad can actually break into your home and take whatever pleases them.
Q. has very little money. He cannot afford the fines.
Of course he could stop selling pencils. But selling pencils is what he enjoys. He LIKES selling pencils.
He does not like the clubs for the elderly. For him selling pencils is part of his life as a travelling salesman, something he did when he was younger. So, NO he cannot stop selling pencils. He enjoys it, it's has become a necessary part of his life.
The simplest solution would be to make the thugs look into the other direction when they see the friendly old man and his pencils. Or maybe a friendly doctor could prescribe selling pencils as a medicine.

Saturday, September 12

Iftar at my friends' home

Friends of mine, who live at Jaffa's "Arab Housing Estate" also known all over Jaffa as the "shikunat", the jungle or the zoo, invited me to share the iftar dinner.  We just sat down when the door was opened by a very scared young guy. "There's police downstairs, can i come in?". Sure, sit down, join us for iftar." 
A few seconds after, loud knocks on the door. "Open up, police". Three policemen, hands on their loaded semi-automatic rifles stand in the doorway. "Show us your ID's". 
X. who opened the door, shows her ID and that of her husband. The large family with many friends, the older daughter's husband and young child all sit around the table and watch the policemen, their hands on the triggers of their guns. "Do you live here?" they ask. Strange question, the family sitting around the dinner table makes it rather obvious. 
They leave for the neighbours' door. Nobody home there, but the door is open, so they just go in and leave with the motor helmets they found inside. 
The police are all over the neighbourhood and on the roofs of the buildings and stay there for a long time. We all stay inside, although normally we would have gone outside after dinner to enjoy the cool evening air.
My friend is worried about her teenage son. In situations like these young guys can be arrested "just for being there". 
The young guy sat with us and we talked. He is just a regular kid, but he knows the "rules". In this area you can get arrested for anything.
Jaffa, Ramadan 2009

Saturday, September 5

Chasing a driver

Like a noisily buzzing fly a police helicopter has been hovering at a very low altitude above Ajami for at least half an hour now.
Somewhat earlier a policeman tried to stop a motor cyclist for a regular check somewhere in the south of Tel Aviv in the area of Giborim street. The motor cyclist didn't stop and the policeman was left badly wounded and taken into the Tel Hashomer hospital.
The cyclist wearing a dark helmet and short pants has managed to get away so far. The search for the cyclist appears to be going on, noisily, right above my head.

Wednesday, September 2

Shooting nearby, right now

Being at home, a little ill, i was woken up by the sound of fighting near by about half an hour ago, then shots and shouting just now.

A young guy climbing over the wall and running away over the roof of a neighbouring house, while hiding something (a gun? a knife? or maybe just his cellphone?) in the top of his pants.
Screaming. The muezzin is singing out the last sentences and my neighbours are about to sit down for dinner.
A police car arrives. Another neighbour pulling something from under his shirt and hiding it.
More shouting. Another siren getting closer. It could be police or it could be an ambulance, although in Jaffa victims are usually transported to nearby Wolfson hospital by the first available car.
Another police car arrives close to the house of my neighbours.
Several policemen are now carrying out a search outside my neighbours' house and some climbed over the wall, to search inside the yard and the house itself. They seem to know where to go. But not exactly.
The search goes on.
They are taking the house apart or so it  seems. One of the children just returned home. Not a pleasant situation.
All the neighbours stand outside on the balconies and rooftops to watch the show.

In case someone was wondering, this is the police climbing over the wall to search the yard.

Thursday morning update: police are searching all over the nearby roof tops.

Sunday, August 30

Housing Demo in Kfar Shalem (Salameh)

Until 1948 Salameh was a fairly prosperous Palestinian village, close to Jaffa. Its original inhabitants and home owners were violently turned into refugees, to be replaced by mostly Yemenite immigrants. Soon after 1948 it was renamed "Kfar Shalem" and became a far away suburb of quickly developing Tel Aviv, to be engulfed by that city's new neighbourhoods after a few years. But the villge stayed the village. Lovely one and two storied houses on plots of land, encircled by fruit trees and chicken coops.
The unused mosque in its busy center. Small crooked streets. Muddy in winter and a dustbowl during the hot summer months,
Children were born, then grand children. Rooms were added, bathrooms fixed, new gardens planted. The village developed. Families shared laughter and sadness.
Suddenly the village became attractive, green, low-rise housing, romantic. And housing prices started to go up. The municipality realized there was money to be made, as did the Israel Land Administration, who had become the "owners" of the refugees' "absentee property in 1948 and rented it out to the Yemenites.
As in Jaffa, demolition and eviction procedures were started.
Some years ago, the original Yemenite inhabitants and their children were left very angry, yet almost defenceless, after one home owner was killed by the police after having barricaded himself on the rooftop of his home, in order to protest his eviction.
Two years ago several families were evicted from their homes which were then destroyed in order to make place for construction for the wealthy, just like in Jaffa. Political activities and a court case seemed to stop the process.
But now the evictions have been renewed. And a bond has been formed between the Jaffaites and the people from Kfar Shalem, Salameh, almost as in the old days. 
Like in Jaffa, people are tired of being treated like so much dirt. They are putting up a struggle and today's demo is only the opening shot in that struggle.
Several hundreds marched from the village to the nearby Moshe Dayan 4-lane highway, which they barricaded  in order to protest against the renewed evictions and demolitions. The police, for the time being, were surprisingly considerate. Or maybe i have become used too much to the Jaffa police's violent standards?

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Tuesday, August 25

Another Jaffa family out in the streets

When R. and her 5 children came home this afternoon, they found all their furniture out in the street, much of it severely damaged and broken. The doorlock had been changed.
The house owner, well known and very wealthy Jaffa property tycoon Walid Aboulafia (of bakery fame), had abused R's absence from the hovel she had been renting from him for some three years, to evict her, illegally, without a court order.
R. asked the police to come, but the sinlge police man did not help her. "There was nothing he could", do he said. R. was under so much pressure by then, that she forgot to take his details.
In fact, it is Mr. Walid Aboulafia who broke the law by evicting her illegally, without a court order.

The flat R. rented was a 2 1/2 room affair in Jaffa's Al Ajami neighborhood. Damp, it's walls blackened by fungi. In the winter the rain entered through the cracked walls. The kitchen sink was not connected to the sewage, so R. used a bucket instead.
For over a year she and her kids had their daily shower at R's mother's tiny house, as the shower in R.'s house didn't function and the owner, rich Walid Aboulafia, refused to repair it.

R. who paid a very high rent relative to the ugly state of the house she lived in, stopped paying the rent. The owner cut off her water and electricity supply. It was easy for him to do so, because in the past, the flat had been larger and he subdevided it, one assumes without a permit. As a result R. shared the electricity and water bill with her neighbors, so it was very easy to punish her.

R. started looking for a new place, but the rents in Jaffa have gone up and all she has is her social security payments. Also many houseowners want all kinds of guarantees, which when you live on social security, you cannot easily get.

The beds were literally broken, as if they had been thrown from the second floor where she lived. Maybe they were.

Due to the Ramadan, Jaffa's streets are very quiet, so we have no witnesses to the method of furniture removal. The broken aquarium says it all, i will not ask questions about the fish. Volunteers from the Islamic movement helped R. to move her stuff (or rather that part worth salvaging) to Esther's house. Esther who's always there to help each and everyone. But the damage has been done. Five children out in the streets. Next week the schoolyear starts. I wonder how R.'s children will cope. We could not find their new schoolbooks in the mess.

Ramadan, Jaffa 2009

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What the.....

Over the last several days large groups of armed soldiers have been seen walking around Ajami and GanTamar every evening, going into the small alleys, only known to locals who live there.
Carrying enlarged arial photographs, they walk around, often loosing their way and backtracking. When asked, they say they are doing "urban navigation" exersises. Really?

In Liebermanland i start to feel more and more uncomfortable.

Friday, August 21

Ramadan Karim

The Siksik mosque, originally constructed in the 1880-ies, partially demolished by a bomb during the Naqbe, abused by the Keter Plastic Factory between 1960-2006 and reconstructed by the community in 2009, was inaugurated last wednesday, just before Ramadan.
Jaffa's Palestinian community was deeply involved in the reconstruction and building. At the same time the community was built by the concentrated effort of reconstructing a lovely mosque.
The inauguration was attended by over 500 community members, as well as Sheikh Raed Salah of the northern section of the Islamic movement and knesset member Ibrahim Zarsur of the southern section of the Islamic movement..
The tension which often exists between those two sections was not present. There was a feeling of pride and unity.

Ramadan Karim to the Jaffa community and all those to whom it applies.

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Tuesday, August 18

Mum & three kids became homeless today

Manal Haj is a single mother of three school age children. They are all out on the street , homeless.
Three days before the onset of the Ramdan and two weeks before the beginning of the school year, Manal and her children have nowhere to go after Halamish, the public housing company evicted them from their home today.

The story is one of those burocratic flipflops, as Manal has been eligible for public housing for over 13 years, but due to change in the type of social security she receives, the payments were stopped for some three months, after which she started receiving a different category of social security.
In order to be elegible for public housing, you need to be dependent for at least two years on social security. Manal receibed social security for 13 years, but during 3 months last year she didn't receive a thing and as a result lost her housing rights.

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Sunday, August 16

Quote of the week, by Robert Paxton

"Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline......... a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."

From: Robert Paxton, emeritus professor of History at Columbia University, The Five Stages of Fascism

Hmmm, sounds a lot like Israel.

Saturday, August 15

A New Home for the Marzouk Family

The Marzouk family from Jaffa were living in a dangerous building, that was about to fall down.
The public housing company, Halamish, offered them another home, but due to burocracy and municipal stupidity, the family were stuck in the old home.
I wrote about the family's ordeal a few weeks ago, after one of the children was almost killed by a huge piece of concrete that fell from the ceiling.
The story was picked up by Yediot Ahronot, Israel's favorite daily and this week the family finally moved into their new home.
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