Thursday, April 30

Predicting the future, all the way to jail

Jaffa has a number of well-known "coffee readers", women who can tell your future from looking at the brown coffee sludge stains left in your cup after having drunk the coffee. People pay quite a bit for their services and some take it rather seriously.
One of those wise women is Hadra, who built herself a huge castle on the corner of Kedem and HaLimon street, which just shows that witchcraft is a fairly favourable "profession". She must have been doing quite well. that is, until today.

However, i doubt if she's any good at reading her own future, otherwise one wonders why she didn't leave a few days ago.
This morning she and her sons were arrested by a rather large number of policemen, apparently for fraud and tax fraud.
Maybe she doesn't like coffee.

Sunday, April 26

Mahmoud and Namne Shakra - In memoriam

A big round face with smiling eyes and a laughing mouth, almost like a "smiley", that's how i remember my neighbor.
"Remember", the word doesn't fit somehow, i find it difficult to talk of them in the past tense.
Mahmoud and his wife were killed in a car accident last night. They have young kids.

There were many deadly traffic accidents this weekend. Each of the victims leaving a shattered family. But somehow, when you know the people, it becomes very personal.

Each time i saw Mahmoud i smiled, automatically. Smiley.
A car accident, what a waste.

Wednesday, April 22

On Constructing 5-Legged Camels

"A camel is a horse designed by a planning committee"

Eco-friendly transportation is important. Period.
Tel Aviv is crowded, traffic jams are hell and the lack of parking space is somewhere way beyond hell. So travelling by bicycle or by public transport makes a lot of sense.

Sort of.
In some areas.

I use my bike to go from A to B. It's easy, cheap and quick. No parking problems. I'm not so sure it is healthy, due to the awful air quality i breathe while pedalling my way between buses, vespa motor bikes (i read somewhere their exhaust fumes are about as bad as those of a truck, doe to the amount of small particles they emit) and the endless lines of cars standing idle in yet another traffic jam.

However, in some areas it is also dead scary. Dan bus drivers are my worst enemy. Egged drivers come a close second only because there are less of them in the areas where i tend to travel most, not that they are more bike friendly). Jaffa's Jerusalem Boulevard (Nouzha or Pasha in the past) is noteworthy as a very scare road for the audacious cyclist.

The municipality is known for its greenwash policy making: More parking lots , more highways, more huge road crossings of multi-lane free-ways, more cars in short. But they talk green. So they plan bike paths. Which is nice. Or rather, which could be nice.
The only problem being that those who plan them, have not seen a bike close by for years. Nor have they used public transport.
Otherwise, how can one explain the silly bike paths along Ibn Gvirol street? The clash between people waiting at the bus stops or going to and from the bus-stops which are located right on the bike paths is unavoidable. Not even a camel, but a five-legged, blind and deaf camelchik, that's what it is, the Ibn Gvirol bike path. Who could have thought of something so utterly idiotic?

And now they have started planning another bike path along Jaffa's Jerusalem Boulevard. Great, we need one there. Jerusalem Boulevard is one of the scariest places to ride a bike. I try to avoid that road as much as possible. But i cannot. It's central, it's where a lot of services are located, and i sometimes need those.
So a bike path would be great.

And planning it properly is important.

But there is just one small problem. The guys (i suspect they are guys, women wouldn't do it that way) doing the planning, are working on their own, without talking to others also planning in the same street, such as the developers of the light train and the public transport companies who are currently in the process of developing the new public transport system for Jerusalem Boulevard.

Just before Passover i participated in a meeting with the planners of the "light train's" green line, the first line to become active, supposedly in another 3-4 years. Construction has already started in Jaffa's Jerusalem Boulevard. From their presentation (they are very good at PR, that's one thing to be said about them), i realized other public transport as well as bikes do not really interest them. They are seen as a nuisance more than anything else. They are "the competition" and therefore their lives should be made difficult, rather than easy and safe. After all, if you cannot travel easily by bus or by bike, you'll take the light train.

So why cooperate?

As a result several municipal and traffic authorities and green NGO's are each planning their own thing separately and i cannot begin the image the possible result. A cyclist's bad dream, that's for sure.

Thursday, April 16

Identity / A Dress and a Prayer

Five women from Jaffa whose children attend the Weitzman primary school met for a period of 6 months to talk and make art under the guidance of a professional artist, Ziv Peleg- Ben Ze'ev.
Today they opened their exhibition in Ziv's Tel Aviv studio, showing a series of "dresses" representing themselves, their dreams and their prayers.

During the opening a short documentary movie made in the framework of the project, was shown. Each woman, except for Palestinian Astar Saba, told about her experience in the movie.
Astar read out a short statement instead.
All of the participating women went through a significant personal process during the six months of weekly group art work. Except for one woman, Orna Marton, an architect, none were professional artists. They all come from very different backgrounds. But, being women living in Jaffa, parents from kids going to Weitzman, they had a lot to share and to talk about.

People from the art community, the school and from Jaffa in general attended the opening event.

The Weitzman School , a public primary school located in the center of Jaffa, is trying to implement a bi-national and multi-cultural curriculum, is in danger of being closed. I hope the municipality will have the brains to keep it going.

They work with the children AND with their parents. Each class has 2 teachers: a Palestinian and a Jewish teacher. Although the school belongs to the "Jewish public school track", many of its students are Palestinian kids from Jaffa.

The art project is supported by "Mémoire de l'avenir" and "One to One" as well as, ofcourse, the school.

Moufleta Politics

Yafo Gimmel is a mixed and by all standards rather slummy neighbourhood: Palestinian families and poorer Jewish ones (those who can afford it, move out) share dreary apartment blocks, many of them owned by the "Halamish" public housing company. Over the last few years, recent immigrants from Ethiopia have been housed in this very weak place.

The original inhabitants for whom the neighbourhood was constructed were people mostly form Bulgaria and Morocco who were living under harsh and cramped conditions in pre-gentrification Ajami.
They were happy to move out to the new blocks, where they finally had their own bathroom and kitchen (previously they had to share those with several other families).
But the blocks proved to be problematic. Shoddy construction, bad insulation, sheer size and Halamish's poor repair and maintenance standards soon turned the area into a slum.
And right in the middle of that slum there is the "Dake" orange grove, which, in spite of its romantic name grows few oranges: another "favela" like area inhabited by the Dake family, who live thereunder terrible conditions of poverty and neglect, as the municipality refuses to create a "housing plan" for the area and as a result it is impossible to undertake legal construction on the land the family has been owning for centuries. There is no good sewage system and electricity hook up is somewhat, how shall i say it, "primitive". There is much poverty and neglect in all of the area. And where there is poverty, there is crime, mostly drugs related in this case. And violence. And youth gangs of alienated kids who have lost all hope.

Those who can afford it, run away, those who still live there, mostly wish they will be able to run away, one day, perhaps. A mixture of elderly, recent and less recent migrants from Ethiopia and the Ex-Soviet Union, Palestinian families and as of late, ultra right wing yeshiva students, who believe the real struggle is no longer in the West Bank, but in the mixed cities, where they come to "strengthen the Jewish Community" and "to protect it against -God forbid- mixed marriages". Reality being that there are very few of those (less than 10 a year) doesn't bother them in their rhetoric, it sounds "good" and is easy to use when you want to create tension.

And tension exists.

"The Red Field" used to be a neglected football field used for many activities, but football wasn't one of those. Over the last year or so, the field has been beautifully renovated into an open, public sports center with basket ball courts, an out-door gym, table tennis and of course a football field.
After tension arose between the poor kids of next door "Dake" and the housing estates' kids a community worker and a multi-ethnic group of mothers started to meet and try to undertake joint positive activities. Sport and games are a good way of letting off steam and get to know each other. And it seems to be working. Something good appears to be going on in the "Red Field" as it is still known. The municipality is doing something right here.

So they selected the Red Field as the location for the "Mimouna Party". For those unfamiliar, Mimouna originates in Morocco, when, on the end of the last day of Passover the Muslim neighbours would bring their Jewish neighbours the first leavened baked goods which had been forbidden during Passover. Moufleta and colorful marzipan-like sweets are traditional. Over time, in Israel, it was turned into another popular festival of neighbors of all ethnic backgrounds, visiting neighbors and eating lots of the traditional sweets, while listening to music and dancing.

What also has become traditional, is the political ride taken by Israel's politicians who tend to visit the various public festival locations and yesterday's Jaffa version was no different. Mayor Ron Huldai, Gilad Peled (who returned to manage the Mishlama) and others, as well as the distincly Ashkenazi rabi of the yeshiva all spoke their words of unity among the Jews, most of them convienently forgetting the Palestinian presence. The talk was of a "unified city of Tel Aviv, which exists 100 years (right in Jaffa, remember?).
It was rather cold yesterday evening, so most people had dressed warmly, some over or under their traditional Moroccan dress, making a few of them looking litke glitzy stuffed bears. The guests of honour, among them muniipal coalition members Ahmad Mashrawi and Maytal Lehavi as well as ex-mk Nadia Hilou, were sitting in a traditional and very pretty Morocan tent colorfully decorated with cushions and small tables full of goodies, while the children of the hoi polloy had to wait in the cold to receive their freshly made Moufleta.
The musical theme was of the mostly "Anu Banu Artza" type of theme, with the occasional Morocan song thrown in for political correctness.
The area was guarded by border police and the little boys from Dake, who are loud and active (i am talking about 8-10 year old children) were not let in. They "might disturb the peace".

Tuesday, April 14

what a storm

After a hot dry Khamsin day, the wind is picking up like crazy, howling around my home and blowing ultra-fine dust into and onto everything and i can hear the sea waves going wild.
It's cooler now, but while writing this, my computer-screen is becoming fuzzy due to the dust quickly settling onto it.
All kinds of things are away carried by the wind, dancing wildly until they get stuck on an electricity cable or some such, including my neighbour's freshly washed, bone dry but oh so dusty dress which just passed beside my window.

Update: not my neighbour's dress, it was mine, my lovely black silk designer dress. (Yeah me, the unfashionable one, i actually had one decent piece of clothing to be used for special occasions).

Monday, April 13

Another shooting nearby

Two nights ago a young guy was shot at in Ajami and lightly wounded. i was reading a book in bed, trying to fall asleep, then rudely woken up by shots, then screams from the south west more or less.
Later on i hear the details from my neighbours; another young guy, "yes these kids have guns, they don't know what they are doing, what can we do to stop it?" and so on. The regular talk the morning after, between neighbours, we had all woken up or been about to fall asleep.
About one minute ago: a volley of 7 Shots, just north east from my home, then screams. Someone must be hurt. It's still early, there are many people out in the streets, the weather is pleasant, many kids are playing outside.
Mothers come out into the streets and call their children inside, the kids protest, it's still early and they are right in the middle of a game. The mothers have no patience, "inside NOW". Reluctantly the kids go inside, they know the rules, the usual routine.
The neighbors' kids are now playing out on the roof, it's pleasant and warm. "You heard it?" they ask me through the open window. Yes i did. "Someone got hurt" the little girl tells me. "Yes i know, i heard the screams" i answer. We all know the sound, another shooting, The little girl continues her game. She waves at me, "slamat". I wave back.

Far away the sound of a siren is coming somewhat closer.

Sunday, April 12

Naji El Ali grafiti in Old Jaffa

Hanzala appeared "just out of the blue" somewhere in Old Jaffa.
And more about this kid from Ayn El Hilwe

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Saturday, April 11

Haneen Zouabi in Jaffa

Women from Jaffa, Ramle and Lod met today at Jaffa's Balad offices in Ajami, in order to have an informal (but very efficient) talk with Knesset member, Haneen Zuabi.
From local to national issues and beyond were discussed in a relaxed atmosphere at the Balad offices in Ajami.

Sunday, April 5

Classical Arabic Music Concert today

The "Al Rabita" organization are inviting lovers of classi Arab music to a concert today at 20.00 at the "Anis" auditorium in Jaffa Daled (9 HaPa'amonit Street).

Tickets are 50 NIS.

Saturday, April 4

Today in Jaffa: Women's Market

Jaffa's women are holding a market and happening in the "Shnayim"(Gazans') park n the corner of Yefet and Erlich Streets.
Between 11.00 - 16.00.
Home cooked food, jewellery,clothes (including clothing for religious Muslim women), Palestinian embroidery and more.

Wednesday, April 1

So what if you want access to your own home?

The ultra rich are buying up property in Jaffa, nothing new there.
A tiny piece of land on Mendes France street went for 1.200.000 $ not a while ago.
The neighbors had hope to buy it so they could expand their modest home, which was becoming cramped for their growing family. However, their offer was way below that of the people who finally bought the little plot; Close to the beach, opposite a park, no doubt, prime property.
What the neighbors did not expect, was that the developers of the neighboring plot would simply block the access to their own home!
One day the bulldozers came, dug a deep hole in preparation for laying the foundations for the new house and that was it. No more access.
I guess there is one law for the rich and quite another one for the poor.
As the deep hole started caving in, the neighbors put up a fence to protect their own little children, as even that had not been done by the very wealthy. They also went to court to stop further development for the time being.
The neighbors are willing to find a creative solution, but what amazesme is the ease with which these wealthy people work, the sheer violence of their activities.
How can they possible expect to live their in neighborly peace, if this is how the rich behave towards their poor neighbors?
But perhaps that is exactly it: they do not expect at all to live next door to the poor. They are probably planning for some way of getting rid of them.
Oh and no, this is not an April Fool's Day joke. The sad truth of life in Jaffa, April 1, 2009

Is the april joke on us?

Today officially the "Tel Aviv 100 years" party starts.

I like parties, in fact, i like parties a lot, but the one hundred years anniversary of Tel Aviv must be some sort of joke.
The first neighbourhoods of what was to become Tel Aviv, were founded as a part of Jaffa during the late 19th century. They were established by Jaffa's Jews, mostly by Mizrachi Jews who were tired of living in Jaffa's cramped old city.
"Ahouzat Bayit" (according to some historians established in 1909 by a shell lottery in the sands) was NOT the first Jewish neighbourhood established outside of Jaffa. But the founders of Ahouzat Bayit were mostly Ashkenazi Jews and perhaps that has something to do with the particular view Tel Aviv' likes to have and to present on its own history, the myth of "the White City, born in the sands".

And if Tel Aviv is the "White City", then it needs to be asked: where is the black city? Jaffa? "Arous ElBahar", the bride of the sea, "Arous Falestin", the "Bride of Palestine" as Jaffa is historically known in Arabic?
The municipality is filling Jaffa with flags of the "hundred year anniversary of Tel Aviv - Jaffa.
Well, our Black City goes back several thousands of years. We don't need your festivals and parties. Even the life guard stattions on our beach have been decorated with the "100 Tel Aviv" flag. It wqould not at all surprise me if someone form Jaffa will carry out certain "corrections" to these flags. After all, this is Jaffa, and we exist a little longer than Tel Aviv's one hundred years.

The municipality is spending some 41 million NIS on the party. That same municipality doesn't have 8 million for the education of Jaffa's children.
Save me your April jokes, Ron Huldai!

Blocking the bridge, stupidity or maliciousness?

You can build a wall and make it obvious who's wanted and who is the outsider. You can also build a 4 lane road used by no almost no one in order to detach one part of the area to another part, to "keep them out".
The latter technique is extensively used in Jaffa in order to create a clear dividing line between the poor housing estates and one of the wealthier parts of Jabaliyeh (or Givat Aliyah, if you like to use that name).
A 4-lane wide, deeply laid road devides two city parts. On the southern side the Jabaliyah mosque stands and a foot bridge connects the two parts of the city.
The bridge is used mainly by the kids from the nearby housing estate when they walk to school, by Ajami's residents for going to the mosque and by the guys from the yeshiva, the "Torah Seed" as they like to call themselves.
The bridge (an atrocious Orientalist affair by the way) is accessible to bikes and those on foot only. It's the only easy access for Ajamis elderly and infirm Muslims who want to pray or attend classes in the mosque, unless they have a car. And as many of them are poor and do not have cars, using the bridge is the ONLY way they can reach the mosque. Going around is quite a distance not easily walked by the elderly and infirm nor by those fasting during the month of Ramadan.

Until yesterday.
The bridge has been effectively blocked by the newest construction of the Jaffa development team of the Mishlama.
They have created side walks and a tiny road where no one really needs them, at the same time raising the pavement in such a way the bridge is no longer easily reachable by those with difficulties. In the past people could park their cars next to the bridge and cross on foot. Elderly devout could drive over the bridge in their "kalnoit", their little "golf car" type vehicles and reach the mosque. No longer so, as of yesterday, when easy access to the bridge serving the mosque was simply blocked to those with walking problems.
No brain or bad intentions?
The community is trying to organize against the latest development.

The municipality was called in order to stop the works. The municipality claimed they had shown the plan to the neighbours who had said nothing.
There is just one slight problem with the municipality's claim; the plan they showed the neighbours was exactly the other way around. The bridge was to be kept open and another road was to be blocked in order to safeguard those walking to the mosque from being hit by speeding cars who could not easily notice them due to a corner that allowed for little leeway.
The road that was supposed to be block off on one side will have only two houses in it, therefore becoming a dead end road wouldn't really cause any problems. Instead the municipal geniuses (or are they evil planners?) blocked of the mosque bridge. Brilliant.

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