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.