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.