Sunday, January 24

Stormy weather

The wind is howling around my house. When i just went outside to have a look at the sea, i was almost blown from the garden steps. And one look at the sea confirmed the other noise i had been hearing: the waves are huge!
It's very cold outside.

Monday, January 18

Black forces in a not so orange orange grove

When demolished, a home makes an awful sound. Yesterday it went on for hours, the slow demolition process of the second floor of the Dake home. Large yellow machines slowly crunched away at the building. Huge blocks of falling concrete demolishing the garden in the same go.
The people watching on helplessly. Their possessions, clothes, furniture, kids' schoolbooks etc. out in the dust.

Two years ago some 100 people barricaded themselves on the roof of the Dake home in Jaffa's Dake orange grove and prevented its demolition. Yesterday the Dake family were less, much less lucky, when Ron Huldai's municipality goons demolished their home under the "protection" of hundreds of blimp led ninja-style clad special forces policemen.
In the early hours masked policemen entered the Dake home and arrested the men of the family and told the family's women to start packing. Literally hundreds of policemen, special forces and border police blocked off all roads to the Dake grove and the close surroundings.
Whole streets were closed to the public, even to those living there and wishing to go back home. The operations were led from a special command tent where police men kept track of the ground forces by means of a camera studded blimp high up in the air.

To understand the true impact of the demolition of the Dake house is is important to back in history.
The Dake family were the proud owners of a huge orange grove prior to 1948, the Naqbe, just south of Jaffa. 
In the grove were the large family home, storage facilities, guard houses, a pump house etc.
After 1948 the family stayed on. They lived in the grove and over time, as the family expanded, more houses were added. 
The municipality did not bother to make a zoning plan for the grove, although it is on municipal territory. As a result, it is impossible to receive a building permit for anything, not even for repairing your house: as there are no zoning plan definitions for the area, there is no buroicratic procedure possible for getting a building permit.
Yet the Dakes, who own the land, needed homes, so they constructed those without a permit.
The municipality never provided any services in the grove, there are no roads, no waste disposal, no kinder garden (by now there are a few hundred people, including many children, living in the grove). The sewage system is horrid and floods every now and then and until a few years ago every winter the grove was flooded. Only after a young child drowned inside his home, the municipality did something about the flood drains.

The lack of a zoning plan has been going on for some 60 years now. The Dakes cannot build anything on their land and live in poverty. When they try to build the municipality arrives and destroys. The houses  are rebuilt, making use of cheap materials or recycling some of the rubble in the construction of the new house, as all know it is only a matter of time until the next demolition.
After the municipality took out a demolition order on the flat he built for his son, Moussa Dake decided to fight back. He lost in the Tel Aviv peace court, but won an incredible victory in the regional court, where the judge criticised the municipality for 60 years of planning neglect. The Dakes felt victorious and the verdict was f major importance as it had implications for many other areas in the country as well.
But the municipality appealed to the high court of justice and won. The verdict in this case was formalistic and did not even try to deal with the serious criticism and legal concerns of the regional court's verdict.
The Dakes appealed once more, but the municipality decided not to wait for the court's decision and yesterday, in spite of the request to wait until the verdict, the goons went about their ugly business.
Moussa had become a symbol and the legal fight he put up was being followed by many involved in planning and housing rights.


Monday, January 11

And a little more

Hell, two very loud volleys of automatic gun fire really close by just now.
Coming from a slightly northern direction as in "the other side of the building", as in my building, the one i live in.

Violence by the authorities, no one seems to care very much

Hikmat is 2 weeks old, a tiny little girl, red faced and well wrapped up.
This morning the police broke the door to the small house she lives in, tear-gassed the place, her room included. Then they carried out a violent search, basically taking the place apart. They didn't find a thing, as her young parents know well. There is a relative living not far way who's involved in things better not mentioned.  They carry the same family name, so perhaps that is how the police justify themselves. 
In any case, little is left of the small home, the wooden ceiling partially removed, holes made in the wall, all electricity points removed, cooking stove and new fridge damaged beyond repair, after the police finished their search. Nothing was found, the damage done is huge: the bathroom basically taken apart, sewage pipes connecting the toilet all broken, the shower cubicle taken apart, all taps leaking. Furniture broken, but all of that is nothing compared to the traumatized children, who woke up choking on tear-gas.  When i visited the family today the sligtly older kids were still crying, scared of any stranger entering what was left of their home.
Hikmat was the only one peacefully sleeping, perhaps she's forgotten, who knows what goes on inside baby heads.

But Hikmat not the only one who suffered violence from the authorities over the last few days.
Ask Abu Isa, whose son is laying unconscious and brain damaged attached to life support machinery in Tel HaShomer hospital. The kid was beaten up by two "security goons guards" employed by the municipality to guard the beach park. What the guards didn't notice is that there was a witness to their acts. A witness who called the police and whose testimony put the guards under arrest.
The witness' testimony makes it clear the boy and his friend (who was released from hospital in the mean time) did not start the fight. In fact they begged to guards to stop.
he amazing thing is that the security company tried to cook up a story and went to the park's storage room manager in order to convince him to file a complaint there had been a break-in and stuff had been stolen the night of the violence. Thankfully the store room manager refused to do so but it makes one wonder; what if there had been no witness and what if the manager had been a little more "compliant"?  Violence by the authorities has become almost too common to mention in Jaffa.

Saturday, January 9

Hamude Shakra, victim, yet another murder victim in Jaffa.

Yesterday i wrote about the murder of a man in Jaffa, not realizing i know the victim and his family quite well. His mother and sisters are friends and i had coffee at their place only a week ago, chatting away about this and that. Hamude's young son playing around in the living room. 

The personal side of the story isn't interesting. However, i suddenly realized this is all so close by. So many young men in Jaffa have been murdered over the last few years. In a few cases i knew them personally, had seen them grow up from sweet kids to awkward teenagers to young men, sometimes angry young men, involved in things better not to be involved in.
I know their families and, in the current case, I can only try to imagine what Hamude's mum and sisters and young wife must be going through. The police state he was involved in shady car deals and i realize that may well  be true. But he was their son, husband or brother, father to a little son who probably doesn't  understand too much as yet.
I remember him always tinkering at this or that car, close to the family's home. Music nearby, preferably loud. Friends sitting around waiting for their car to be fixed. Hamude's legs sticking out from below the car or his back bent over the hood fixing something, while joking in a loud voice. Playing around with his son, a big smile on his face, the kid happy and excited.

This is Jaffa, this is Ajami and things often don't go here they way they should go for young guys: finishing high school, going on to further studies, starting your career or trying to figure out what you should be doing in life, trying out this and that, travelling around a little, taking up a cause. Life isn't like that in Ajami, or perhaps only for a few, the lucky few.

The public school system in Ajami is terrible. And your family doesn't have the money for private education or  private teachers when you fall behind. Often you don't have the books you need, because your family cannot afford to buy them. You don't go on school trips because your family hasn't yet paid for last year's trip . (yes i know it's illegal to exempt kids from their school trips because of a debt but say that to any Jaffa school principal, or just come and see how many kids are left behind when the buses take off, half empty). At some point you drop out, thinking it makes more sense to try and make some money, not to live in poverty. But finding a job is difficult when you have little schooling. And it's quicker and easier (or so it seems) to make quick money on the streets.

Hamude loved cars and spent much time repairing them, his own, his friends',  the neighbours, turning old wrecks into driving things. Slowly moving up from wreck to something far better. Cars play a big role in Jaffa's young men's status game.
And quite obviously the majority do not have the money to buy these cars, unless on credit schemes which over time will put them and their families in throttling debt and poverty. Ownership of a car with a loud and powerful stereo system is the big thing for many young men here. 

It's easy to sink into street dynamics, in some cases it's unavoidable, it happens without you wanting or choosing it. If your brother is in, you are in. If your friend is in, you are in. That's how it works. Easy to get on, hard to impossible getting out. The laws of the street result in much pain and hard statistics. Hamude's has many sisters and brothers, some of them still very young kids. I fear for their future. It's a cycle and unless it is somehow (HOW?) broken, how can they get out?

Some two years ago someone shot at the family's home and that wasn't for the first time. Then someone aimed his gun at a car Hamude's brother was sitting in, wounding a friend but the brother got away unhurt this time. 

Hamude's funeral is today at 12.00. 

Friday, January 8

Murder in Jaffa

About an hour and a half ago an as yet unidentified man apparently in his late twenties was shot and killed in the area close to the Wolfson Hospital. Initially he appeared to be wounded lightly but upon arrival in the hospital he died of his wounds.
The drive-by shooting took place in a car wash place in south Jaffa.
The police claim the victim "is known to them", but what does that exactly mean in Jaffa?

Sunday, January 3

The Metropolitan Public Transport Plan

It's very ambitious, has no budget attached nor a time table; the grand plan for the metropolitan  public transport reorganization. 900.000 People a day use public transport to get to Tel Aviv Jaffa and move about in it. Several companies, buses, trains, taxis and communal taxis are all part of it. 
Stations and Tel Aviv's "new" central bus station are some of its of its several existing and planned hubs (Wolfson Hospital junction being one of the newly planned hubs).
The idea is to have a few quick central and very frequent super bus-lines on special tracks  serve the city in cooperation with the train system and the metro (if and whenever the red line will be finished, under planning since the early 1970-ies, so allow me to cast a little doubt at the municipal hopefulls) will bring people into the city, smaller (and much less frequent buses- expected waiting time 20 minutes)  buses will take them around within the neighbourhoods. A minibus will serve Ajami neighbourhood (today there is no bus touring the inner streets of the 'hood) .

The central lines passing through Jerusalem Boulevard will be moved to Shlavim Street, currently a mostly deserted and unpleasant area of car workshops, garbage dumps and shady places. Not a residential area and i cannot easily imagine anyone waiting in that deserted spot for some 20-30 minutes for a local minibus to arrive to take them into the neighbourhood.
The new plan assumes cooperation between the different companies operating within the area between Netanya in the north, Modi'in in the east and Ashdod in the south. to share their timetables and ticketing system as well information services. 
The program was presented today to the municipal council as a given, to be implemented as of July 2010 in 4 stages over a period of two years. Without a budget and a detailed time table that is a little hard to imagine.
For Jaffa the message is clear: bad transport as a low frequency to an irrelevant unlived in area. 
The Ajami minibus is a good idea, however.

Oh and did i mention the new bus stops with their metal chairs that become sort of VERY hot during the summer months. They are very stylish, but i doubt if the designer has been making much use of a bus stop. Three chairs is also not a whole  lot when people will have to wait 20 minutes for their minibus to arrive. And metal chairs in the sun will not be very comfortable.

But then without a budget and a clear implementation table i have my doubts.

Another question s of course the ever rising cost of public transport. Bus tickets in Tel Aviv cost 5.80 NIS as of the beginning of this month. When the minimum hourly wage stands at 20 NIS an hour and many people need to take more than one bus to their place of work, that's very expensive.

No, that ain't fireworks

Just a volley of automatic gunshots made me sit up and feel very scared last night. This time it was really really close by. No screaming right afterwards, so it must have been a warning volley. For whom and what? No idea, although i  can make a guess.
Nothing in the news later on, but then, unless there are dead they don't bother to publish, shooting being nothing new here.
I used to live on the top floor, so i always felt somewhat protected from shots going into the wrong direction by mistake. Having moved to the bottom floor has somewhat taken away that -perhaps false-sense of security. Happy New Year Ajami is what one could call it, i guess.