Religious Group Aims for Yet Another Jewish Settlement, in Jaffa

According to people in Jaffa, dozens of youngsters gathered in front of the Nuzha Mosque on Jerusalem Boulevard shouting 'death to the Arabs' and throwing stones at the mosque.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Itai Granek is 25 years old and the director of the Garin Torani - religious Zionists who try to help underdeveloped communities. Granek's group in Jaffa, which was set up about three years ago, includes about 50 families. There has been tension with local people who characterize the group's activities as an attempt to put up "a Jewish settlement in Jaffa."

Two weeks ago, Garin members and youngsters from the settlements in Judea and Samaria paraded in the streets. According to people in Jaffa, dozens of youngsters gathered in front of the Nuzha Mosque on Jerusalem Boulevard shouting "death to the Arabs" and throwing stones at the mosque.

Itai Granek. “Tel Aviv-Jaffa is a city in the Land of Israel, and everyone is allowed to live there.”Credit: Nir Kafri

Members of the Garin say they did not act improperly. On the contrary, they say that in recent days about 1,000 demonstrators protested in Jaffa against the Garin Torani's presence in the city.

Itai Granek, are you establishing a settlement in the heart of Jaffa?

I have to understand the concept called settlement. From among 46,000 citizens, 50 Torah-oriented families live here. Is a person with a skullcap on the side of his head who did three years of army service and wears a fringed shawl a settler? I believe in a certain ideology, so if this is the definition of a settlement, then yes, we have established a settlement.

But by the same token, Jaffa's Reform community is a settlement. I won't cheat and say it's a mitzvah to settle the land and I am upholding it with great satisfaction. But to come and say that a given community is a settler - that doesn't seem the right word to me.

The entire idea of establishing a Garin Torani sprang from the need of the local community .... Why was it set up here? Because in Jaffa there are 45 to 50 synagogues, in which there are almost no minyans. In the past, the synagogues were full. Today, Thank God, they're starting to come back to life.

Your activities in the city don't allow the Muslim population to live in peace.

I think the Arabs in Jaffa appreciate this very much and want to live in coexistence. They're glad that a young community has come, even a religious community, to Jaffa. It's good for most of the citizens, and they don't object to it. The ones who make trouble are the politicians who want to benefit at the expense of the public. Most people understand that if a young, quality community comes here, it improves everything - both the Arab community and the Jewish community.

We're talking about a community most of whose members serve in special [army] units, and all of them are university graduates. They're guys who make a contribution to the state and do reserve duty; in other words, the salt of the earth. So I think everyone is benefiting, certainly the Jewish community but also the Arab community. This is good because it means there is no crime. It's clear that our main activities are geared toward the Jewish public, but this doesn't mean that the Arabs don't benefit from it.

The 1,000 people who demonstrated on Saturday came to protest against your activities.

If you look at the demonstrators, you'll see that most of them were not from Jaffa. They told me explicitly that most of the guys who showed up were not part of them at all. I know this community, I "live" the area, and [I know] they don't have objections.

And to all those who do object, I say: This is racism. Just as I object to the demonstrations in Bat Yam, it's racism to demonstrate on the other side. Tel Aviv-Jaffa is a city in the Land of Israel, and everyone is allowed to live there. But to come and say that I don't want such a community to live here, and especially when it's a community that contributes - that's racism. I have no other word to describe it.

The new construction in Jaffa by the company Emunah, which is defined as for young religious people only, is racism.

I'm not linked to the construction by Emunah. It's a private company that builds for religious couples all over the country. It's not only in Jaffa. They build also in Yokne'am, for instance, because religious couples have their own standards. It's not racism because it's in Jaffa.

We're referring to a free tender. Even an Arab company could have applied for this tender. It's not that the company came and said "I don't sell to Arabs." They said: "We sell to religious people, because this is the sector for which we build."

But you and other members of the Garin Torani acquired a plot in Tel Aviv. Isn't this considered "Judaizing" Jaffa?

By the same token, even my parents could buy a plot. I bought a plot with my friends and I don't see it as racism, certainly not. I don't want to live in a building with secular people. Personally, it's a little disturbing for me if there is music on Shabbat. So I prefer to live with a neighbor who won't play music. It's definitely not racism, but I certainly don't object that another community will come, of whatever nationality, that will live next door to us.

Did the protest march on Saturday surprise you?

Whatever happened then was simply racism, which is important to combat by any means. The Garin people have received death threats by phone over the past two weeks, and complaints were made to the police. This is scaring me very much and causing my wife more than a few doubts about where we live.

The situation in the past two weeks has been very, very bad. It's unreasonable that people are afraid to go out. Most of the Arab community and most of the Jewish community, including the Garin Torani in Jaffa, want coexistence. But there are places in Jaffa, just as there are in Lod and Ramle, that have criminal elements, and nothing can be done.

This is frightening, but this is Zionism. Even my parents, 50 or 60 years ago, didn't live in the most comfortable conditions. I'm sure it's more comfortable to live in Judea and Samaria than in Jaffa. I didn't come here because of the difficulty, but it doesn't have to break me.