The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality is planning to build affordable housing exclusively for Jaffa's Arab residents, in order to send the community a clear message that city hall supports it.
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Municipal officials have met with representatives of the Israel Lands Administration, the Housing and Construction Ministry and the attorney general several times in recent months.
The city intends to build about 100 housing units on two Jaffa lots owned by the municipality and the ILA. It wants to condition their sale on the buyer being an Arab resident of Jaffa.
Justice Ministry officials are currently examining the legality of such a plan; it may require government authorization.
Ami Katz, who is in charge of Jaffa affairs for the municipality, says his department "seeks to promote affordable housing for Jaffa's entire population, with an emphasis on the Arab population."
The initiative has two main goals, he says: to help young Arab couples purchase homes in Jaffa, and to send a clear message to Jaffa's Arab population that the municipality supports it.
The steep increase in Jaffa real estate prices in recent years has made it difficult for local Arab residents to purchase homes, he says. In most cases, they cannot move to another, cheaper town, since they lack suitable educational and religious facilities.
Jaffa currently has 46,000 residents, of whom 17,000 are Arab. Many Arab residents believe that municipality or government officials have been pressuring them to leave Jaffa.
"We want Jaffa's Arabs to feel that they are wanted, and we want to change the narrative - from threats to having [the Arabs] stay," he says. "If we can't create coexistence between Arabs and Jews in Jaffa, with minimal tensions, how will we succeed anywhere else in this country?"
Jaffa's Arab population faces different challenges than its Jewish residents. Tel Aviv-Jaffa councilman Ahmad Mashrawi (Meretz ) lauded the plan but warned that it faces obstacles.
"You have to understand that Jaffa's Arabs cannot move to Ramat Aviv, and that their options for living close to community institutions, such as mosques, churches or Arab schools, are very limited," he says.
Mashrawi receives daily housing requests from Jaffa's Arab residents, he says. "This is a time bomb. People are getting desperate, and the situation is on the brink of explosion."
The housing plan is being drafted amid rising tensions between the city's Jews and Arabs. Members of religious Jewish groups are moving into Jaffa, frustrating Arab residents.
About a month and a half ago, dozens of young Jewish activists marched through Jaffa waving Israeli flags and jeering at local Arabs. Another march is planned for Wednesday, led by National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari.