As in other Arab localities in Israel, a protest was held Monday evening in Jaffa against the Prawer Plan for relocating Bedouin in the Negev. By 6 P.M. about 350 demonstrators, both Jews and Arabs, had gathered at Jaffa’s clock tower not far from a sign in English promising to teach tourists Hebrew in one week.
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“The Arabs are a nation of idiots,” the salesman at a nearby kiosk explained to me. “Look, it’s very simple. The Bedouin are defined as nomads, right? If they're nomads, they can't make claims to any territory. Hey man, they’re getting real buildings! Right now they're living in cardboard shacks! So they should be very grateful."
As the explanation went, "Finally somebody is organizing their community, and how do they respond? They set up a roadblock. It’s okay to demonstrate, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to seal off roads and obstruct traffic.”
Apparently he was unnerved by the protesters' Palestinian flags and slogans shouted in Arabic. “This will scare away my customers and the tourists; they’ll stay away for the next two weeks,” he said.
Maybe because of the location, the demonstration linked the Palestinian past with the fate planned for the Bedouin. “Jaffa, the city that has experienced an ongoing nakba [catastrophe, the events of the Israel War of Independence], is now witnessing the nakba of the Negev,” observed Khaled Jabarin, one of the demonstration’s organizers. He then asked me if I had spelled his name correctly.
A half hour into the demonstration, the protesters poured into the street and sat down on the hot asphalt near one of the stores. The first victim of this human roadblock was a rickety movers' truck with an old mattress in the back. The driver was courteous and made a U-turn. One passenger had a huge beard. At first, I thought they were devout Muslims but then I noticed that the bearded man was wearing a T-shirt with the Hebrew words “In God’s name, we will succeed in whatever we are doing.”
Like in the Czar's Russia
A young Arab boy suddenly jumped into the street, his face hidden by a black shirt. He was waving a flag advertising the Danya Cebus construction company as if the world depended on it.
“Not one sign is protesting ethnic cleansing,” complained activist Rehavia Berman. “I find that shocking. This [Prawer Plan] is a crime against humanity.”
I asked him why his sign didn't proclaim this, and he replied that this was the sign he was given. “This is a modern-day version of the Pale of Settlement,” he said, referring to the area of the Russian empire where Jews were allowed to live. He then shouted to the cops, who apparently couldn't hear because of the distance and the loud drumming: “When the war-crime trials begin, what will you have to say?”
Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council member Sami Abu Shehadeh,a candidate for mayor, is an easy-going person, and was so Monday evening with his checkered shirt and sunglasses. “The Netanyahu government is driving the Palestinians in Israel to revolt,” he said. “The Prawer Plan is designed to banish 30,000 people from their homes and is going to cause waves of outrage.”
Maybe I should note that, for the first time in decades, Israel has no evil Haman sparking fear in the hearts of the people. There is no Fawzi al-Qawuqji, the leader of the Arab Liberation Army during the War of Independence, or Ahmad Shukeiri, the first chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, or Gamal Abdel Nasser, Yasser Arafat, Saddam Hussein or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. So there is a need for a powerful internal enemy. “I think the revolution will start in Jaffa,” said Israeli Arab filmmaker Ibtisam Mara’ana, standing on the side perched on her bicycle.
Most of the Palestinian demonstrators were young; like their Jewish counterparts, they feared no one. I tried to interview a woman friend of mine, a young hipster Palestinian university student, but I was told to speak instead to Nizar Halwa, who sports a fashionable beard and shaven head.
He's a member of the Jaffa Youth Movement. “The Prawer Plan is the nakba of 2013,” he said. I asked why the nearby Arab restaurants were open, despite the general strike that had been called. “I wasn't aware that stores were to be closed in this area,” he replied with a shrug.
At precisely 7:01 P.M., the police announced that the blocking of the road was an unlawful demonstration. The atmosphere became tense; everyone was poised for a violent removal of the protesters.
For the Brazilian tourists who had just come from the beach with supermarket bags filled with Arab-style bagels, the demonstration was a chance to see some action. They told me they had protested in Brazil (“We have far too many demonstrations”), and I tried to explain what the demonstrators were protesting. I'm not sure if I succeeded.
The police acted wisely. After more and more police arrived, including special-forces people, the cops suddenly moved away from the demonstrators.
The demonstrators went home. The traffic began to flow again. With incredible speed, the nearby restaurants, Abulafia and Haj Kahil, filled with customers, who didn't care about the destruction of the Temple or the demolishing of Palestinian homes. These Tel Avivians were trying to escape the atmosphere of Tisha B’Av, which marks the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem. Arab families, meanwhile, were breaking the daily fast of Ramadan.
They sat together in crowded, peaceful, sweaty coexistence with fluffy, flat Arab laffa bread and plenty of free salads, which perhaps will turn out more powerful than bulldozers or attempts to displace people from their homes.