As Ajami Competes for Oscar, Jaffa Protest Spotlights Reality Behind Film

Jaffa's Arab residents slam the police: The body that is supposed to protect us is attacking us.

A day before a film about crime and tension in Jaffa will compete for an Academy Award, protestors took to the streets to denounce what they see as increased police violence in Jaffa.

"We are calling out, together, against violence - violence from the police," said Gabi Abad, head of the Arab Jaffa organization.

"The body that is supposed to protect us is attacking us... We tell the police - we are against violence, especially against the innocent," he added.

The Israeli movie "Ajami," about strife between Jaffa's Muslim and Christian Arabs, is up for an Oscar for best foreign film.

Hundreds of demonstrators marched through Jaffa from the central square toward the police department. Among the demonstrators were family members of "Ajami" co-director Scandar Copti. Copti's mother, Mary, on Saturday demonstrated outside Jaffa's police station.

"It's confusing," she said, when asked how she felt ahead of the Oscar ceremony. "We're angry but strong... Perhaps Scandar's success strengthens us more. If we got as far as we did, and [in view of] the potential of those who participated in the movie - it only shows that we [are entitled to] our rights. No police or racism will intimidate us."

Mary Copti joined the hundreds demonstrating against "police violence" in Jaffa Saturday because, as she says, her heart is in "Ajami."

Scandar Copti's brother, Jeras, who was arrested last month by police, claimed that the arresting officers used excessive force against him, including spraying pepper gas in his eyes after he was already cuffed and bound. He said he and his brother Tony were trying to prevent police from arresting a number of children in Jaffa who were suspected of hiding drugs. According to the Copti brothers, the children had merely been burying the body of their pet dog.

"We are not leaving Jaffa," Jeras Copti said, "no matter what they do to us if we stay."

"We have come here today to say clearly that human rights do not end at the borders of Jaffa," MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), who participated in Saturday's demonstration, said. "We demand that residents of Jaffa receive equal rights, and be treated decently by the authorities - especially the police."

Mary Copti told Haaretz that our "basic human rights are to live in security without fear." She added that "after what happened to those boys who were captured by the police without any justification, and abused - we have been left without our basic human rights and with a sense of fear."

The Copti brothers' arrest was the latest of several incidents demonstrating the increasing police violence against Jaffa's Arab residents, protesters say. "These are the latest in an endless series of violence against Jaffa's Arabs, part of a deepening racist atmosphere," one demonstrator said.

The residents are also fighting against a housing project for nationalist religious families planned in the Ajami neighborhood. Last Thursday residents and human rights groups appealed to the High Court of Justice against a lower court's decision to enable the project to proceed.