In Sober and Segregated Jaffa, Poor Turn to Protest

The Jaffa encampment is quiet and relaxed, far different from its counterpart on Rothschild Boulevard; its organizers have banned alcohol and decreed that men and women must sleep separately.

All that the people of Jaffa want is equality, explains Moussa Yatim, a Jaffa resident manning the local tent encampment yesterday in the Hashnayim Park on Yefet Street.

"People are about to explode in Jaffa," says the 29-year-old married father of one. "How long can we remain silent?"

Jaffa housing protest
Alon Ron

The encampment is quiet and relaxed, far different from its counterpart on Rothschild Boulevard, only a few minutes' drive away. Its organizers have banned alcohol and decreed that men and women must sleep separately. From time to time, you hear a passing bus, but mostly you hear the birds chirping.

During the evenings, dozens of Jaffa residents gather at the site, but during the day there are few people around. The protesters work in shifts, taking turns manning the encampment and receiving visitors. Yesterday, these included a Rishon Letzion resident, a volunteer from Germany, an elderly Jaffa man and a few social activists. Some of the residents are observing the Ramadan fast, but still offer coffee and snacks to their guests.

Yatim, who does renovation work when he can find it, live in a one-and-a-half room apartment on Yehuda Hayamit Street, for which he pays NIS 3,500 a month. As far as he is concerned, housing is the focus of the protest.

"We're under constant pressure. All we think about is money," says Yatim. "I don't want to make a mistake and go back to drugs or stealing. We want prices to come down so we can buy a home or at least pay a normal rent. No one can buy a home nowadays. It's not normal."

Home prices in Jaffa have skyrocketed over the past three years, the protesters say, as more and more real estate entrepreneurs have come to realize the area's potential, given that it's so close to Tel Aviv's business and entertainment centers and, of course, right on the sea.

All the residents are suffering from the price rises, but the Arab residents in particular feel as if they are being pushed out with nowhere to go.

"When the landlord heard me speak Arabic to my husband, he said, 'Sorry, we don't rent to Arabs," said Wafa Abu Shamis, 37 and a mother of three, recalling a recent effort to check out an apartment. Those present confirm that such stories are common.

Yehudit Ilani, a Jaffa resident and a coordinator of a local committee fighting for better housing for residents, has moved 10 times in the past 14 years.

"Two months ago, my rent was raised by NIS 1,000. And every time we move, it's to a smaller place," Ilani says. "Pretty soon, I'll be living in a doghouse."

According to Ilani, some 700 Jaffa families, both Jewish and Arab, are facing eviction notices, most of them from apartments in Amidar and Halamish public housing projects. Another 230 families are waiting for public housing; the average wait is 12-14 years.

The Arab residents not only don't want to leave Jaffa, they would also have a very hard time doing so, Ilani explains.

While Jewish residents could move with relative ease to Bat Yam, Holon, or any other nearby city, Jaffa's Arabs can't, because they would lack appropriate community frameworks, religious institutions and Arabic-speaking schools.

"We want the Israel Lands Administration to immediately stop all the tenders offering plots to the highest bidder," says Ilani.

Jaffa residents also want the young families who live in Jaffa to get priority for buying apartments, a freeze of demolition orders in areas that don't have proper plans approved and an increase in rent subsidies to those eligible for them.

"We have a unique problem," Ilani concludes. "We are a poor population that has no alternatives confronting a real estate monster."

The Tel Aviv municipality recently took a first step toward helping local Arab families by alloting land on Michaelangelo Street for the construction of affordable housing for young Arab couples living in Jaffa at least five years. A tender is due to be published shortly.

But this project is for only 25 homes, a very limited response to the growing distress.