The recent riots in Jaffa should be understood partly in connection with tension over housing. A good many Jaffa Arab residents live in apartments they don’t own and the threat of eviction hangs constantly over their heads because of the state’s discriminatory conduct.
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About half of Jaffa’s 20,000 Arab residents live in premises that belonged to Jaffa’s original Arab residents, and were abandoned during the War of Independence. The state expropriated this abandoned property and housed Arabs in the premises who were “internal refugees” – that is, Arabs from Jaffa whom the state evicted from their homes, then gave them the right to live in abandoned Arab homes as protected tenants.
That was not the end of the damage done to Jaffa’s Arabs. When their status as homeowners was stolen from them and they instead became protected tenants, the state did everything in its power to restrict them. It determined that the right to protected tenancy ended with the third generation, so most of Jaffa’s young people found themselves at risk of eviction in the house where they grew up and in which their families have lived since the 1960s.
The right of protected tenants in Israel to purchase the family home at a discount of 40 percent is, in the case of Jaffa, merely theoretical. That is because the state decided that the discount would be limited to the sum of 320,000 shekels ($98,700). In light of the high real estate values in Jaffa, this means that the protected tenants are receiving no more than a 10–15 percent discount on the price of the house, so in fact they can’t purchase it for themselves or their children.
What is worse, 500 out of the 1,800 families living in such abandoned properties have been defined as squatters, by means of various and sundry arguments, and as a result they have lost their rights as protected tenants, and are at risk of eviction at any moment without receiving anything in return. In fact, the state is threatening to throw 500 families into the street from the homes they have been living in since the 1960s, although they have paid for the right to live there, and moreover it was the state that made these families homeless in 1948.
This outrageous injustice stands out particularly when we compare the harsh attitude toward squatters in the Jaffa neighborhood of Ajame to the compensation given to Jews who lived as squatters in Kfar Shalem and Givat Amal in Tel Aviv. And so, due to the ongoing discrimination by the state, the discontent in Jaffa spills over time after time to the streets and people are paying for it with their lives. There is an easy, obvious solution to this: Allow the protected tenants of Jaffa to purchase their homes by increasing the discount, abolishing the baseless limit on the discount, and at the same time abolishing the definition of squatters for families who have been living in the same house for 60 years or more.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.