About 100 residents of Jaffa — Arabs and Jews — came together on Friday afternoon to protest a city plan that threatens to change the character of their neighborhood.
The Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality master plan for all Jaffa includes construction of a 15-meter multi-lane road on Kedem Street in Ajami, between the Jaffa Port and the city of Bat Yam. It’s a tranquil street that cuts north-south through residential Jaffa, parallel to the bustling business of Yefet Street, and overlooking the beach.
This happens to be my favorite beach. It is still untouched by all the hotels and tall buildings that litter Tel Aviv’s coastline, not yet tainted by heavy tourism, and is enjoyed by the people who live in Jaffa – a mixture of Jewish, Arab and Russian citizens. Actually, the promenade built by the city in Ajami in the last decade is really nice, thoughtful and beneficial, serving everyone in the community, from large families, to joggers, bikers and fishermen.
But this plan – based on what the community organizers say – seems only interested in one thing: turning Jaffa into a profitable seaside resort where only the wealthy can afford to reside or visit.
According to the master plan (Hebrew), “Construction between Kedem and the slopes of Jaffa will include hotels, public buildings and municipal buildings. Residential buildings will be permitted on a limited basis and only for the purpose of institutionalizing existing residences.” This sounds like a way of saying hotels and high-priced apartments will get preference to the existing residential neighborhoods, and indeed, according to the lawyer representing the Jaffa committees, some houses will be destroyed to build this new road.
During the protest, Adv. Amir Badran called the plan “a tragedy for the residents of Jaffa, Jews and Arabs,” adding that the city’s plan will “cut Ajami off from the beach, creating a large road that is dangerous for children to cross.” He and other speakers, speaking in both Hebrew and Arabic, said it is not too late to put a stop to the plan before it gets underway and urged the community to fight it.
The city plan has not yet been put through the pipeline, and is still at the initial stages when people can file opposition. Residents have organized a petition, which they began circulating at the protest.
People at the protest chanted “Jaffa belongs to Jaffaim” (residents of Jaffa) in Hebrew and Arabic, and held signs that read “Don’t kick Ajami out of the beach” and “the Kedem bypass road is an economic transfer.”
In these moments, when people who share the same communal space come together, it feels like there is a genuine sense of neighborliness and coexistence among Israelis and Palestinians against greater evils espoused by the privileged and the powerful – those who are not only perpetuating the inequalities between Arabs and Jews, but also between the socioeconomically weak and the powerful, whatever ethnicity they may be.