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Arabs and Jews come together to oppose gentrification in Jaffa

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.

Protest in Jaffa against Kedem St. plan, Nov 9, 2012 (Mati Milstein)

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.

Kedem St. in Ajami overlooking the beach (Mati Milstein)

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.

Residents of Jaffa looking at a map of the plan for Kedem St. (Mati Milstein)

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.

Residents signing a petition against the plan (Mati Milstein)

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.

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    1. Palestinian

      Those Arabs (Aravim) happen to be Palestinian I guess …Isnt it amazing the indigenous population and their occupiers protesting together to save a former Palestinian ghetto ?!

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Isn’t it also amazing that the event is covered by one of the occupiers who is part of the gentrification of Jaffa and doesn’t seem to be aware of it?

        I am very entertained.

        Reply to Comment
        • It is possible to be a child of conquest yet say no more. It is possible to know the destructive threads of the past which placed you here, yet say you will not willingly and knowingly be the entangled threads of others’ destruction. It is possible to refuse the warrant of past harm to make present harm.

          Evolution is its own original sin, with only bootstraps of itself to pull into a better place. When–not if–your Declaration of Independence becomes primary law, present faces will become more important than past chains and blood. Consider American slavery, then America’s now.

          Entertained, K9? Sometimes we laugh to force others into oblivion. I wish I could have been part of a small thing such as reported here–because small things don’t go away, they keep happening, happening until the derisive laughter is no longer heard.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Nope. It takes an amazing lack of self-awareness for a Taayush activist to move into Jaffa because it is cheaper and she is attracted to the ‘untouched’ nature of the place and then complain about gentrification.

            Your paragraph two is entirely nonsensical.

            I am incredibly entertained by people like Meirav and Noa who are so caught up in a feeling of common struggle that they miss the fact that it isn’t common and in practice they are the ones being struggled against.

            Sometimes we laugh because things are funny. A poster child of gentrification that protests against gentrification. This is hilarious.

            Small things don’t have to go away. In most cases they are empty spectacles on all sides put on entirely for the photographers. They have become part of the system and to use a financial term, they are priced in.

            Reply to Comment
          • Keep saying “no,” that’s the way to win the world. I take form your position: if you migrate to Israel, or if you are born there, be prepared to destroy others, for of destruction did we come.

            An ugly view that someday will not dominate your land.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            If people like Mairav and Noa adopt a narrative which sees them as unwanted intruders it is entirely hypocritical for them to stay and idiotic to partake in a struggle that reaffirms that narrative. There is nothing more destructive than the narrative adopted by people like Mairav – that of the Palestinians who dream of destroying a country and exiling a people. On the contrary, my narrative is an extremely constructive one of building despite the opposition of those attached to impossibly idealistic worldviews.

            This is where you and many others are confused. The vast majority of Israeli Jews have a narrative of building and maintaining a state and are entirely open to compromise that allows this. The reason why there is no peace is because the Palestinian political culture has never actually adopted a constructive narrative, but is firmly stuck in trying to reverse 1948. That is the fundamental long-term justification provided for any and every Palestinian step, including those of Arafat and Abbas. If you think that my worldview is the destructive one you are really really not paying attention.

            Reply to Comment
          • You once responding to news of a Palestinian family’s demolished home being rebuilt with, “Mazal tov! May it rebuilt many more times!”

            That’s not only destructive, it’s also pretty damned cruel. So long as you take pleasure in things like that, you can hardly deny that your worldview is built on destruction. As for Palestinians talking about 1948, they are simply connecting incidents like the one you greeted with a mazal tov with what happened during the Nakba, which is actually a pretty logical link to make. It is not possible to surgically excise the present-day situation from its historical context; they’re made from the same tissue. And wanting accountability is not the same as advocating exile. Israeli Jews can and do play a part in stitching together that particular wound. First step is acknowledging that it’s there, and not indulging in this ‘oh, one day they will all forget, we’ll wait!’ idea that I have seen you batting about before now.

            As for the article itself, I agree that it has a pretty ironic flavour to it. If anybody else had written this I would have asked if they had any interest in the deprivation in Ajami and the increasingly aggressive ‘Judaization of Jaffa’ campaign, or if this interest in the community was piqued solely by the threat to the favourite beach. But from Mairav’s past writing I don’t think these would be fair criticisms. Being born into a position of privilege does not make someone an automatic hypocrite. If it did then there could be no male feminist allies, etc. It’s important to look at what someone does and not just what their social status is.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            If Mairav was born in Jaffa you might have a point, but I don’t think that is the case. She made a decision to move to Jaffa (and in doing so is participating in the process of gentrifying Jaffa) and then showed up and participated at a protest against gentrification. Your counter-examples don’t have any relevance. The reason why she is a hypocrite is precisely because of things she did (move to Jaffa, go to the protest, write about the protest) and the things she believes in (Jewish privilege and guilt), not because of who she was born.

            My worldview is based on building and sustaining the Jewish state. No state can exist that doesn’t enforce its laws and policies. If that requires destruction, so be it. If it doesn’t, that is fine too. But, the core worldview is constructive and leaves room for compromise that allows the Palestinians to build their own prosperous state next door as long as it doesn’t get in the way of building and sustaining the Jewish state.

            According to the Palestinian worldview it is constantly 1948 and the Palestinian people are on the verge of changing (that is reversing) the outcome. Placing modern day events within the context of 1948 allows the Palestinians to continue pretending that they didn’t lose in 1948 and that each victory is a step towards undoing Israel. Pretending this is about ‘accountability’ is an obfuscation about the very practical political demands whose final goal is the exile of the Jews. When I see Palestinian refugees starting to learn Hebrew on a mass scale because they are going to have to live in Israel with the Jews upon return I’ll change my mind on the matter. In the meantime the entire narrative is about undoing/destroying Israel, returning and retaking the land, establishing an Arab Palestinian government and then maybe being merciful to those Jewish remnants that fail to run away.

            Reply to Comment
        • sh

          Jaffa was infinitely more gentrified before Israel degentrified it by military means in 1948 than it ever became when Israeli Jews demonstrating there now came to live there. And if you think touristic frills like bridges over nothing in particular on which you make a wish guaranteed to be fulfilled, idiotic Napoleon signs or grandiose plazas with a view donated by rich Americans living abroad will restore its former glory, you’re sadly mistaken.

          Reply to Comment
          • sh

            That was meant for Kolumn9. This site’s behaving strangely today.

            Reply to Comment
        • Palestinian

          @ K9

          If a thief stole a car and painted it using his own money , it doesnt make give a good thief.

          Reply to Comment
      • sh


        Agreeing with your pain over what was done to Jaffa by Israel in the 20th century doesn’t include an obligation to accept tweaked history or racism. Your use of the word indigenous is selective unless your definition of Palestinian includes Jewish ancestors of some of those you call occupiers. There were synagogues in Jaffa in the early part of the 19th century, Benjamin of Tudela reported finding a Jew in Jaffa in the 12th century, Rabbis from Jaffa are referred to in the Talmud, Jaffa is mentioned several times in the Old Testament.

        Reply to Comment
        • Palestinian

          @ Sh

          Solidarity with Palestine doesn’t give people the right to falsely accuse others and manipulate their words to please the so-called Israeli left.I am aware of the 7000 Jews who lived in Palestine in 1800, but those few thousands of people dont give Jews from literally everywhere the right to occupy our land and oppress our people.I’m not sure if the writer’s family tasted Jaffa oranges before they made their historic “aliyah” to Palestine.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            “Your” land?
            And who are you exactly to claim sole ownership of the land?

            Arab invaders have exactly as much rights as Jewish invaders.

            Reply to Comment
          • Palestinian

            What Arab invaders ?

            Reply to Comment
      • sh

        Agreeing with your pain over what was done to Jaffa by the State of Israel in the 20th century doesn’t include an obligation to accept tweaked history or racism.

        There were Jewish synagogues in Jaffa at the beginning of the 19th century, Benjamin of Tudela reported finding a Jew there in the 12th, rabbis from Jaffa are quoted in the Talmud and it’s mentioned in relation to the Tribe of Dan in the Old Testament.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Mairav Zonszein

      Kolumn9 and Palestinian – I agree with you. I am indeed a gentrifier. Just because I reported about this protest, and took part in it, does not mean I am not aware of my role. Nevertheless, this is where I choose to spend my time – where else should I go? You think if I lived in central Tel Aviv it would be somehow less wrong? And if I did, would it somehow halt the process of gentrification? I am a privileged, white Jewish woman. I cannot deny that.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Your political views are entirely inconsistent with your presence anywhere in ‘historic Palestine’, especially since given your background you are most certainly there by choice. If ten thousand Jews showed up in Jaffa from New York because they like the ‘ethnic’ flavor, that too I suppose wouldn’t make a difference? This is how gentrification works – individuals of the right color ‘choosing’ to live in a place where their presence attracts property developers and pushes out/back the people that lived there before because they can no longer recognize it or afford it. There is nothing more illustrative of what we believe in than where we choose to live which means that you actually both believe and blatantly partake in the Jewish privilege you verbally despise. Within the basic framework of your own worldview where you ‘choose’ to spend your time is passive aggression against the Palestinian people. Your taking part in protests against gentrification is a glaring act of hypocrisy.

        Reply to Comment
        • I don’t see how this makes Ms. Zonszein a hypocrite. It’s reasonable to not want luxury towers and hotels on every inch of the coastline or to want to avoid the tourists that come with it.

          Gentrification happens in every city and it’s never fun to watch your neighborhood become a playground for the people and the urban rat race you went to great lengths to avoid.

          I also think it’s just a bit much to call her either an Occupier or a Traitor To The Tribe just because of where she chooses to live.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            She is opposed to privileged Jews moving into the neighborhood because it would change the character of the neighborhood. She participated in and wrote about a demonstration against privileged Jews moving into the neighborhood. She acknowledges being a privileged Jew that moved into the neighborhood.

            How much more obvious does hypocrisy have to get?

            If she is a traitor, then it is only to herself. As far as I am concerned she is doing a great job for the Tribe in transforming Ajami to a nice place to live full of liberal, secular, cute Ashkenazi Jewish girls.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Zephon

      Grand… gentry in Israel, so much for respecting the cultural heritage of the Jews. When really, all you have to be is a rich anybody; and you can literally wipe all that heritage with a wire transfer.

      Can anybody see Israels future? Because it’s already in effect.

      Israelis are just as sheep as Palestinians are to the ‘elected authority’. The divide between them is only keeping the ‘gentry’ wealthy, because let’s face it; you don’t make money in peace. If Israelis continue to do this and incorporating the Arab population – then we might be talking about strength. But I estimate this is merely a one time thing. Had I actually believed these two factions of humanity would actually work together then we might have a more serious discussion.

      The fact of the matter is: this is just a testing of the water, soon even the Holy Land itself; will become an actual vacation spot ( more than Israel itself has ) and you know what?

      Who cares?

      Religion is not what will make money in Israel – period. War profits, expansion, and tourists do. If local Israelis are against that then just leave, there is no need to make this difficult; because you can’t stop the rich from doing what they want – period.

      Eventually Israel will have to invest in other means other than the military, and this is one of those venues that is a certainty for success. No Israeli has a right to block progress – period. That’s just life my friends.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Paul J

      “untouched by all the hotels and tall buildings that litter Tel Aviv’s coastline, not yet tainted by heavy tourism,”

      “tall buildings that litter Tel Aviv’s Coastline” = what exactly are you saying here? Sustainable use of urban land is bad or are we to presume tall buildings in themselves are simply bad, low rise good. (From a New Yorker – LOL)

      “litter” – a meaningless pejorative

      “heavy tourism” = What exactly is this? Popular tourism?, Populist tourism? Tourism for others? Tourism for the masses? High density tourism? concentrated? unsustainable Tourism? or do we assume you assume all of these are all the same thing? They are not.

      So are we to take it that low rise, less crowded urban beach front property so desirable of New Yorkers living in Jaffa has somehow an inherently more ecological lower footprint etc? That it is somehow more egalitarian?
      How wonderfully quaint.

      If your point is social justice, local democracy, stick to it. Stay clear of sustainable urbanism/tourism.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Raquel B.

      In my class, Parallel Lives: Israel/Palestine, we discuss the culture surrounding the two societies and how they relate to one another. As the semester closes and each week’s subject makes clearer the complexity, which surrounds the Israel/Palestine conflict, this article is definitely one that points this out. It is beautiful to see that two peoples who are in the midst of political and social conflict on a grand scope are able to come together in order to stand up for their rights as citizens of Jaffa. What does this say about the Israel/Palestine conflict in general? To me, as an outsider, it seems that both Israelis and Palestinians care about the same things that matter most to them; they care about the most basic needs: for their family, their home, their life, and their well-being. To read about such cohesion makes one forget for a second why these people are fighting each other in the first place, but this forgetting shouldn’t be for long. The issue of land rights for both peoples is extremely important because it helps secure those same basic needs that Ive already mentioned. What is even more intriguing to think about now, is how will this togetherness of the Israelis and Palestinians in the city of Jaffa play out with what happened just recently? The rockets that have hit Tel Aviv in these last days have the ability to leave a bad taste to many people. The coming together of the citizens in Jaffa will truly be tested in these next days, and it will be extremely interesting to see what happens as a result. I can understand, on both sides, the need to defend the legitimacy on what you know to be your own land, and this becomes the complexity of this conflict; that both sides share so much history and culture yet feel a belonging to the same place and don’t want to leave room for the other.

      Reply to Comment
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