Ajami - Not just a Film

Jews-only development in mixed Israeli town faces Supreme Court challenge

Thursday, 11 March, 2010 - 08:18
London, UK
ACRI, Bimkom

Residents of Ajami, a mixed neighbourhood in Jaffa which is the subject of an Oscar-nominated film, are appealing to the Israeli Supreme Court to halt a housing development exclusively for religious Jews.

The film, co-directed by Scandar Copti, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and Yaron Shani, a Jewish Israeli, depicts Ajami as a maelstrom of tribal strife, reflecting the history of mixed Palestinian-Jewish neighbourhoods since the state’s establishment in 1948. Land expropriation and house demolitions have contributed to a severe housing crisis among Palestinian Arabs who make up 20 percent of Israel’s population but own only 3.5 percent of the land.

Now 25 residents of Ajami, supported by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Bimkom-Planners for Human Rights and Rabbis for Human Rights, are appealing against the decision last June of a Tel Aviv Court to allow a company called ’Be-Emuna’ (In Faith) to construct a gated housing project exclusively for religious Jews in the heart of the impoverished neighbourhood.

The petitioners claim that Be-Emuna demonstrates racist attitudes towards Arabs. The company has earmarked apartments in the planned residential block for members of the Jewish ‘religious-national’ stream. Its stated aims include ‘saving’ the Jewish community in Jaffa, ‘changing realities’ in the town, ‘assisting’ Jewish women who had married Arabs and separating Jewish and Arab schoolchildren.

Geographer Dr. Erez Zfadia of Bimkom said Arab residents of Jaffa suffer from a serious shortage of housing space as a result of long years of neglect by the authorities. “It is especially disturbing when the small amount of free space left in the neighbourhood is transferred to an company that explicitly declares its intention of discriminating against the vast majority of the community that has lived in the neighbourhood for years – both Jews and Arabs,” Zfadia said.

Ofek Hadash,’ a Jaffa-based organisation of both Jews and Arabs, said the Be-Emuna lease is part of a trend towards Jewish religious communities ‘Judaizing’ the mixed town. These communities will add a new element of tension to an already fraught situation of inequality between Jews and Arabs in Israel, the group warned.

With tensions in Jaffa rising as hundreds of Jewish and Palestinian residents of Jaffa demonstrated last week against increased police brutality against Arabs in the town, lawyer Gil Gan-Mor of ACRI said the sale of state lands for the building of private gated communities was bad news for society, “especially for those groups who already suffer from exclusion and discrimination. I hope the Supreme Court will protect the right to equality.”

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