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Jaffa residents protest ‘Jews-only’ housing project
By BEN HARTMAN
07/19/2010
More than 100 people demonstrate ahead of High Court hearing.
 
More than 100 people held a rally in Jaffa’s Ajami neighborhood on Sunday, ahead of Wednesday’s High Court hearing over a “Jews-only” housing project there.

In May 2009, the Be’emuna company won a tender to build a residential complex of 20 housing units for members of the religious-Zionist community in the former Etrog Market in Ajami. In February 2010, the Tel Aviv District Court dismissed a stop work petition presented by 27 Ajami residents, which argued that the stipulation that housing in the project be available only to religious Jews discriminated against the neighborhood’s Arab residents.

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In March, the High Court of Justice denied a request from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel to delay construction on the project. ACRI had argued that Be’emuna uses racist marketing methods and does not practice equal housing policies.

ACRI and residents have accused Be’emuna’s project of being part of an effort to “Judaize” the neighborhood, one of the only parts of Jaffa that is not majority Jewish.

Be’emuna specializes in development for religiously observant Jews, who prefer certain features in their buildings, such as elevators that operate automatically on Shabbat and open porches that can accommodate a succa, and often seek an atmosphere in the developments that is consistent with their religious way of life.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the court will hear a petition presented on behalf of residents by the ACRI, which argues that the Israel Lands Administration did not have the right to sell public land to a developer who practices discriminatory housing policies.

Ramy Sayegh, the coordinator of Darnah – The Popular Committee to Protect Land and Housing Rights in Jaffa, said he is hopeful that the court will rule in the favor of those opposed to the housing project, but added that he fears that if the project is approved it could lead to a “domino effect” bringing more and more problematic housing projects to the area.

“Right now they plan to build on the north side of the Etrog Market lot. If they win on Wednesday, they’ll just keep building more and more projects in order to join the minority Jewish areas of Jaffa, like Ajami, with the other parts of Jaffa that are majority Jewish.”

Sayegh said the shortage of housing was the main problem facing Arab residents of Jaffa. He said they don’t have a problem with Jews coming to live in Jaffa, just that the Jews in question were coming to live in an exclusive residential project that would not allow Arabs to buy into it.

Bemuna has faced accusations that it is trying to “dilute” Arab neighborhoods by moving in religious Zionist Jews at the expense of veteran residents.

ACRI attorney Gil Gan-Mor said on Sunday that the law “clearly states that the Lands Administration must follow national laws of equality in handing out tenders and can’t give out tenders to builders who do not practice equality in their housing policies.”

Gan-Mor also denied that locals are trying to keep out all Jews, saying “Jaffa is a pluralistic place and no one is trying to prevent them from living here. What we are against is them coming in to build an exclusive, discriminatory housing project.

“Jews come to live in Jaffa all the time.

The local residents just want to be able to benefit from the development and not be driven out by it.”

Yisrael Zeira, Bemuna’s director-general, has long denied that the project was meant as any sort of provocation and said that the company wasn’t trying to “Judaize” the area, but rather to strengthen the Jews of Jaffa and help them get closer to Judaism and the Land of Israel.

Be’emuna has also defended its housing policies by saying that the religious-Zionist community has special needs and requires a supportive environment of like-minded people.
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