Jaffa residents protest ‘Jews-only’ housing project
By BEN HARTMAN
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
Bemuna has faced accusations that it is trying to “dilute” Arab
neighborhoods by moving in religious Zionist Jews at the expense of
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.