Right of Reply: Local policies are to blame

An understanding of last month's events in Acre can only be gained through an examination of recent changes in the city.

By YOTAM KEDURI
November 2, 2008 21:50
3 minute read.
Right of Reply: Local policies are to blame

settlers leftist clash hebron 224.88. (photo credit: Active Stills)

Sarah Honig's column ("Spit isn't rain," October 23) and other recent opinion pieces that have appeared in your paper over the past month have dealt with the current situation in Acre. While we certainly applaud the initiative taken by Honig and others in attempting to identify the root causes underlying the violence that now threatens to engulf what has otherwise been a peaceful town, a proper understanding of last month's events will only be gained through an examination of recent changes in the city and on the local level - not through some selective citation of isolated disturbances in other places or through vain generalizations derived from the long-standing regional conflict. For organizations (like our own) working in Acre, the roots of the current conflict are clearly traceable to recent developments in the city itself. To understand this, it is first of all important to know that while Acre is a mixed city, a number of its neighborhoods are not integrated - many of which are home to economically distressed residents who feel marginalized and powerless in the face of policies imposed upon them by the authorities. The Burla-Alkalay neighborhood (where the events of the past month took place), for instance, is Jewish and, with its high percentage of public housing, features a largely distressed population. In the face of continual emigration of those with means from the city, these residents have understandably come to look warily (and often in alarm) at the economic decline in their city, and the demographic changes that have been evident in various neighborhoods. It is to this neighborhood's main public housing blocks that the authorities, in their infinite wisdom (part of an improvised attempt to evade the very real problem of alternate housing arrangements for Arab families in the Western Galilee ) decided to forcibly place a small number of socially distressed Arab families there in 2003. This move was strongly resisted by the families themselves (to no avail) on account of the distance it would place between them and their communities, schools and other resources. Needless to say, the interaction between this reluctant new population and resistant local residents has been marked by high levels of tension and even violence - to which the authorities have failed, repeatedly, to respond appropriately. IN PARALLEL, authorities have long been pursuing a plan to "develop" Acre's (Arab) Old City. However, rather than investing directly in the residents' housing, the decision has been taken to gentrify the neighborhood, a process which has seen residents charged excessive renovation costs and even threatened with eviction. As of this past month, more than 60 Arab families have now been served with eviction notices. To complement this process, these same authorities have also begun working to integrate a new Jewish population (various plans include bringing students, artists and others) into this, an entirely Arab neighborhood in extreme distress. Again, needless to say, like their Jewish counterparts in Burla-Alkalay, the Arab residents of the Old City view the economic and demographic changes around them with growing alarm. Herein lie the root causes of the current tension, one which will only continue to escalate if, as has been the case until now, no investment is made toward developing community resources or fostering community relations. The word coexistence has, in recent years, come to be regarded as a meaningless slogan. However, cooperative relations between Jews and Arabs on the daily level have been a reality in Acre for far longer. Conflict is not an inevitable consequence of shared living. However, if such eruptions of violence as we have recently seen are to be avoided in the future, policies like those described above will need to be seriously reexamined. The writer is spokesman the Association for Community Development in Acre.


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