Neighborhood Watch: Ashkelon’s ‘Anglo quarter’

Afridar was set up as a garden city in the South African mold and has retained its rural character.

Afridar, Ashkelon (photo credit: Courtesy)
Afridar, Ashkelon
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ashkelon is Israel’s most westerly city, and Afridar is its most westerly quarter. The city itself goes back to antiquity. It has been continuously inhabited for thousands of years, with the exception of the period between 1270 and 1596.
The Crusader city and citadel were destroyed by the Mameluke Sultan Baybars as part of his policy to eradicate the Crusader presence by capturing the city of Acre and all Crusader strong points. The city was rebuilt by the Turks in the late 16th century.
The modern Israeli city of Ashkelon came into existence after the original 11,000 Arab inhabitants of what was then called Al Majdal fled to Gaza.
While part of Ashkelon, Afridar has a history of its own closely linked to the history of Anglo settlement in this country.
Afridar has the distinction of having two firsts. It was both the first modern neighborhood of Ashkelon and the first “Anglo-Saxon” settlement – and, up to now, the only one in Israel.
It was founded in 1951 by the Zionist Federation of South Africa solely for South African settlers. This is reflected in its name, which is made up of the first four letters of “Africa” and the first three letters of darom, meaning “south” in Hebrew.
Within the original area of 1950s Afridar live approximately 15,000 souls. Today, the South African element of the population is greatly diluted, but the neighborhood is still Ashkelon’s most high-end residential area. The small English-speaking community includes South Africans, Britons, Americans, Canadians and Australians.
Despite its size, the English Speakers of Ashkelon is active socially and culturally, organizing cheese and wine evenings, a book club, a monthly movie night, and lecture series, including a weekly Torah lesson.
According to secretary Vicky Savits, there are approximately 500 “Anglo” families in all of Ashkelon. One of the organization’s aims, she told Metro, is to help newcomers from English-speaking countries “settle in and acclimatize themselves to their new environment.”
When it was founded, Afridar was planned to be as much as possible a garden city in the South African mold, with an abundance of green public spaces and single-family homes with large private gardens. In addition, it was near the sea and its sandy beaches.
Sixty years on, the original area of Afridar retains many of these characteristics.
Yuval Atia, general manager of the Mivnim Venetivim construction and development company, told Metro:
“It is true that there are some high-rise buildings – we ourselves are building a complex of six nine-story tower blocks opposite the sea; but the vast majority of residents in the “Afridar core” – approximately 80 percent of them – live in single-family homes.”
Afridar proper can be described as the area between Rehov Hatayasim in the west; Park Vedeshe, a public park in the east; the Eshkol quarter in the south, and the area called Barnea in the north.
ONE OF the reasons Afridar, located in the center of a large city, has kept its rural character is the stringent municipal zoning laws. There are very few apartment blocks, and no more are envisaged. The only high-rise planned for the future is, as mentioned above, the swath of residential towers in the western promontory of Afridar linking Rehov Hatayasim to the marina.
Most of historic Afridar’s single-family dwellings sit on what in Israel are considered large plots of land. The plots sold to the South African “founding fathers” measured from 700 to 800 square meters on average.
The original single-family homes had mostly redtiled roofs, but not many of these remain.
Many people who bought these old homes, constructed in the Fifties, tore them down and built modern homes in their place. In many cases, the large plot was divided into two small ones, and two houses now stand where before there was only one.
Asi Tamir, proprietor of Remax Energy Ashkelon, is very upbeat about real estate in Afridar.
“Investment opportunities are excellent because prices are set to rise,” he says. “There are practically no plots available, and since many affluent Ashkelon residents want a single-family home, prices may well rise in the future over and above the expected average rise in real-estate prices in Ashkelon as a whole.”
Real-estate prices in Afridar are very reasonable by Israeli standards. An original, 60-year-old house on a large original plot can cost approximately NIS 1.1 million to NIS 1.2m. A new house on a plot of 375 sq.m. can cost from NIS 1m. to NIS 1.1m.
But such properties are hard to find. There are no new constructions to speak of, no available plots, and homeowners in Afridar are not keen to sell.
It is easier to find apartments in those few new high-rise projects in Rehov Hatayasim. An apartment in these blocks, with a sea view, is going from NIS 1.1m. for four rooms to NIS 1.2m. for a penthouse.

Recent deals in Afridar
• An old, dilapidated house on a 670-square-meter plot sold for NIS 1.09 million. The house has to be torn down.
• A three-room, 90-sq-m. garden apartment with a 60-sq-m. private garden sold for NIS 745,000.
• A four-room, 108-sq.-m. house on a 430-sq.-m. plot sold for NIS 1 million.
• A four-room, 110-sq-m. apartment with a 12-sq.-m. terrace sold for NIS 1.08m. The apartment is still in the building stage, and will be available only in 18 months.
• A relatively new and modern 128-sq-m. house with fourrooms on a 400-sq.-m. plot sold for NIS 1.19m.