Ajami residents slam court’s rejection of petition

Jaffa residents react to dismissal of petition against Jewish-only complex in heart of predominantly Arab neighborhood.

Jaffa - view (photo credit: LYDIA AISENBERG)
Jaffa - view
(photo credit: LYDIA AISENBERG)
Residents and activists in Jaffa’s Ajami neighborhood reacted with outrage Thursday to the Tel Aviv District Court’s Wednesday dismissal of a petition to stop construction on a residential project solely for religious Jews in the heart of the predominantly Arab neighborhood.
The petition, presented by 27 Ajami residents, argued that the construction of the housing project for religious Jews only discriminated against the neighborhood’s Arab residents.
In May 2009, the Bemuna corporation won a tender to build a residential complex for members of the religious Zionist community in the former “Etrog market” deep in Ajami. Bemuna has faced accusations that they are trying to dilute Israeli Arab neighborhoods by moving in religious Zionist Jews.
Kamal Agbaria, chairman of the Ajami neighborhood committee, told The Jerusalem Post Thursday that the project was “an obvious provocation,” and said it was not meant to solve the housing shortages of the religious Zionist sector; rather, “it’s meant to strengthen the demographic weight of the Jewish population in Jaffa at the expense of the city’s Arab residents.”
Agbaria said he objected to the entry of “national-religious settlers” into a majority-Arab neighborhood.
“We don’t want Jaffa to be Hebron,” he said – referring to the situation in the West Bank town of a small enclave of religious Jews living surrounded by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
Agbaria said that he and representatives of other community organizations in Jaffa would issue an appeal to the High Court of Justice in conjunction with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and would also stage “giant demonstrations with people, Jews and Arabs, coming from all over Israel.”
These sentiments were echoed by Gabi Aabed, chairman of the Association for the Arabs of Jaffa, who said that he and his organization “are not at all against living with Jews, but this is a group of settlers and extremist haredim who are not ready to live together with us and are seeking provocation.”
Aabed accused Bemuna and religious Zionist Jews in Jaffa of “trying to show us they are the landlords and this is their land, not ours.”
However, Yisrael Zeira, Bemuna’s director-general, denied that the project was meant as any sort of provocation.
“We have no problems with the Arabs, and we are not afraid to live next to them if they want to live next to us in peace,” Zeira said, adding that accusations that the project was meant to dilute or kick out the Arab population of Ajami were nonsense.
“How could 20 families kick out a community that numbers in the thousands?” he asked.
According to Zeira, the project is meant to strengthen the Jews of Jaffa and help teach them greater appreciation of Judaism and love of Israel. He accused the “left-wing Israeli media” and the ACRI of sullying the project’s name and inciting against it and the national religious community as a whole.
Zeira also noted that Bemuna didn’t pursue projects only in mixedArab-Jewish areas, citing projects in Pardes Hanna and Yokne’am, “wherethere are no Arabs, only Jews in need of strengthening from other Jews.”
The lot where the project will be built currently houses an olive grovesurrounded on all sides by densely populated Muslim Arab residentialbuildings.
One resident, Muhammad, stood outside a butcher shop across from thelot and warned that the project would bring nothing short of bloodshed.
Muhammad expressed wonderment that the company had chosen what hecalled “the most Arab, most Muslim, most high-crime area in all ofJaffa,” adding that he and everyone else in the neighborhood “don’tbelieve this project will go through. Even the Jews in Jaffa areagainst it.”