Rights group: Israel is driving out Jaffa Arabs

Arab Association for Human Rights accuses the government of conducting a policy aimed at getting rid of the Arab residents and replacing them with wealthy Jews.

land day 224.88 (photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
land day 224.88
(photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
The Arab Association for Human Rights has accused the government of conducting a policy aimed at getting rid of the Arab residents of Jaffa and replacing them with wealthy Jews. The accusation came in a 30-page report issued on the eve of Land Day. Meanwhile, Land Day was marked in Jaffa on Friday for the first time since the day was first observed in the Israeli Arab sector. Some of the marchers carried Palestinian flags. According to the report, "Unprotected Citizens," Amidar National Housing Ltd., which owns properties and housing in Jaffa, has issued 497 eviction notices to Israeli Arab families living in the Ajami and Jabaliya quarters of Jaffa. These families constitute 16.8 percent of the entire Israeli Arab population of Jaffa, which altogether numbers 16,300, according to the report. Attorney Tarek Ibrahim, who wrote the report, said that during the first three decades of Israeli statehood, Ajami was an impoverished and run-down neighborhood. "The [Israeli] Palestinian population that lives there is the poorest group in Tel Aviv-Jaffa," wrote Ibrahim. "About half the population belongs to the lowest 20% of the socioeconomic scale. As a result, serious crime flourishes there. In the past few years, crime is rife and there has been a record number of murders and assaults. Protection and drug trafficking are also common." Towards the end of the 1980s, the report continued, the municipal authorities decided to rehabilitate Jaffa. The plan, which is in full swing today, was to offer land to private developers to build luxury apartments and generate more income for the municipality while allegedly improving the socioeconomic standard of the neighborhood. The municipality also invested large sums of money to improve the environment. Last year, it poured NIS 1 billion into Jaffa. "During these years," wrote Ibrahim, "the derelict neighborhood, populated mainly by Arabs, has become an enormous focus of demand, especially because it was located on the Mediterranean waterfront and had enormous development potential." During the plan's early years, the authorities had torn down abandoned housing that was too dangerous to live in, thus creating many empty lots that were also managed by the Israel Lands Authority. They were also handed over to building contractors. As a result, the value of property began to rise, making even more construction attractive and making it increasingly difficult for the veteran population to cope. According to Ibrahaim, this was the city's intention all along. The eviction orders issued by Amidar are just one more move in the same direction, he charged. Tel Aviv municipal spokesman Hillel Fertuk heatedly rejected the accusations. "City Hall is rehabilitating Jaffa in order to improve the quality of life of all its inhabitants, Jews and Arabs alike," he told The Jerusalem Post. "We absolutely do not want new inhabitants to replace the old inhabitants of Jaffa. They are part and parcel of Tel Aviv." But Fertuk acknowledged that Jaffa's increasing attractiveness was driving prices up and bringing new people into the area. "It was an unintentional side effect," he said. The same phenomenon was taking place in the rest of Tel Aviv, he added. Fertuk also charged that political organizations were exploiting the situation in Jaffa to attack the city. A spokeswoman for Amidar said that the decision to issue eviction orders to 497 families was made by the Israel Lands Authority and that the housing company was simply carrying out the decision. The ILA spokeswoman did not return a phone call from the Post.