Limited choices in a gentrified Jaffa

Published October 16th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

For Israeli Jews, one of the rudest surprises of the recent round of Arab Israeli unrest was the street-fighting that occurred in Jaffa. For while violence raged in a variety of sites around the country, the fact that the it also was experienced in the heart of the quintessentially modern Israeli city—Tel Aviv—underscored the depth of the problem. 


Ancient Jaffa is, of course, far from being a modern city, and up until 50 years ago it was not part of the Tel Aviv municipality. Indeed, when Tel Aviv was founded at the start of the 20th century, it was considered as an offshoot of Jaffa.  


But the upstart neighborhood grew into a sprawling metropolis, which eventually was to engulf Jaffa. And, in the wake of the 1948 war, when most of Jaffa’s Arab residents fled their homes for the refugee camps of Gaza and Lebanon, their place came to be taken by Jews, many of whom were impoverished immigrants from Islamic countries in North Africa and the Gulf region. Today, about 60,000 people live in Jaffa home, with roughly one-third Arabs, most of whom live in the Ajami section, which runs from Yefet Street to the sea. 


But Jaffa’s reputation as a poor area is changing. In fact, today it is considered to be home to some of the hottest real estate in all of Israel. Its mixture of a seaside view, charming fishing port, old-world architecture and Mediterranean ambiance have given birth a fast-growing number of luxury housing developments, where prices for small apartments start in the $300,000-to-$400,000 range, and then stretch comfortably well above the $1 million mark. 


Jaffa is, in Israeli parlance, a “mixed area.” Like parts of Haifa, Acre and Ramle, it is home to both Arabs and Jews. In mixed Jewish and Arab cities, most of the housing that had been Arab-owned before 1948 was transferred to government controlled housing corporations following the Absentee Property Law of 1950. Almost 70 percent of Arabs in mixed cities are now tenants of these corporations. 


This process of gentrification is not unique to Tel Aviv, but the consequences it brings to bear on Jaffa’s long-time residents are not always the same. There are few mixed cities in Israel, with Jews and Arabs generally living in separate communities. For the young Jewish residents of Jaffa, who today find themselves financially unable to buy or rent property in the city in which they were raised, they still can remain close to their families by moving to one of the adjacent Jewish cities, like Holon or Bat Yam, where housing is considerably less expensive. But young Arabs do not have the same options. For, theoretically, while they also could move to Holon or Bat Yam, in practical terms it is unlikely they would do so. For, not only are they likely to be shunned by their neighbors, but also as Arabs they would find themselves bereft of social, religious and educational services. 


The young Arab residents of Jaffa are frequently left with two options: to leave their families and their often aging parents behind, to move to one of the Arab villages outside the greater-Tel Aviv area; or to continue living in the family home, raising the level of crowding and further reducing living conditions. 


In the early 1990s, a local squatter's movement was created, with 27 homeless families were living in tents in a park on Yefet Street. The immediate case of the squatters’ plight was skyrocketing rental prices, which were driven upward by the massive Russian immigration that was taking place at the time. Eventually, some 90 families became illegal squatters. What happened then was that the housing authorities and the Tel Aviv municipality reached an agreement that resulted in the squatters being able to find decent apartments, but a related deal that was supposed to provide homes for an additional 400 poor families was never carried out. 


A 1999 article in the Jerusalem Post profiled Pardes Daka, a several acre-large compound in Jaffa, on its border with Bat Yam, which is inhabited by about 350 members of the Arab Israeli Daka family. Considered a crime den by the Tel Aviv police department, the city treats the compound as "unrecognized territory," and provides no municipal services. Many of the homes are mere shacks, made of wood planks and metal sheeting. Drugs are openly traded and used, probably stolen, cars are on blocks, being disassembled for spare parts. In the Jerusalem Postarticle, Zohair Daka, an attorney, said that the Israel Lands Authority had offered the family a settlement, according to which a developer would come in and build apartments for the residents. But, he said, the Dakas refused because they believed that the deal would leave them with only 10 percent ownership of the land, in an area where property prices have risen sky-high. 


For those Arab residents of Jaffa who choose to find housing further afield, the situation is often not much more encouraging. Israeli government figures show that 31.6 percent of Arab families live with more than two people per room, compared to 5.7 percent of Jewish Israelis. Furthermore, while 64 percent of all housing in Israel is public, less than 5 percent of public housing has been built in Arab towns. Rental opportunities is the Arab towns on Tel Aviv’s periphery are often far and few between, and the prices for what’s available are frequently beyond the typical financial reach of a young Arab family. – (Albawaba-MEBG) 


© 2000 Mena Report (

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