Ajami, Jaffa, Intifada 2000

Journalism - Yafo



At midnight the  loudspeaker at the edge of the Hassan Arafe mosque in Ajami started to bellow out guttural calls. Ajami is Jaffa’s Mediterranean Arab village, between the port and Bat Yam. A neighborhood that has  10,000 inhabitants. All the lights went on at once. Terror and tension stood in the air as excited voices called out to each other beneath the window  car motors revved into life, and people started running toward the mosque.

The men rushed to the far edge of the neighborhood and women stood talking loudly under the windows and in their doorways. From the cacophony of voices emanating from the mosque, it was possible to make out only the urgency and the words “Hassan  Beck”. I went out into my back yard and made for the door of my neighbors, Abir and Abed. “They’ve burned Hassan Beck,” said Ali from above. “They’ve thrown stones at the mosque in Jebalya,” said Abir, “the loudspeakers are calling for people to protect the mosque against the Jews.”


At times like this, the thoughts that race through one’s mind are bleak  -  the stupidity of those hot-heads strewing fear among Arabs and Jews, fear that leads to hate, that blinds people’s eyes and turns us from good neighbors, into blood-drenched and fear filled entities.

And what does a man have to do in the middle of the night in this tormented country? To run to the mosque to  protect it against a Jewish mob? To stay at home to prevent a repeat of last week when Arab rioters attacked my house at midnight and broke the windows of my workroom and kitchen?

And after the rioting on the Bat-Yam – Tel-Aviv border, will the young hooligans will come back to search for the few Jewish houses in the neighborhood to settle accounts with them?. Should I take my daughters somewhere safe? Or should I start working on a file, to get everything on record?

A helicopter cruises   leisurely above. A telephone call from  a Jewish neighbor, who lives near the mosque. I searched the internet for some information on an attack on Hassan Beck and found none.  Rumors can be murderous at times like these. Like rumors of fire bomb attacks on local synagogues, that turned out to be false.

Some neighbors returned at two in the morning. I went out. It was they who had chased away the stone throwers and came immediately to help me that night last week. “Everything’s alright, Tsur,” said my neighbour with a smile. “They didn’t touch the mosque.” I was relieved. That’s all we needed here – riots.

Yefet Street: The Fear and the Silence

Jaffa isn’t any other place. 45 thousand   inhabitants, 25 thousand of them Jews, 12 thousand Moslems and eight thousand Christians. And even among the Moslems there is no single opinion as to what has to be done. There was little sleep that night. The sound of the police helicopter in the air,  the voices of people returning to their homes, the lights going out one by one in the houses. The street lights that haven’t been working for a week due to negligence on the part of the municipality and The electricity company.

Morning always looks different. Maybe there’s a kind of cautious hope: the sea that looks so beautiful from the windows, the quiet of the neighborhood (maybe because cars are afraid to drive through it).

I went to Yefet. The shops around “Tamar Park” at the junction between the streets Yefet, Mendes-France and Shivtey Israel, were closed. The fear – the result of a restaurant being burned in the Tikva quarter and the Arab labourers being expelled by the police – paralyzed the shopkeepers. Jews and Arabs did not open their shops, still reeling from the continuing outbursts of violence, the threatening frustration.

Jaffa has always been an exhaust valve for Jewish frustration in face of Hizbolla derision, the sense that no solution exists for the occupied territories. They way it served as an exhaust valve to Moslems following the Al Aksa riots and their frustration at what was happening in the territories. Ugly waves threatening to drown everything that has  been built, because of the negligent hand of a hesitant leadership and crude incitement of politicians.

A Jewish mob attacked Abulafia’s new bakery on the promenade. Morons. If it was because of poor quality or prices, I wouldn’t care. It might have mattered a little, but to attack a person because he’s a person? I met my neighbour, Abed Setel near the restaurant belonging to the Turk in Yefet. He was unshaven and weary-eyed. “Until three in the morning  we were at the mosque so the Jews from Bat Yam couldn’t touch it”.

And the  Police?”

“The police were alright. They didn’t let the Jews cross over to our side and made sure we didn’t get to their side.” A ray  of hope. At long last the police force has recovered. After almost two weeks during which the police made one mistake after another, they took up position firmly on the seam, at the point of attrition and prevented a conflagration.

Abed is a member of the “Rabita” association for the welfare of Jaffa’s Arab population. We had just begun to prepare the ground for a non-political meeting of Jews and Arabs who are sick and tired of incitement and violence. Who want to live a simple life in this country, as citizens with equal rights and obligations.

I went on to the road that forms the border between Jaffa and Bat-Yam. Two apartment houses stand on the street corner, occupied solely by Christian Arabs. It was there, near the “Half past midnight” shop and the “Border Bakery” that the police held back the mob from Bat-Yam and prevented their advance.

“We stayed indoors,” said the inhabitants, whose windows overlooked the street, refusing to discuss the tension. “I wasn’t here,” said the young man from “Border Bakery”. “I don’t speak with the press. Anyway, you’ll write whatever you want.” “Don’t stand there, you’re turning away the customers,” said the man from the wine shop. “I have nothing to say. I’ve got friends on both sides,” said the man from the grocery shop.

Jerusalem Boulevard: The Fear and the Fear

It’s as if a heavy, suffocating blanket of fear and partition has fallen over the streets under conflict. In daylight the place looks quite ordinary. Cars, not  too many. People, only a  few. In the sunlight, the street is almost calm. But a palpable fear remains from the night before and fear of the crowds that will fill the streets and alleyways to threaten people who make their livelihood from the fine line between day to day sanity and madness.

Jaffa’s C and D quarters touch Yefet Street from the east. Any distance from “Tamar Park” is no more than a few hundred yards. Or as Police Superintendent Menashe Arbiv of the Jaffa Constabulary says, “This is not occupied territory, or a tale of two cities – this is one town with a mixed population. There is no time to lay bets on the future, we have to protect our co-existence”.

A police van was parked next to the mosque on Jerusalem Boulevard. There are three types of uniform in the Israeli Police Force, the grey of the Special Units, the green of the Border Police and the blues. The van belonged to the blues.

At first the men sitting at the mosque entrance, guarding it, didn’t want to talk to me. They wanted me to speak with Sa’id Setel, the Imam. But after a few minutes they were overcome with fears from the previous night and Na’im, aged thirty-something, told me, “The police chief  said they’d be here all night. But the Special Units left at two in the morning and at three, three cars full of Bat-Yam-ers drove up. If we weren’t here, they’d have tried to harm the mosque.

They damaged our cars that were parked nearby. We are not ones to  go on the rampage in Jaffa – those that do, let the police take of them. Nor would we attack synagogues. Although if they start burning mosques and synagogues what will the world come to? We’ve all got kids. We want them to have a good life and we can’t rely on the police, who didn’t protect us. Why didn’t they block the road to the Bat-Yam-ers?’

I asked Superintendent Arbiv that question. “It’s a lie,” said Arbiv. “The Special Units were replaced by policemen in blue. The police van’s still there. There was no reason to block Jerusalem Boulevard. We put up up road blocks at the Bat Yam monument and near the “Border Bakery” and the police checked all incoming traffic.”

“The troublemakers are all collaborators, not inhabitants of Jaffa,” said Na’im. “No,” said Menashe Arbiv, “once the riots had abated we used photographs and intelligence information to arrest the main culprits and brought them to the forensic centre at Abu Kabir and they’re  from Jaffa, they weren’t collaborators.”

Clock Square: The Threat and the Hope

I visited Omar Siksis, chairman of the “Rabita”, in his hardware store near Tamar Park on Yefet. His face showed concern and exhaustion. A young man peeped into the shop. “He won’t come in,” said Omar. “He’s the one who took the megaphone from Michael Ro’eh and wouldn’t let him speak at the peace demonstration that backfired last Thursday. I cursed him, and didn’t think he’d have the nerve to show his face here”.

The looks on Omar’s face, and Na’im’s and  Abed’s and probably on mine too, reveals everything. The feeling that despite all our efforts to maintain the short, torn, blanket of coexistence between the citizens of Israel, we are being threatened by irresponsible politicians and an incited – Jewish and Arab – mob.

A few days ago a fire bomb was thrown at the gate of the “Mahmoudia” mosque, the large mosque next to the Jaffa constabulary. The mosque’s Imam, Tukhi Samiah, asked the police to put the mosque under constant surveillance.   Only after recent events, it was decided that the Municipality would supply security for the 37 synagogues and nine mosques in Jaffa. Better late  than never.

“We identify with our Palestinian brethren in the occupied territories, but we are citizens of Israel,” says Samiah, “and we want full equality”.

Is this impossible to achieve? What is it that is holding us – Jews and Arabs – back, at those fine and painful seams in the city where everything is on water?

But there are a few fuzzy rays of hope in the midst of this confused darkness, on the morning after the night of near disaster in Jaffa– we can’t survive without each other. Normality will win, life, sanity. Because Abed, Abir, Omar and Na’im are people with whom I live, and they live with me. And in these murky days, I shall fight my own lunatics and they will stand firm against their lunatics, otherwise …

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