Report: Ethnic cleansing continues in Jaffa

“The war that began in 1948 to purge Jaffa of its Arab residents has never ended and continues to this day. In 1948 it was waged by force, and today they use legal and economic means. The state claims that these are the rules of the market, in full knowledge that they will work against the Arab population.”
— Attorney Hisham Shabaita, a social activist and Jaffa resident

On 19 March 2007, Amidar Israel National Housing Company (Amidar) published a document entitled “A Review of the Stock of Squatted Properties in Jaffa — Interior Committee, Israel Knesset.” The document reviewed properties managed by the company in the Jaffa-Tel Aviv area. Section 5 noted that “the project includes a total of 497 squatters, constituting 16.8 percent of the total properties managed by Amidar.”

Section 5 of the document relates, in fact, to 497 orders received over the past 18 months by Palestinian families living in the Ajami and Jabaliya neighborhoods in Jaffa to vacate their homes or businesses. These homes are owned by the state and managed by Amidar in its name. The grounds for eviction range from “squatting” in the property to “building additions” to properties undertaken by the Palestinian tenants of these properties without approval from Amidar and without obtaining a permit from the planning and building authorities.

By law, eviction is permitted in such circumstances. Accordingly, the eviction orders may ostensibly seem to be a legitimate and lawful move by Amidar in response to legal violations by the tenants. Israeli law empowers a landlord letting his property to another — a status that applies to the relationship between the Palestinian tenants and Amidar — to demand the eviction of a tenant who has violated the law or the rental contract with the landlord. Squatting or building additions to the property without the approval of the landlord or the planning authorities are considered violations justifying the eviction of the tenant.

According to the Palestinian residents, however, the issuing of these orders actually reflects a desire to evict them from the neighborhood, which in recent years has become a magnet for wealthy Jewish buyers. They believe that the issuing of the eviction orders cannot be divorced from a process terms the “development of Jaffa” by the Tel Aviv Municipality. This process, which is currently at its peak, actually amounts to a plan to “judaize” Jaffa, i.e. to attract as many Jewish residents as possible to the area, which is currently perceived by the Jewish public as an “Arab” city — despite the fact that, in statistical terms, this is inaccurate.

In the late 1990s, after Mr. Ron Huldai was elected to serve as mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, he announced that special priority would be given to establishing an organizational framework that would be charged with “rehabilitating and developing Jaffa,” and particularly the Ajami neighborhood. The organizational structure was indeed established (the Supplementary Authority for Jaffa) and, in theory, it has since been active in efforts to “develop Jaffa.” Over time, however, it has emerged that the development of the Ajami neighborhood is not intended for the benefit of its Palestinian residents, who constitute 80 percent of the population and who have for decades suffered from profound neglect in all areas of life. While it might be expected that the development of the neighborhood would seek to improve their quality, the actual goal is to “tempt” Jewish residents to move to the area which, since the events of October 2000, has been perceived as a “frightening” residential area among the Jewish public.

In practice, the “development” of Jaffa has resulted in a growing number of Arab residents leaving the area as real estate prices have soared following the development process. Conversely, a growing number of prosperous Jewish residents have moved into the neighborhood. The local Palestinian residents have good cause to believe that this was the original intention behind the program. Those involved must have been aware that the development of the area would lead to a rise in real estate prices, and that this would eventually leave the Palestinian residents with no choice but to leave the area. Attorney Hisham Shabaita, a social activist and Jaffa resident who is employed at the Law Clinic of Tel Aviv University, commented: “The state claims that these are the rules of the market, in full knowledge that they will work against the Arab population.”

The suspicions of the Palestinian residents are corroborated by the fact that most of the alleged legal violations attributed to the Palestinian tenants (the cases of squatting and building additions alleged by Amidar) were committed 20 to 30 years ago. In light of this, the Palestinian residents find themselves wondering why Amidar has only now remembered to enforce the law!

In March 2007, in response to the publication of the document prepared by Amidar, a group of local social activists formed a committee called The Popular Committee to Defend the Right to Housing and Land in Jaffa. The committee is comprised of “residents, social activists, movements, organizations, and political parties in Jaffa representing the common public interest of the Palestinian population.” In the short term, the committee demands that the authorities (the Israel Lands Administration, Amidar, and the Municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa) freeze the eviction orders they issued. In the long term, it seeks “recognition of the Palestinian community in Jaffa as a collective with historical rights to land and properties.”

According to the committee, the Palestinian residents of Jaffa face a constant threat, and the current eviction orders are just part of an overall plan on the part of the authorities to judaize Jaffa on the pretext of legal violations. Most of the Palestinian residents link the latest eviction orders with the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population in 1948 in Jaffa and elsewhere. The difference between the two periods is the tool used. While in 1948 the Palestinians were evicted from their homes by force, 60 years on the authorities are now trying to evict the Palestinians — who have since become citizens in the Jewish state — by economic and legal means. For these residents, ethnic cleansing did not end in 1948. It continues to this day, albeit by different means. The process being implemented in Jaffa (and in other locations in Israel) amounts to the “quiet transfer” of the Palestinian residents.

This report documents the danger of eviction facing the Palestinian residents of the Ajami neighborhood in Jaffa and reveals the true motives behind this process.

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