Sunday, December 4, 2011

Life In Jaffa

Rachel Smith, a current participant in the Coexistence Track, wrote about life in the diverse, and tense, atmosphere of Jaffa.

Jaffa is a twisted maze of streets and alleys, winding through and across each other, taking you to new parts you may have walked past dozens of times and never knew existed. And not because you didn’t look. Party because they developed that way; partly because they’re designed that way. It is a neighborhood where everything shifts rapidly, from public housing for the poorest of Arabs on one block to immaculately manicured gated communities for the wealthiest of Jews just down the street. It is an area with a complex history of numerous entwined communities living more in parallel than in coexistence.

Not surprisingly, obvious tensions exist within Jaffa, evidenced by the recent appearance of a small community of right-wing Jewish settlers, the racist activities of the political group Tag Machir (price tag), or the issue of Palestinian collaborators. These are Palestinians from the territories or Israel’s Arab neighbors that help supply the Israeli army with information. To protect them from retaliation, the Israeli government moves them inside Israel’s borders to Arab communities (like Jaffa) where the presumably-sympathetic Arab population unequivocally shuns them. These tensions are always there, though efforts are made to gather community support through counter-initiatives. Following the first Tag Machir incidents in September, my roommates and I joined a protest on our street to show our support for the citizens of Jaffa, chanting “Arabs and Jews against racists” and holding signs declaring that, “Arabs and Jews refuse to be enemies.” This past Saturday was “Tolerance Day” hosted by the Arab-Jewish Community Center (AJCC). A bunch of us came out to watch our friend march in a parade down Yefet Street that ended in music, food, and games at the AJCC. There is still much to be done but it’s a start.

Stretching along the water, Jaffa literally runs the spectrum from wealthy artists and gated communities in the north to the pardesim in the south, where even the police won’t enter. It is an incredible mix of rich and poor; young and old; Muslim, Christian and Jewish; Arab and non-Arab. The incredible diversity of architecture reflects its historical roots and the different groups that have helped build Jaffa. The juxtaposition of extreme wealth and abject poverty is heartbreaking and the rare areas of mixed meetings heartwarming.

My friends and family living in Tel Aviv always ask about life here with a tilt in their voice expressing confusion about why I would choose to live here. I am still trying to understand myself though I know I would never trade living here for the tree-lined streets and glitzy shopping malls of downtown Tel Aviv. I love living here. I love the cars with vibrating subwoofers blasting Mizrahi beats that roll down our street every night. I love the gathering of people on our street celebrating Eid al-Adha and the Santa decorations with fake snow in the store windows. I love that I can go to the corner store and speak a mix of Hebrew and Arabic without them addressing me in English. I love the old men driving horse-led carts stopped at the street lights and the constant smell of nargila wafting through the streets. Jaffa is a difficult, though beautiful place and for now, it is my home.

1 comment:

  1. my father was born there in 1937 - can it be his home too?