Hundreds of Jaffa residents gather on the main street in the heart of Ajami to protest settler intimidation in Jaffa. (Photo: The Daily Nuisance)
Tensions are rising between Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel after clashes in Occupied East Jerusalem and Jaffa this past weekend.
Ultranationalist religious Jews attempted to provoke and intimidate local Palestinian residents while marching through the Occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on Sunday as hundreds of Israeli police stood guard. Hundreds of residents clashed with police in response, some throwing rocks and lighting tire fires. Twenty Palestinians and solidarity activists were injured as police shot rubber bullets and beat protesters. Two police were also injured when they were hit by rocks.
The seventy right wing Israelis were protesting a court order to evacuate Beit Yonatan, an illegal structure housing eight settler families in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. In July 2008 the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the seven-story building to be sealed off for demolition, and another evacuation order was issued in July 2009, but neither has been enforced.
The previous day, in Jaffa’s last remaining Palestinian neighborhood – Ajami, hundreds of Palestinian citizens of Israel and their supporters rallied in opposition to settler youth from Kiryat Arba who invaded the property of a Palestinian family on April 18, when Israelis commemorated the night of the fallen soldier. Waving flags and banners in front of the house on Jaffa’s main road, Yeffet, they chanted in Arabic and Hebrew.
The mother of the household Zynab Rahayel says she was sitting in her dining room when three buses full of settlers stopped outside, got out and started to jump around while shouting that this piece of land was theirs and raising the Israeli flag. One boy who entered their garden and peered through their front door told Rahayel twice, “This is my house, not yours.” When she exited her home they shouted at her that Palestinians have been in Jaffa for only a short time and “This is our land and you will get out of here!” One settler pushed Rahayel’s son after he said something offensive. Soon other Ajami Palestinians came and began arguing with the boys.
Jaffa, which now conjoins Tel Aviv, was a busy Arab port city before over 90 percent of the Palestinian population was forced out by the advancing Israeli army in the 1948 war. “Sixty-two years ago we were afraid to lose our dignity and our land. But today we’ve already lost our land… and the only thing we have is our spirit and our houses,” says Yousef Asfor, housing coordinator for Amnesty International. “They can’t take our spirit, but they are trying to take our houses.”
“No to Apartheid” read a sign held by one boy standing on the sidewalk in the heart of Ajami Saturday. Meanwhile, Jaffa residents shouted: “Jews and Arabs don’t want settlers here!” and “Jaffa is for Jaffans!” and “With our souls and with our blood we’ll defend Jaffa!”
Sami Abu Schade, organizer of Saturday’s solidarity demo, says they are condemning the police for their inaction after the settler provocation in Ajami. He says the cops didn’t do anything “because of racist policies towards the Palestinian community inside Israel.” He explains, “If a few hundred people had just attacked a Jewish woman at her home in Tel Aviv and said, ‘We don’t want a Jewish presence here,’ police would have dealt with it differently.”
Abu Schade says the protest was also to send a message to the municipality that a policy that supports settlements in Ajami is inherently violent. The settlement he is referring to is the apartment buildings being constructed in Ajami by Bemuna, a company that mostly builds Jewish housing in West Bank settlements. Bemuna says the apartments are for Jews only and that they won’t sell to Arabs.
Tensions have been rising between the Palestinian community and Orthodox Jewish nationalists in Jaffa over the last few months. Local activists have been protesting weekly outside the Yeshiva in Ajami, while Jaffa’s housing coalition has been fighting the development of the Bemuna apartment complex. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has also brought a high profile legal suit against the Israel Lands Administration for awarding Bemuna the contract, who they say is clearly discriminating against Arabs in Ajami.
Abu Schade feels that once the apartments have been constructed and more religious rightwing hardliners move in, the settler movement will be strengthened in Jaffa, leading to more violence. “We have been warning Israeli police and the Tel Aviv municipality that the settler project is endangering the coexistence between the Jewish and Arab population in Jaffa. Unfortunately, they’re ignoring our calls to stop immediately this project,” explains Abu Schhade.
“Without international pressure, unfortunately things are going to be more dangerous for all residents of Israel,” says Abu Schade.