'Jews only' building authorized in Jaffa
After court rejects their request to block building of 'Jews only' residential building in Ajami quarter, residents promise to fight decision, threaten to go to High Court. 'Apartments should be built for young people, not settlers,' says neighborhood council chairman, Kemal Agbaria
Residents of Jaffa's Ajami quarter were disappointed to receive news that the court petition submitted by 27 local residents to prevent the building of a "Jews only" building in the neighborhood was rejected.
"The ruling is very distressing," said neighborhood council chairman Kemal Agbaria to Ynet on Thursday. "We are considering petitioning the High Court. The legal channel is one thing, but the public channel is no less important. We will prepare a battle plan. We are talking about waging war over our home. Apartments must be built for young people on the land, not for settlers," he said.
The Arab residents claimed in a petition submitted to the Tel Aviv District Court that the bid awarded to build the apartment building must be revoked because the building's units are intended for Jews only, thus discriminating against the Arab residents of Jaffa.
The plot where the building will be built (Archive photo: Michael Kramer)
Tel Aviv District Court Judge Yehuda Zaft rejected the petition on Wednesday and accused the petitioners of acting "in bad faith." According to him, "While speaking of the principle of equality, the petition clearly reveals that according to the petitioners' line of thought, it is appropriate to designate the lot to the sector whose best interest they seek."
Agbaria spoke against the court ruling and the Israel Land Administration.
"The (Israel Land) Administration cannot be managed like a business-sector body. Not everyone who wants to buy can come pay and buy (a plot). The administration is obligated to provide solutions for the Jaffa Arab population a well, and is not doing so."
"Most of the population is young, below the age of 18. Housing is a burning issue for every Jaffa resident. This is a call of desperation of the gravest sort. I am full of hope that we will create hope within this population that the struggle will succeed so that we do see more deterioration. I ask all organizations in the country – just as you know how to create a haredi city, designate construction for young Jaffa couples."
'We won't let Jaffa become Hebron'
According to Agbaria, the intended tenants – members of the national religious sector – will not manage to integrate into the area. "I don't see the settler population fitting in here in Jaffa. We all see what is happening in Hebron. In Jaffa, we won't agree to this, and we will not become Hebron. Whoever wishes to live here will respect the Arabs who live here. There are Jews who come and respect us without any provocations."
On the other hand, Attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who represented the Jewish residents claimed that the petition was infuriating and smelled sharply of racism. "The petitioners' claims that 20 Jewish families cannot live together in a building in Jaffa was lacking any foundation from the outset," she said. "If 20 Arab families had won the bid, the petitioners would not have had any begrudging."
Agbaria claimed that the company B'Emuna, which won the construction bid, specializes in "bringing the national religious population to mixed cities in order to bolster the Jewish population, and in essence, to Judaize Jaffa.
"These aren't people with housing problems. They seek to educate the Arab population. They want to separate between Arabs and Jews in schools. They essentially are coming here to make provocations in a place that is very delicate and has mutual respect between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. These people are warmongers. They will ruin our coexistence," said Agbaria.
'We came to do good'
B'Emuna CEO Yisrael Zeira claimed that his intentions are not to make provocations. "We came to do only good, good in the sense that Jews live with Arabs. The two sides must look towards peace. Whoever threatens warmongering and fighting is not one of us. We have no problem that Arabs live there. They should continue to live there."
However, Zeira did say that the company would like to establish a separate education system in the area: "We are against assimilation and against universal education. We are for Jewish education, be it secular or religious."
The claims that the company only builds in mixed cities in a bid to commandeer them he adamantly rejected. "We have many projects in religious and Jewish towns throughout the country in every place – in religious towns and mixed cities. The idea of the neighborhood is to add educational professionals and quality people to Jaffa," Zeira explained.
Meanwhile in Jaffa, the Arab residents are planning to hold a mass rally against the court ruling. "We will make a decision soon," said Agbaria. "We have started organizing. Within a few days, we will decide if the protest will be local or national."
Aviel Magnezi contributed to this report