by Ofra Yeshua-Lyth
A Hebrew version of this article was first published on Haoketz, July 24, 2011
It is the corner of Seinkin and Rothschild Boulevard, Friday afternoon. We and our Palestinian guests – a group of “Illegal Sojourners” in the ugly Occupation Jargon – have had a lovely day of sightseeing and swimming . Now we are on our way to be entertained lavishly by one of us who is blessed with a flat and a roof in the coveted heart of Tel Aviv. On the way there we pass a new and exciting tourist attraction: the huge tent camp which keeps mushrooming in the boulevard.
Our guests, some in pious head gear, listen attentively to the story about middle class Jewish youngsters with no place to live, to study and to work from. The tents are so many, so small. They nod in amazement, expressing sympathy or perhaps even some pleasure over the new potential for solidarity. The sharp tongued one is quick to come up with a punch line none of us would have thought of: “Hada Muchayem Lajiyin Israeliyin!” – “A refugee camp for Israelis”, she exclaims.
We laugh at this smart crack. No similarity at all, to be sure – or maybe just a little something, after all. The young people of Rothschild (may Allah help them, may their protest yield fruit), are supposedly able to get up any time and move back to the grim life they were accustomed to before settling into the sizzling Boulevard. However they are condemned to life in the lower end of the Israeli chain of housing – with no property, no land and no roof of their own. Some of the women we have with us this evening –exuberant, full of curiosity and passion for fun – have been living in “real” refugee camps most of their lives. Some were born there, others got married and moved to share the fate of large families condensed into crumbling homes that were started as temporary tents at the outskirts of towns and villages in the West Bank many years ago.
Next evening, at the great Saturday Night Demonstration of the housing crisis, angry signs and voices point at the many housing perks bestowed on the settler community and the ultra-orthodox. It is not hard to recognize the many billion investments in the settlements all over the territories occupied by Israel since 1967 as assets robbed from the welfare of the next generation of Israelis. Blunt sectarian favoritism is to be blamed for the neglect suffered by every hard working citizen not aligned to one of the “preferred” sectors, who has not been blessed with parents of deep pockets.
It is far more difficult and painful to point at the basic choice of Israel to be a state for only one sector, defined by its religion, as the basic cause of this country’s many malaises, including the housing situation. Undeniably, the cost of this choice is incredibly heavy in financial, military and human resources. Israel’s present rulers constantly wave its “Jewish State” identity as a concept superior to any pretence it ever had to be a just, democratic and peace seeking society. They incite and radicalize, but they had really not started any new path. They merely carry on a tradition that started when this state started –with blood bath and fire – as an entity unable to tolerate anybody perceived as “Other” according to the rabbinical code.
Most young people in the tents do not wish to hear this but a large part of the most coveted addresses in our non-stop city actually belong to landlords who are unable to overcharge, profiteer, or make any use of their assets. Israelis of all ages dedicate their best years and certainly a major part of their tax payments to our state’s continuous and stubborn effort to prevent these owners from practicing their property rights. Jaffa and its surroundings, Manshia nest to the Charles Clore promenade, Sumeil on the corner of Arlozorov and Ibn Gabirol, Jamussin of Bavli and the Akirov Towers and Sheich Moanis of Ramat Aviv and the University, all are real estate under the Israel Land Administration, which have the firm obligation to make them available to Jews only. It is perfectly ridiculous to hear the Prime Minister and his people puffing angrily against the “cartel” (as they currently call this Administration) which Zionism established for the purpose of preserving the “national lands” for one ethnic group. Aspiring for a free real estate market? Fine, let us find whose names are on the deeds and start to negotiate.
Israeli governments irregular housing solutions did not start in Ariel, Ofra, Efrat and their hundreds illegal predator copies. Bibi Nethanyahu did not initiate them. He was born into these solutions just like the rest of us, the parent’s generation of today’s angry young men and women. Israel’s venerated founding fathers chose to house hundreds of thousands of long suffering refugees in the homes from which hundreds and thousands of long suffering refugees escaped or were expelled. Next they flooded the country in transit camps (“maabarot”) of miserable tents and shacks, for the masses that were lured to forsake their homes in Arabic speaking countries in favor of improving the demographic balance for the Jews in Zion. These masses were grounded to dust in the social habitat that designated them to the role of farmers and laborers, a substitute the gap left by the Palestinians that could only observe, sad eyed, as they still do, from their refugee camps all over the Middle East. The children and grandchildren of these Arab speaking Jewish immigrants grew into a new incarnation – some as fervent religious nationals who despise all Arabs passionately.
“A Home is a fundamental value, it is the base for everything” leaders of the Youth rally shouted last Saturday. Their impressive, just and heart warning demonstration called for social justice, rejected charity, and warned against crafty make-belief solutions. “WE HAVE WOKEN UP”, some black signs read, “AND WE SHALL NOT GO BACK TO SLEEP”. One can only hope that the awakening also included an end to the illusion, that only the continuous violent oppression of part of the people of this land can secure the well being of the other part, defined by the “correct” religion.
Perhaps there are no instant solutions to the housing problem, but great public works are certainly an option. This country, like many others, has great resources that should and could support its needy young. A land that knew how to transfer hundreds of thousands in and out, built development towns, transit camps and a huge region of army camps and settlements should not have any difficulty in performing some model projects.
Here is a suggestion for a really easy one: Last Saturday demonstrators were squeezed to the barb-wire coroneted wall of this camp facing Tel Aviv Museum for the Fine Arts. Behind this eye sore lies a huge and spacious estate, the well guarded, superbly protected shrine of the Middle East’s most powerful army and one of the greatest military forces in the whole world. Why not clear the Kiria IDF headquarters in favor of affordable housing well located for the poor children of Tel Aviv? Its top ranking officers do not really need a workplace so indulgingly urbane for the purpose of planning their next war, during which we shall be instructed to keep quiet (fighting is in progress!) and to stop moaning about the rent. No doubt they will be happy to move somewhere else. It is after all very wrong, they always tell us, to have military facilities in the midst of civilian population. At least we complain bitterly when this is done by Hezbollah and Hamas.
Or maybe the army will not be willing to move so willingly, as it had long ago ceased to be the People’s Army. We, the people, are its submissive subjects, and who are we to deny it the high-rises from which it looks down on us, all the way from the Azrieli shopping center to Café Dubnov. It is under the hospices of the army that the government is supplies its only generous “housing solutions”: reaped off Bill’in, Ni’ilin, Hebron, Beith Ommar, Saffa, Nabi Salach and dozens other hard beaten spots under occupation. It is the army’s unlimited violent might that facilitates the usurping of homes in Siluan and Sheich Jarrach in favor of some chosen members of militant groups with an inclination for affordable homes well located in Jerusalem.
The yellow clouds of tear gas and the unbearable stink of the “skunk” hoses, the armed forces faithful allies, have long ago transcended oceans all the way to the United Nations halls in New York. No longer may transfers, lootings and expulsions be hidden and silenced, as was the fate of the inhabitants of Iraq Manshia (today’s Qiryat-Gat) or Sidna Ali (Herzlia Pituah). But likewise, they are the products of the same tough and hollow ideology we were all educated on. These days this ideology is compulsory by law even for kindergarten toddlers. Its repetitive false message, anchored in ancient and unfriendly religion: it is dangerous and forbidden for Jews to live in the vicinity of other people.
The angry residents of Israel’s “refugee camps” all over the country are going these days through an awakening process from the false consciousness that brought them to this tricky junction of the summer of 2011. It is not an easy process, but well worth making the effort to go all the way to the root of our problems. Those of us, who were privileged last weekend to dance, sing and hug on a Tel Aviv rooftop with our friends from the villages and refugee camps of the occupied territories, will never agree to give up the warm human contact with people we once considered enemies. Just think how many good flats could be produced with the assets wasted over the decades on fortifying the dumb concept that all non Jews are a “danger for our demography”.
Ofra Yeshua-Lyth’s book “A State of Mind` why Israel should become Secular and Democratic ” is published these days by Maariv publishers.