Friday, February 22, 2008

From Jaffa to Sderot

On a rare Friday off heading down Rothschild Boulevard, past the renovated first kiosk in Tel Aviv (now a cutesie branch in the Espresso Bar chain) in the direction of the Well Houses exhibition I've been going on about.

On the way, we came across this group of young people dressed in red, being interviewed for TV. They were handing out stickers that read 'Don't abandon Sderot on Rothschild'.

Their clothes red symbolised the 'Colour Red' alert that sounds in Sderot and other parts of the western Negev, every time a mortar shell or a qassam rocket is fired. This gives you about 15 seconds to find shelter, or hit the ground. On the margins of the group we met Y whose daughter, I, had single-handedly organised this show of "the bubble"'s solidarity with the embattled and shell-shocked residents of Sderot. From Rothschild they were going to march down to Rabin Square and join the protesting Sderot residents camping out there. Later on I read that 10,000 Israelis travelled to Sderot on Friday to do their shopping in solidarity.

Further along we saw Dani Caravan's installation of citrus trees symbolising the lost citrus orchards of Yaffo and announcing our arrival at the Well Houses exhibition, together with a massive reproduction of an old well house covering the facade of Cafe Hillel.

The exhibition is impressive and has set off a lively debate: next to the detailed reconstructions and portfolios on some 60 houses, alongiside art works , maps and films, a short movie from the radical left Zochrot NGO condemns the exhibition as the last stage of the occupation. On the right, at least one radio commentator wondered "haven't people in Tel Aviv got anything better to do?". A sign from some of the students involved (partricularly the ones from traditional or hawkish homes) notes that they're not taking a political stand. In his address opening the exhibition, mayor Ron Huldai's message was of the Zionist-liberal variety :the whole country belongs to us Jewish Israelis, and an exhibition like this [featuring the abandoned well houses of Palestinians] is an indication of our "enlightenment".

This is what many of the buildings look like today.

While one of Jaffa's few surviving pre-1948 residents, now over 80, takes us on a loving tour of the lost palaces of his childhood.

So there you have it. The conflict then and the conflict today. The conflict rules.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

From above

I've gathered a few shots of TA from above. This is from the 15th floor of a building in the diamond boursa area in Ramat Gan facing north-west onto the Ayalon Freeway which runs alongside the Ayalon stream that occasionally overflows. The office and commercial buildings that line the Ayalon Freeway, (a ringroad with easy access to Haifa and Jerusalem) have been called Ayalon City. The squat tower with the helipad is the defense ministry. The towers on the left (one triangular, one circular and one square) constitute the Azrielli Centre and include a massive shopping mall. The Azrieli Centre, thrusting and stylish, has become an unofficial Tel Aviv symbol

Next (and the rest) was taken from the 13th floor of the Neve Tsedek Tower (thanks to L&P and enjoy your new second home). It looks back at the previous picture, through the central business district towards Ramat Gan with its own almost Manhattenesque skyline.

The red roofs of the Suzanne Dellal Dance Centre in the heart of Neve Tsedek, with the open landscape of the soon to be developed fomer Arab neighbourhood of Manshiyeh in the background.

Facing north towards Yaffo promontory and the sea. The open seam between them needs to be sealed and the two to be better integrated , both physically and socially.

The tin roofs of the workshops of Florentin leading into the poor neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv. Florentin too is to be developed.

Closer to the ground, more on the Tel Aviv well houses project in this site (Hebrew only). The exhibition opens tonight.

Friday, February 8, 2008


A short wander around the neighbourhood with the missus on Shabbat revealed some architectural jewels like these wonderfully ornate windows on the top floor of an old Arab mansion on Derekh Yaffo. This was formerly a "well house" i.e. the house built next to a well that watered the Arab citrus orchards that flourished here before the 1948 War.

These well houses are the subject of a new exhibition curated by conservation architect (and friend) Amnon Bar Or who is trying to raise awareness of them and promote their conservation. At least one critic from the far left has accused him of accepting the "occupation of 1948" by preserving these Arab Jaffa houses for the use of the "occupying community". Amnon countercharges that by raising awarness of the houses he is also reving "the forgotten past", argues that "I am not appropriating anything" and proposes that the buildings be used "in the service of the communities that live around them".

In this country even the buildings are political.

Here on Lilienblum, a spit from the rooftop, is a lovely, recently renovated, example of the Bauhaus or International Style with its ship's bow balcony and clean, horizontal lines. This house was the home and studio of Avraham Soskin, Tel Aviv foremost photographer in its formative years and was designed by Ze'ev Rechter, a leading practitioner of the International Style in Tel Aviv. Once the symbol of a brave new functional- egalitarian ideology these buildings are now prime real estate and the style is being copied even in new buildings all over town.

And here, also on Lilienblum is an "eclectic style" (pre-Bauhuas) house that has yet to escape a proper renovation and houses a design shop (I think).

Back on Derekh Yaffo we came across this vine (?) trunk stuck into the plaster next to a furniture shop.

Not exactly a jewel but this is the row of art supplies and frame maker shops at the Yaffo end of Dereckh Yaffo. There's an art school opposite and lots of artists studios in the area.

We ended up on the beachfront where a group of fledgling wind surfers were being instructed on how to take off.

There's plenty going on elsewhere , especially in the Gaza area, and all of it bad. Here in our Tel Aviv bubble though we're wind-surfing.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Refugees in Tel Aviv

An illegal African migrant being escorted by Israeli policemen before being dumped in an unprepared city, normally inTel Aviv.

This morning I finally got round to donating some old blankets and clothes to one of the refugee shelters that have sprung up in south Tel Aviv in recent months. The contact number in the paper for the volunteers helping the African refugees was incorrect and I finally got some information from a lady at the African Refugees Development Centre who told me that it was best to head for the big shelter on 3 Har Zion Boulevard, in the heart of the dilapidated Old Central Bus Station area where the foreign worker community lives.

Scrutinised by some young black guys I walked through the dark, decrepit badly lit and unmarked entrance. At the end of the corridor was a sign that read machon briyut (health institute - a euphimism for a brothel) Behind it, a plump, elderly lady in a tight fitting black dress beckoned me to enter. But she, I reckoned, was not interested in telling me where to leave my bundles. I passed a rotting pile of children's clothes and, following a cheap sign that read 'disco' , ventured down some steps passing a stinking and overflowing toilet before being hit by the stench coming off scores of unmade beds crammed like sardines on the former dancehall floor.

Nobody I talked to spoke English or Hebrew and there was no sign of a city social worker but with the help of some sign language I managed to pass on my bundles to two of the residents and receive a quiet a 'thank you' in return. These people, mainly young men, living in truly squalid conditions are among some 300 now living in similar shelters in Tel Aviv .

Israel, largely composed of refugees itself, and at least partially responsible for the Palestinian refugee problem, is now facing another refugee problem as hungry migrants and political asylum seekers flee from the Sudan or Eritrea seeking safety and work within its prosperous and democratic borders. If Israel returns them to Egypt they face further deprivation and even death. If it accepts them with open arms it will be flooded with refugees. If it rejects them is it not turning a moral blind eye to the lessons of Jewish history? If it accepts them will it not be exposing itself to a new national problem of gargantuan proportions?

Israel's refugee problem

Unprepared and unsure of what to do next, the authorities seem to have plumped for a typically Israeli compromise: accepting (at least some) of the refugees and then dumping them unceremoniously in the middle of Tel Aviv without shelter, clothing, food, water, money or papers. Only thanks to the work of organisations like ARDC are they able to stay alive at all.