Boycotting Fascism?

Policies that have frustrated Palestinians for years are now being applied to middle-class Israelis, too.

During the last week angry young residents of Tel Aviv have been staging a sit-in, or, more accurately, a tent-in, along fashionable Rothschild Boulevard to protest their being priced out of the housing market in Israel's cultural and economic capital. The protests have drawn the attention of the Israeli and international media, with The Guardian even comparing the protesters to the pro-democracy revolutionaries in Egypt and other Arab countries.

The protests might be new, but the process against which the tent-dwellers are protesting has been going on in Tel Aviv, like other world cities, for at least two decades. But until recently, the main victims of high housing prices weren't young middle-class Israeli Jews no longer able to afford to live close to the cultural and economic action in Tel Aviv, but poor Palestinian residents of Jaffa who were being pushed out by gentrification and had nowhere else to go.

In the wake of the 1948 war, when Jaffa, like most other Palestinian towns and villages, was emptied of the vast majority of its population, the once-proud city turned poor and decrepit neighbourhood of Tel Aviv underwent a process of Judaisation, with only around 5,000 of the former population of at least 70,000 Palestinians remaining. That population increased several-fold in later decades, but when Jaffa suddenly became a fashionable neighbourhood for Israel's emerging yuppie Jewish class beginning in the late 1980s, prices began to rise.

By a variety of legal and economic mechanisms the growing Palestinian population was squeezed out of Jaffa's remaining neighbourhoods like Ajami and Jebaliya, which were quite desirable because of their seaside location. Residents complained of a clear policy of Judaisation through planning and other mechanisms, but were rebuffed when they took their case to the Tel Aviv municipality.

"What can we do; the market is the market," more than one official would declare. In other words, it wasn't the explicit policy of the state, but rather natural market forces that were pushing working-class Palestinians, and their Jewish neighbours, out of these neighbourhoods.

Of course, this argument was nonsense. The Israeli state has been deeply involved in the neoliberalisation of the country's economy, of which Tel Aviv was the natural epicentre. As part of this process it was quite adept at using so-called "market forces" as part of its toolbox for enabling greater Jewish penetration of Palestinian towns and neighbourhoods that were deemed priorities for Judaisation. That Jews were also victims was not relevant, as they were being replaced by even more Jews, and those pushed out always had "somewhere else" to go.

Young Jews could "pioneer" neighbouring towns like Bat Yam - the equivalent of moving from Manhattan to less-desirable but soon-to-be-gentrifying parts of Brooklyn or Queens in the 1980s. Palestinians, however, had literally nowhere to move to except a few Palestinian cities which themselves were experiencing housing shortages.

Resistance was largely futile; more than one Palestinian family set up tents to live in Jaffa's ill-kept parks after being evicted from their homes, both as a protest against their eviction and because they couldn't afford to live anywhere else. The tents became part of the landscape after a while, and ultimately disappeared.

In the meantime, gentrification continued apace, whether faux-Ottoman-era monstrosities like the Andromeda Hill development or the even more perverse Peres Centre for Peace, built - tellingly - on land expropriated from Jaffan refugees including the neighbourhood's cemetery, whose remaining gravestones teeter on the hill along the Centre's southern border.

Meanwhile, late last year the Israeli Supreme Court okayed the construction of a housing development for a religious Zionist group in the heart of Ajami, on refugee land leased to them by the Municipality and Israeli Lands Administration, despite strong protests by local Palestinian residents and Israeli human rights groups.

And while this process plays out, the remaining Arab parts of Ajami suffer from drugs, violence and government neglect (as illustrated in the 2010 film "Ajami"), while activists who press too hard against the situation can be assured of receiving various grades of the "Shabak education" that Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line have always experienced when they challenged the basic premises of Israeli rule.

Read the full article at Al-Jazeera

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