Benjamin L. Hartman
The Jerusalem Post
April 22, 2010 - 12:00am

Dozens of activists and residents held a rally in Jaffa’s Ajami neighborhood on Wednesday, to protest what organizers called “a series of provocations from settlers active in Jaffa,” following the alleged attack of an elderly neighborhood woman by settlers three days earlier.

Wednesday’s rally, which was held in front of the house organizers say was infiltrated by a group of settlers on Sunday, included speeches by Islamic Movement leader Sheikh Raed Salah and a number of community organizers from Jaffa.

According to a press release issued by the organizers of the rally on Tuesday, on Sunday, “dozens of settlers from Kiryat Arba attacked Ms. Zeinab Rahayl inside her home in Jaffa’s Ajami neighborhood. The settlers forcefully entered the home’s courtyard and verbally attacked the elderly woman and threatened they had come to evict the Arab population from Jaffa. They also shouted that ‘the Arab presence in Jaffa is only temporary.’

“Afterward, the settlers stood praying at the entrance of the home and shouted racist remarks against the Arabs and in general,” the press release continued.

One of the organizers said on Tuesday that he believed the people in question were settlers from Kiryat Arba because of the school T-shirts they were wearing. Photos taken by witnesses on Sunday showed that most of the school-age boys were wearing T-shirts that read “Kiryat Arba Yeshiva High School – Or Menahem.”

The organizer said the group of settlers arrived on Sunday in buses from the West Bank and began marching and singing on Yefet Street, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, accompanied by armed guards. The organizer said they then blocked off Yefet Street for about of 40 minutes, without a police response.

“The problem is that this is not the first time they’ve done this. These bus trips supporting ‘settlers’ in Jaffa is a constant thing, there’s one every week. We’ve told the police before that this is a very explosive thing, but they don’t seem to care,” the organizer, who that his name not to be used, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

By “settlers in Jaffa,” he meant national-religious Jews who have moved to Ajami recently.

Sheikha, a local who was at the house during the alleged incident on Sunday, said on Wednesday, “It was terrifying. They started coming over the fence and through the front entrance, and were yelling, “We’ll kick you out of Jaffa,” “You’re only temporary here.”

Sheikha, whose father owns the house in question, said that she heard an adult supervisor tell the students, “Don’t worry, relax, the army will kick them out of here, we don’t need to.”

She added that “it was only a miracle something worse didn’t happen.”

Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Rifat Turk, a former Israeli soccer star and a Muslim, said he attended Wednesday’s rally because “ugly things are happening here in Jaffa, things they used to only do in the West Bank.”

The Jaffa native said that Sunday’s incident “crossed the line and is a very dangerous thing,” and could lead to violence in the high-crime neighborhood.

“We aren’t looking to fight or threaten anyone, but when someone comes to our house and threatens to uproot us, it’s something that can’t pass quietly,” the Jaffa native said. “There are Arabs who shoot each other in Jaffa without hesitating. What do you think some of these people could do to a Jew who’s not even from here?”

Or Menahem Deputy Yeshiva head Rabbi Yoav Cohen said on Wednesday that he and the pupils in question were in Jaffa on Sunday, as part of a tour of Tel Aviv ahead of Remembrance Day. Cohen denied that any of the boys forced their way into a house or tried to instigate altercations with residents.

“Nothing at all like this happened,” he said, adding that his students were pushed and had rocks thrown at them by local Arab youths.

Cohen said that despite the alleged physical attack on his students, he did not feel the need to report the incident to police.

A Tel Aviv police representative said on Wednesday, “We haven’t heard of any incident like this” and have not received any complaints regarding Sunday’s alleged events.

Late Saturday night, swastikas and Palestinian flags were written in charcoal on the wall of a small synagogue in Ajami and on the wall of a house next door owned by Jews. In addition, someone punctured a tire of a car belonging to a Jewish family that lives in the same building.

The Beit El synagogue is a very small single-level building on a small residential street, next to the French ambassador’s residence and the Arab-Jewish Center of Jaffa. A plaque outside the synagogue refers to it as “Beit-El synagogue for Jews from Turkey.”

The synagogue is not among the new Jewish houses of worship or yeshivas in Jaffa, which have been a source of tension with some veteran residents.

A number of residents told the Post on Sunday they didn’t think the incident indicated increased tensions in the neighborhood and described the vandals as “probably stupid kids.”

A Tel Aviv police spokesman could not confirm if the vandalism was carried out by neighborhood kids or if they have any suspects in the meantime.

Amiad, a resident of the building, said on Wednesday he believed that the people behind it “were just idiot or some idiot acting on his own for his own stupid reasons.”

Amiad, who said that swastikas were also drawn on Arab-owned houses, added that he didn’t think the incident reflected a worsening of tensions in the neighborhood, which he classified as being more about economics and gentrification than national or religious tension between Jews and Arabs.

“It’s mainly gentrification, just that in this case, the poor people are mainly Arabs and the rich people mainly Jews, so its more complicated than usual.”


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