Between the two historic Palestinian port towns of Haifa and Akka – both occupied since 1948 – there exists a lovely bay called the Bay of Haifa. The cities were subjected to a heavy ethnic cleansing campaign, and now they consist of a majority Jewish Israeli population.
Several Zionist colonies were established across the Bay of Haifa over the years, and even though this is prime beachfront real estate, housing was constructed largely for new, poor immigrants.
One of the colonies built on Haifa Bay is the city of Kiryat Yam. It sits right on the Mediterranean coast, but the area is considered less favorable because it is still largely an immigrant community and suffers from a high rate of crime. Every morning, retired Russian immigrants who live in Kiryat Yam go walking, swimming in the sea, or just sit around and look at the beautiful scenery.
The only language one hears on the beach – or anywhere in the city for that matter – is Russian. The beach is lovely, well-kept, with chairs and plenty of shaded areas. Looking at the people on the beach, one might think this was a resort on the Black Sea. But it isn’t. These are not tourists, they are European colonizers, and this is not the Black Sea; it is the coast of Palestine.
WHERE ARE THE ARABS?
There are no Arabic names for any of the towns along the bay between Haifa and Akka, two Palestinian-Arab cities that were brought to prominence by Daher Al-Umar, the eighteenth-century Palestinian leader who is also known as the King of Galilee. Kiryat Yam – which is a Hebrew name – sits on what used to be the village of Arab Al-Ghawarina. The village was occupied, depopulated and destroyed in May 1948.
Today, even though both Akka and Haifa still have large Palestinian residents, in the towns throughout the Bay of Haifa and on the beach they are practically invisible. Certainly, in the world of the Russian immigrants who enjoy the lovely beaches and warm water of the Mediterranean, the Palestinians do not exist.
This is true in the city of Tel Aviv, much of which used to be Yafa, in all of West Jerusalem (which was predominantly Palestinians prior to 1948), and many of the new neighborhoods built in East Jerusalem after 1967. It is also true in places like Tabariya, Safad, and other cities that were exclusively Palestinian prior to the catastrophic events of 1948.
When Palestinians try to apply to purchase an apartment in any of these are turned down, sometimes this is done directly, other times by plainly lying and saying the residential projects are sold out.
A Palestinian living in an unrecognized neighborhood in the city of El-Lyd tried to apply for an apartment where the developers said units will be made available on a first come, first served basis. “I was the first person to put down his name on the list,” he told me. When he had not heard back, he called and was told that they were sold out.
Another Palestinian, also from El-Lyd, told me a similar story. In his case, he drove with a Jewish friend. “I went in to sign up for an apartment and I was told they were sold out. Then, my boss who is Jewish went in and was offered several apartments from which he could choose. “Why did you tell my Palestinian employee you are sold out?” he asked. “If word gets out that we start selling to Arabs, we will lose all of our business here,” they answered.
El-Lyd used to be exclusively Palestinian. Prior to 1948, it was a city that had an international airport and a large central railway station. In fact, before the airport was named after Ben-Gurion, it was called El-Lyd Airport. Then, in 1948, after a series of war crimes and a massacre, the residents of the city were forcibly removed and it was flooded with poor Jewish immigrants. According to local politician Fida Shehade, currently the official number of Palestinians in the city stands at around thirty percent.
While the Jewish settlers receive incentives to move into the city, the main incentive being affordable, newly built, modern housing, the Palestinian citizens suffer from a severe housing crisis. The Palestinians in El-Lyd are forced to live in conditions that the Jewish residents of the city would not and probably could not even imagine. Forget garbage collection, electricity, roads or water supply. They are also subjected to violent crime and general negligence by the authorities.
The acceptable code for letting things get worse for Palestinians and do nothing about it is, “it’s too complicated,” or “justice and equality are utopian and will never happen.” Both are true in a sense, but allowing this reality to go on uninterrupted is in itself a crime that should not be tolerated.
The litmus test for Israelis who see themselves as liberals is the legitimacy of Israel itself. They will not budge unless they can be comforted and told that they too have legitimacy. I had a conversation about this with Bassem Tamimi from the village of Nabi Saleh. He told me a joke to illustrate this mentality that is so typical to Israelis. The joke is about a man in Egypt, but it can be told about any person from any place on Earth. A man goes to Alexandria and steals eight Egyptian pounds. He takes a train to Cairo and on the way, he says to every person he sees, “these are my eight pounds, they are mine, I never stole them!”
Israel is like that man, but it stole more than eight pounds. Israel stole and is now demanding legitimacy of its “ownership” of Palestine and its riches. Some of these riches are at this very moment being enjoyed by Jewish immigrants from Russia who came to Palestine over the last thirty years. They speak only Russian, their shops carry imported goods from Russia, and like my own grandparents who arrived one hundred years ago, they know little and care even less about Palestine and its people. They enjoy affordable beachfront housing, stipends and health care and yes, they enjoy the warm Mediterranean water in the bay between Haifa and Akka.
Feature photo | A couple makes a selfie at the promenade in Jaffa, an ancient port city in what is now Israel. May 23, 2018. Rene Fluger | CTK via AP