Monday, July 5, 2010

Recognition of the Black City's History in the White City of Tel Aviv

By Yael Ben-Yefet

On the evening of 30 March, a Tel Aviv municipal council meeting was held, the fifth one in which I suggested a topic for the agenda on my behalf and on behalf of Ahron Madual, Chairperson of the Ir Lekulano (“A City for All of Us”) Party.

It is a little over three months since the municipal elections. When I requested during one of the budget meetings to examine the municipality’s culture budgets and their homogeneous division, the municipality’s general director said to me that “we have a certain state with certain values—what do you want here, Umm Khalthum?”

Yesterday evening, when City Council Member Pe’er Visner of the Green Party asked who is the white hegemony about which I speak, I told him that it is him, and he shouted at me that I am a racist. At the conclusion of the speech, Mayor Ron Huldai rose to say that these are lies, that there is importance to symbols and that there are many academic schools in south Tel Aviv. No word about Mizrahi culture and certainly not about Arab culture.

Three months may appear a long time, but apparently it is insufficient to successfully explain what an academic school is, certainly not if you are not a pilot [Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai is a former pilot in the Israeli Air Force, AIC].

Suggested Item for the Agenda—Correction of an Historical Injustice Toward the Centennial Celebration of the Establishment of the Ahuzat Bayit Neighbourhood in Tel Aviv

Toward the centennial celebration of the city of Tel Aviv Jaffa, with all its splendor and opulence, we request to direct your attention to the never-ending municipal injustices, the beginnings o which were the attempt to distort historical facts by determining that the beginning of the Jewish settlement in the municipal area occurred the moment the Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood was established in 1909.

We are not demanding the honor of those who left the walls of Jaffa in 1887 to establish the neighborhood of Neve Tzedek, or of the residents of the neighborhoods of Neve Shalom, Mahane Yehuda, Mahane Yosef, Shaarei Ahva and Ohel Moshe. And not even that of the Mahane Israel neighborhood, later Kerem Hatemanim, the neighborhood that was established in 1904, some five years prior to Ahuzat Bayit and was essentially the first neighborhood that was truly separated from Jaffa.*

We are not demanding their honor as honor is not our business.

We wish to highlight the chronicle of alienation, of oppression and of discrimination which transforms the descendents of the inhabitants of these neighborhoods to sons of the “black city”—the back yard of Tel Aviv.

Historical fact points out that the city of Tel Aviv developed from Jaffa, which was established some 3000 years ago, and the first neighborhood outside of Tel Aviv was founded 105 years ago.

Actually, the celebratory recognition of 100 years is a correct act in accordance with the logic of the “white city,” the logic of oppression and discrimination that characterized the planning of the city at all levels and at all times. For a simple example from recent days, it is sufficient to note the struggle of the Shapira neighborhood to receive money to hold a neighborhood festival as part of the current centennial celebrations.

The determination of the starting point of Tel Aviv in 1909 is simply the first, but most symbolic article in the failed conduct of the authorities vis-à-vis residents of the city’s neighborhoods. That it writes names of paths and roads on the one hand, while ignoring alleys and “forgotten” paths on the other, is an additional symbolic layer in the process of historical revisionism by the white hegemony in the white city that justifies to itself its absolute sovereignty as legitimate in the face of the people deprived of their rights. White on black. These symbolic acts have serious practical implications in creating the consciousness of the young generation and reproducing this inequality in thought and action.

On this background, it is possible to explain the erasure of the contribution of the Yemenite Jews in the foundation of the city of Tel Aviv and within the ethos currently celebrated.

This is a mandatory step in accordance with the logic of the “white city,” which turns its back on the “Middle East.”

A city in which the majority of its Mizrahi and Palestinian residents reside in defined areas and whose cultural institutions are a prison, the forensic medicine center and a huge ecological disaster known as the “new central bus station,” which is cynically used as both a bomb shelter and huge shopping center. However, in these areas there is not one non-vocational high school.

We ask at this pre-celebratory moment to turn another page in the unofficial booklet of the centennial celebration and point to the demolished homes of those vacated from Kfar Shalem and the residents of Jaffa who are forced into illegal buildings due to the draconian policy of “burn out and throw away,” to which the legal system and law enforcement agencies are particularly devoted.

We wish to point out again that the logic which transformed the ideological starting point is further reflected in the ever unequal distribution of education and culture budgets, and the lack of a museum or cultural center representing the history of south Tel Aviv neighborhoods from the perspective of their residents. We ask to allow residents of the black city an equal status as residents of the city.

When declaring Um Khaltuum as a persona non grata in the city, the municipality’s general director is essentially replicating the same approach of maligning cultures of the city’s residents. He continues the same racist approach that categorizes cultures in a manner characterizing the most oppressive regimes.

This is so also when they declare a municipal action plan to bring what are dubbed “strong populations” to the neighborhoods, a plan founded on a racist and essentialist idea; an idea the basis of which is the assumption that only Ashkenazi populations can improve the situation of the neighborhoods, as if the situation of the neighborhoods was created out of nothing and its political and social roots are found in the residents themselves. This distorted perception denies the institutional responsibility which organizes resources in accordance with hidden ethnic hierarchies and hangs the desired change on the cultural power of these new populations. All this, instead of investing in the local population.

They call this gentrification and it is impossible to disassociate these remarks from the wider racist ideology which is the official line of the national camp. When the homes of Mizrahis in Kfar Shalem are destroyed, the racist ideology is there, when Arab residents are kicked out of their homes, the racist ideology is there, when the life opportunities of children in the discriminatory education system are manipulated, it is also there.

The change is consciousness is not simple and is not immediate, but the centennial is a wonderful opportunity for correction. A correction that will finally allow life in a truly multicultural city, as white is the color you see when you don’t manage to notice the other colors.”

The desired change will mean that school children in the city can learn history that is closer to the truth. Children from south Tel Aviv can again be proud of their roots and not feel inferior vis-à-vis the story whose heroes are always foreign with European family names and who live and lived in different neighborhoods from their own.

Children of the south will be able to choose schools in their neighborhoods and not go to the north for education, with or without school transportation. This will strengthen the community and will prevent the cynical threat to cancel school transportation, which hangs over the heads of children at the beginning of every school year.

Our proposal includes historical recognition and operative action for equality and distributive justice on the cultural, education and budgetary levels.

1. Recognition in the history books on the city and national levels in honor of the centennial celebrations.
2. Recognition of the southern neighborhoods at a cultural and educational center.
3. Establishment of a non-vocational, academic school that will bring students to full matriculation exams that result in the possibility of academic studies.
4. Establishment of a museum and cultural center in the first neighborhoods of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
5. Allocation of resources for events in the first neighborhoods of the city.
6. In order not to oppress the desire to hold parties in the city, to hold a big performance with classical Mizrahi music in the south park to commemorate the history of the first neighborhoods of Tel Aviv.
7. Finally, to establish a team to examine the municipal budget with the goal of creating distributive justice with an emphasis on budgets for education, culture and infrastructures.

Given its public importance and the urgency of the subject, I request to hold a serious discussion in the Municipal Council.

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