HER STORY #29 - SAFA

Picture of interviewee

Picture of interviewee

Jaffa

I was born in Jaffa, and I still live here. I’m from Yefet Street.

I was born in 1975. There was less tension back then.

I went to a Jewish-Arab school. It was multicultural. It felt very natural to me. I met Jews every day. That was my experience. I had a good childhood.

Jaffa is not like New York or Tel Aviv. It’s a community. People talk to each other. They visit each other. There’s a feeling of family. When you walk through the streets, you greet other people.

Forty years ago, when my grandmother lived here, women would meet with each other and make food together.

I’m very busy. I work, so I don’t have the time to be with people, or with my neighbors, but I still feel the strong sense of family in Jaffa.

Housing

We have a central problem in Jaffa, which is the housing problem. Because of the limited size of Jaffa and the population growth, there are not enough apartments, and all of the new buildings are expensive. Many grandiose apartment buildings are built, not for the locals, apart from the rich people. The youth can’t find anything for themselves, which makes me think about my children. Where can they go when they need to buy or rent an apartment? I don’t know if it’s possible for them to have their own place. This concerns me a lot.

I’m used to seeing how apartments are offered to Jews. Sometimes it’s not said directly that Jews don’t sell to Arabs. On the other hand, Arabs do sell and rent to Jews. When I was looking to rent an apartment, I wasn’t able to find one, and I know for certain that it had to do with me being Arab—when they knew that I was Arab.

We all feel how difficult it is. Everyone who is Jewish can live in Jaffa and can also work anywhere.

For the Arabs in Jaffa, the city is their home. I can’t live in Bat Yam. It’s not my home, and it’s not as if they would accept me either. Even if I were offered a place in Hod HaSharon, I would live there alone and there would be no feeling of family. In any case, I don’t think that an Israeli who has never met an Arab would let me rent there. 

Education

Children who finish school in Jaffa don’t continue their education since they don’t have the opportunity to continue. Their education level isn’t good enough to continue. Instead, they find jobs, such as working at Aroma [Israeli coffee bar chain]. We need to work on this. A lot of work is needed to fix this problem.

Because there is no horizon, girls between the ages of 14-16 don’t have dreams. It feels as if they only think about marriage, so they get engaged around 17-18, and marry soon afterwards.

When I meet them after they are married, around the ages 23-30, they tell me that they want to work. I look at them, and I see that they didn’t study. And they can only work until 2pm in order to still be able to pick their children up from school. That means that they can only find work as caretakers or cleaners.

I went to a French school in Jaffa. It was a private school, a serious one. From an early age I knew that I was going to study in university. I knew that I wanted to study and my parents encouraged me. I didn’t go to a private school, because my parents were rich. My father worked a lot because it was important to my parents for their children to be educated.

If you go to government-funded schools, you will find a lot of poverty, violence, and so on. Nobody tells the children to do their homework. Nobody encourages them. When these children find love, they think that this is it—they found their potential. Usually their choices are not wise. When you’re 16, you don’t know how to find love. Sometimes they divorce later. Sometimes they leave their marriages in the beginning. Sometimes there is a lot of violence.

There are many of those girls. Their horizons finish at an early age.

On the other hand, you will find girls who study in private schools who continue their studies afterwards. Although more rare, there are also girls in public schools who do this. I would like for most girls to lead and to know what they want. Even if they wish to stay at home and to raise children, they should still feel like they have every opportunity to do what they want.

Today I pass on to my children what I was given. They know that they are going to study. My son saw me study, so he views this as a model to follow. I also taught my daughter that education is more important than marriage, and she told me that she wouldn’t get married early. I wish all girls would think like this.

Early Marriage

There is a phenomenon of early marriage. I think ten years ago there was more of a tendency to get married at the age of 18. Now it’s even earlier. The average age moves up and down with time.

It’s easier for families with many children to have their daughter married off sooner. But marriage at an early age is dangerous because the girls will have a greater chance to end up in a bad place. A young girl is not strong enough. Sometimes she will experience jealousy coming from her partner. For example, many boys will tell the girls, “Don’t go to school. There are boys there. I don’t want them to flirt with you.” Girls often perceive this as a sign of love, especially if the girls already consider school to be a burden.

I remember I had this period in my life. I wanted to not be in school, so I could have faced the temptations of not going to school and doing homework. It would have been nice to hear that I didn’t need it.

But the parents of these girls need to encourage them. The schools also have a responsibility to learn how to encourage them. And the children have a responsibility as well. It’s a topic that will influence their lives.

It’s less problematic to get a divorce today, but it’s still not easy. Especially if the woman doesn’t work. Some women stay in relationships, even if there is violence. It’s not easy to be alone, especially if you have many children, and if there isn’t enough space to stay in your parents’ home. The woman needs a lot of money to finance her family. She will need a bachelor’s degree at least. A woman who works in cleaning will earn 4000 shekels a month, and all of that will go to rent. 

Arous Elbahar

I have two master’s degrees, one in social work, the other in business management. During my master’s degree in social work, I took many courses related to gender and women’s issues. I learned about different tendencies, phenomena, and women’s needs. 

At the age of 19, I wanted to help women and to influence women’s lives. It wasn’t something that I had wanted to do from a young age. That’s why I chose to study to be a social worker at the time.

In 2007, I established Arous Elbahar, a center for women. It provides a platform for women’s voices and gives help for women’s needs. We work within many fields, from employment to entrepreneurship to women in management positions. 

"Jaffadolls" produced by women in Arous Elbahar

"Jaffadolls" produced by women in Arous Elbahar

I, myself, am an entrepreneur. I love to create things and to manage projects. When I started this center, it was like a project. As a previous social worker, I’d met with women and found that there was a lack of a place such as this one. And the center was accepted from the beginning.

Family

My mother’s brothers live in Gaza. I talk to them on the phone and on Whatsapp. They come here sometimes because they are businessmen, so they have permits to leave.

I’ve been to Gaza before, but it was before 2000, when the border was still open.

Because they are my mother’s brothers, she really worried about them during the last war in Gaza. Everything happened right next to them. The war could have killed them. It was all very distressing. They live in fear.

Her family is a strong family, economically that is, but the money didn’t help anyone. They couldn’t even go to Egypt because it was closed. Perhaps their situation was better financially, but it didn’t really help them. As my uncle said, “In Syria, they can leave if they have the money. In Gaza they can’t.” They can’t run away, or perhaps they can, but only for a little while.

It’s difficult when you see people hurt. It makes them and the situation more human for you when you see your family affected. It hurts. Even if only one family member is killed, it’s a disaster for the entire family.

My family in Gaza is from Jaffa. They left in 1948. They love Jaffa because of their roots, but I’m not sure if they would like to move back since they have settled in Gaza and my uncle set up a business there. Their children got married there. Gaza is where the center of their lives is.  

They have lived relatively well. Recently my mother asked them if they would want to go to Jordan, since they have the opportunity. But they don’t want to go, because Gaza is the center of their lives. 

Identity

I label myself differently in terms of where I am. If I’m in Jordan or Turkey, I say that I’m Palestinian. If I’m in the USA, I could say that I’m Israeli, or I could say I’m an Arab-Palestinian who lives in Israel.

Today there is more of a tendency to say Palestinian. Sometimes I say Palestinian, but some people still say Arab-Israeli. It doesn’t bother me. I understand that there are different labels. People will say things, because they are used to it, especially elderly people. They are not used to the new terms. Twenty years ago it wasn’t acceptable to say Palestinians.

The academic discussion about labeling has also changed. It was only around the 90s that it began being talking about.

There is a common [Palestinian] identity, but of course the challenges that a woman faces who lives in a refugee camp are very different than those of a woman who lives here in Jaffa. But we do have a common identity.

When we hear about the pain of other Palestinians elsewhere, or when people go to demonstrate in Gaza, we try to help.

I have a divided family. We have family in Gaza, in Jordan, and elsewhere. But we don’t have any more in common other than the fact that we are family. 

Politics

I’m not very active politically. I didn’t grow up in a political family. Some people grew up in families that were affiliated with specific groups. During elections we would vote, but it stopped there.

My actions were more focused on community work for women. After some time, however, I noticed that the problems were not only communal, but political as well. Nonetheless, we can’t all be doing the same thing. Some people do things very well politically, but I’ll do things on a community level to help them in a different capacity.

I do think that my work is indirectly political, in terms of helping women know where they stand. I didn’t see it as political in the beginning, but it is. For example, most people, such as men, would prefer for the status of women to continue to be what it is, and Israel would prefer for Palestinians to live as they live today. So every change that is social, is also political.