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The newest Israeli-Palestinian fault line: gentrification

Jewish newcomers to the traditionally Arab district of Jaffa in Tel Aviv – arriving for cheaper rents and sea views – are driving development that is putting pressure on poorer Arab residents.

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For decades Israelis avoided Tel Aviv's biblical forerunner. It was seen by many as an Arab den of crime and drugs. But now that bourgeois Israelis have discovered Jaffa's ancient charm, the traditionally Arab coastal neighborhood of Ajami grinds with building crews throwing up condominiums with expansive – and expensive – sea views.

Powered by a real estate boom, Jaffa is undergoing a wave of development as Tel Aviv invests millions of dollars to build a new seafront park, and tourism operators prepare to open several boutique hotels.

It's a familiar pattern of gentrification, except the building in Jaffa has aggravated the fault line of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, stirring nationalism in a district known for its quiescence and in a city known as Israel's capital of urbanity.

"For 40 years, they didn't take care of us. Now that they want to make it nice, they want to put us out on the street, so rich people will come here," says Amina Agarbiyeh. "I've always been for coexistence. I've never felt discrimination. Now I feel it in my flesh."

Ms. Agarbiyeh has lived on Kedem Street's sea cliff since moving to Ajami as a young girl in the 1960s. In recent months, accused of illegal renovations, Agarbiyeh's family of four has become one of nearly 500 households to be served with eviction papers.

Activists, residents, and planners see the wave of expulsion notices as a part of a government plot to clear Ajami of poor Arabs renting on public land so it can be sold to developers to build housing for the middle and upper class, who are overwhelmingly Jewish.

"This is what I call economic [population] transfer," says Kamal Agarbiyeh, a chair of the Ajami neighborhood committee who is not related to Amina. "They're coming with guns loaded and saying get out or I'll shoot. Except they're loaded with dollars not bullets."


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