Saturday, 21 April 2018

Narrow vocabulary 'hits pupils' grades'

Monosyllabic adolescents may be nothing new, but the latest research suggests a big chunk of them do not know enough words to do well at school.

According to academics, four out of 10 pupils in their first year of secondary school have such a limited vocabulary that it is affecting their learning.

Many teachers from the 800 secondaries involved in the Oxford University Press research say the problem is worsening.

They blame the "word gap" on too little reading for pleasure.

Studies suggest breadth of vocabulary is strongly influenced by the number of words a child comes into contact with on a daily basis.

This includes conversations with parents, siblings and friends, as well as what they read.

'Struggle'
The report, focusing on schools in England, says the number of pupils with limited vocabulary remains "stubbornly high" across all age groups, despite a range of programmes addressing literacy.

And 80% of the teachers surveyed said children with limited vocabulary would find it "extremely challenging" to understand test papers.

A very high proportion of the teachers said the word gap held back progress in not just English (91%), but in history (90%), geography (86%) and religious studies (78%).

Many teachers blame the problem on youngsters not reading enough for pleasure

Lionel Bolton, of the Oxford University Press, said: "Whether a child is 11 years old and in Year 7, or 16 years old and in Year 11, if there are words in a task that they do not understand, they will struggle to complete the task.

"The 11-year-old is likely to be able to ask for help or access a dictionary; a 16 year old in their GCSE exam cannot.

"And if they do understand all the words in the task, if their vocabulary is lower than their age, their written response may be less articulate, less effective, and ultimately achieve a lower mark.

"This of course is not new - it has ever been thus.

"But with the changes that have been brought in by the new GCSE exams - increased rigour, removal of controlled assessment, and tiering in most subjects - the vocabulary challenges posed are even more pronounced."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders - and an English teacher for 32 years - said: "In reality the word gap will depend on your circumstances rather than your choices - your home, your family, the richness of language and relations, the presence of books and conversations, the habits you form as you grow up.

"These are things largely beyond our control."

(Source: BBC)

'This land is just dirt': A rooftop view of Jerusalem

For its Season of Culture, the ancient capital has thrown open its rooftops to encourage residents to see beyond their blinkered boundaries. But the reality is a city where the divides are growing deeper, writes Hannah Ellis-Petersen in the Guardian. Read on:

The rooftops of Jerusalem can be deceptive. From up here, the domes and towers of the hundreds of churches, mosques and synagogues glimmer on the skyline in what seems like peaceful coexistence; the neighbourhoods below come together in a unified sprawl.

But down below, it is a city defined by barriers. They may not be as tangible as the towering security wall that divides Israel and the Palestinian territories a few miles east, but they are just as divisive and inviolable. Living side by side in Jerusalem are communities who exist with no interaction with one another – kept apart by fear, nationalism and religion.

To some extent it has long been thus, and not just between Israelis and Palestinians. There is also segregation along secular and ultra-orthodox lines, and the residual hierarchy between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews that emerged when Israel was created in 1948. Of the 900,000 residents of Jerusalem, 37% are Palestinians, 32% are ultra-Orthodox Jews and the rest are made up of secular and religious nationalist Jews and the tiny Christian population.

A view of East Jerusalem and the separation barrier, taken from the tower of the Augusta Victoria hospital church
While Israelis typically live in the west and Palestinians in the east of Jerusalem, mixed neighbourhoods do exist. In the winding alleys of the old city and the streets of downtown, the diverse inhabitants peacefully cross paths every day. Yet as rightwing nationalism seeps into the culture, and technology threatens the traditional ultra-orthodox way of life, the fractures of Jerusalem are growing deeper. Today communities live, not entwined, but in isolated parallel.

“Fear has become a fact of life here,” says Pnina Pfeufer. “There are many places in Jerusalem I know nothing about, and I’ve lived here my entire life. And I think that’s true of every person who lives here.”

Pfeufer is looking out over the city from atop the Bikur Cholim hospital, where she is a participant in a new city-wide project to open up rooftops, from west to east Jerusalem, that are usually private or inaccessible to the public. Some are art installations; others are the homes of interesting figures, both Israeli and Palestinian. Initiated by Mekudeshet, the Jerusalem Season of Culture, the project aims to encourage people to look beyond their blinkered boundaries and see their city afresh.

Orthodox Jews pass Israeli Defence Forces soldiers in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City
Yet nothing in Jerusalem is apolitical. The foundation that runs Mekudeshet is Israeli, opening Palestinians who take part to accusations of normalising the occupation. What’s more, the only rooftops of Palestinians that were made accessible are in the old city; there are none in east Jerusalem.

“In the mind of many Israelis, there is a black hole called East Jerusalem,” says Mekudeshet’s executive director, Naomi Bloch Fortis. “Nobody knows where it is, what it means, where it starts and ends, what its status is. In the national consciousness, East Jerusalem just means fear. We are on a journey to collaborate with Palestinians, to get to know East Jerusalem and remove that fear. But it is a long journey and very delicate, and to use a rooftop in the heart of East Jerusalem, well, we cannot.”

The project traces a line across a divided city via its rooftops. And the stories of the volunteers who have opened their homes to strangers, regardless of ethnicity or creed, speak to a multi-layered Jerusalem, one rarely seen in a conflict-obsessed news cycle: a colourful, fractious and potent city.

We visited six.

The view from Koko Deri’s roof in Musrara in West Jerusalem
The Israeli Black Panther: ‘I smell the scent of destruction’
Koko Deri’s rooftop is a cornucopia. Piles of chairs, teapots, jugs, masks, stools and carpets obscure every surface. On one wall is a vast oil painting of Napoleon and Josephine, adorned with diamante gems and stickers. “I added in the stuff the artist forgot,” Deri says with a wink.

It is a monument to a lifetime of collecting, and a reflection of the colourfully camp personality of a man in his 60s who has lived in the same house his entire life (“not counting my three times when I lived in jail”). Yet in the 1950s and 60s, when he was growing up here, the building was derelict and Deri’s family had no possessions at all: “Not even underwear.”

His parents were among the millions of Moroccan Sephardic Jews who moved to Israel in 1949 for the promise of an abundant life; instead, they found themselves ghettoised. “The European Ashkenazi Jews lived in the comfortable apartments and decided how the country would be run, and they treated us Arab Jews as suspicious, as the other, almost like slaves,” he says. “We lived in this jungle, the 60% of us, and then there were the 40%, the European Ashkenazi Jews that lived in beautiful apartments, who went to good schools, who lived a totally different life, who were just a mile away. That was the segregated reality of Jerusalem – and it was there right from the beginning of this new society.”

Koko Deri on his rooftop in Musrara
This rooftop once looked out over the barbed wire fence of the green line and the Jordanian sniper watchtowers. After the six-day war in 1967, the green line fence came down – and the view of Jerusalem changed radically. Instead of barbed wire and sniper towers, Deri could see for the first time into life in East Jerusalem, and finally crossed paths with Palestinians, “who we realised were not the monsters we had been told”.

It was here that Deri and 10 others formed the Israeli Black Panther movement in 1971, which fought against the prejudice against Sephardic Jews, most of whom had emigrated from Arab countries. It was inspired by its US namesake: “We were the black Jews, you see.”

Their street protests in the early 1970s, which attracted crowds of over 10,000, would often end in clashes with the police, but “it was not only violent”, says Deri. “One of our first actions was in the Ashkenazi neighbourhoods, where they would all get their milk delivered at 3am on their doorstep. We would go round and leave notes on the milk bottles, saying: ‘The milk that you are giving to your cat could feed 10 people in Musrara.’”

Indeed, the Israeli Black Panthers initially felt more closely aligned to the Palestinian cause in their fight for equal rights. Deri went to Paris to meet with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, and was invited to the US to meet Malcolm X and Angela Davis. After the Yom Kippur war in 1973, the movement fractured, but the battle lines are still present.

A shot taken from Deri’s rooftop
“Back then, we were fighting about human rights, not religion,” says Deri. “Now, when I look out, I smell the scent of destruction in Jerusalem. This society as we know it in Jerusalem and in Israel has about 20 years left and after that it will implode. And that’s not because of outside enemies, it will be what we have done to ourselves with religion. Even in biblical times, that’s what happened; the settlers are the modern-day zealots. It’s already starting – you can feel it in Jerusalem right now. Today it is a city filled with hate.”

The view from Abu Yehia’s roof in the Old City
The repentant jihadist: ‘The angels sit with me on this roof’
As a young Palestinian man, Abu Yehia was “filled with anger and hate”, he says, as he pours lemonade afloat with fresh mint leaves and the call to prayer rings out across the rooftops.

His Muslim Quarter home, which his family has owned for hundreds of years and once served as a bathhouse, is so close to al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City that you’re almost perching on top of the black dome. Like Deri, he too served time in jail for violence and protest – but on the other side of the conflict.

“Thirty years ago, I was part of the Islamic jihad,” he says. He would roam the streets of Jerusalem, blinded by loathing for his Jewish neighbours. “They were my biggest enemy. But I ended up in jail for five years – and there I saw everything. I realised my life was being wasted. My wife divorced me, I lost my house, I didn’t even have my own clothes, I’d lost everything. And I just thought, ‘What was it all for? Why did God send me here, in this cell detained with 10 other people?’ It made me realise the path I had chosen was wrong, that I needed to find another path.”

Abu Yehia: ‘I ended up in jail for five years – and there I realised my life was being wasted’
His rooftop sits at a symbolic crossroads: it overlooks not only al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock but is also situated in a holy triangle between the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (one of the holiest sites for Christians) and the western wall (one of the holiest sites for Jews). Here, in the shadow of three of Jerusalem’s most religiously significant monuments, Abu Yehia follows his new path: he invites strangers of all religions to come and share dinner.

“From eating together comes conversation and understanding,” he says. “All three religions are here on this roof. It is a holy place. Sometimes I sit here and I pray to God and I feel that the angels come and sit here with me. Up here it does not matter if you are a Muslim or a Jew: we are all just human beings. Real peace will only come when we remember this. And I’m talking about real peace – not the peace that politicians speak about – and that’s why I open up my house, to bring people together with food.”

He gestures to a vast platter of yellow rice, then to the heavens. “My real place is up there, and there is only one question when you go: what did you do? Were you a terrorist or did you create peace?”

Pnina Pfeufer on the roof of Bikur Cholim hospital
The Orthodox Jewish feminist: ‘The Haredim, they build walls’
All Jerusalemites stay within their communities to some extent, but none more so than the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population: the Haredim. Standing on top of the rooftop of Haredi hospital Bikur Cholim, Pnina Pfeufer looks down at the people bustling below, riding bicycles or pushing prams, recognisable by their distinctive clothing: men in long black coats and wide-brimmed black hats, their faces framed by two ringlets of hair; the women dressed modestly in long skirts, most often wearing headscarves or wigs, with their real hair shaved off.

Pfeufer has lived in this city all her life, but until three years ago she had never set foot in East Jerusalem. She is not unusual. “The Haredim have less and less need to go out of our own neighbourhoods,” she says, “and that creates more separation.”

In Jerusalem, they have practically built their own city within a city. In order to cloister their way of life from the corruption of secular modern society, they have their own schools, shopping malls, sports clubs, parks and hospitals. Smartphones are outlawed in all schools and most homes, as is the internet. (There are sanctions if you use a smartphone without a rabbi’s permission, or if a student is found to have a computer at home.)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in West Jerusalem


Women in particular face an endless list of restrictions. In 2016, the Israeli Supreme Court had to ban signs instructing women not to use the main street in an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood, and ultra-Orthodox leaders lobbied to omit women’s faces from adverts on buses. The Haredim also happen to be the fastest-growing population in Jerusalem.

Pfeufer, meanwhile, is the rarest of gems: a feminist who was raised ultra-Orthodox with aspirations for political office. “The things about being ultra-Orthodox is that you’re meant to fit into a box very neatly,” says Pfeufer. “The Haredi community was created 200 years ago in Europe as a counterculture to the reform movement and emancipation, and it still is a counterculture today. The one thing you can say about all Haredi groups is that they build walls.”

Yet, as the world becomes ever more reliant on technology, the Haredim’s entire way of life is under threat. A lucrative market has emerged in Jerusalem creating tech that caters for the ultra-Orthodox, including smartphones with filtering software. “But rejecting technology isn’t working,” says Pfeufer. “The younger generation are accessing the internet, they are using technology. And it’s becoming impossible to live and function in the world. There are Haredi people who one day opened the internet and suddenly, boom, the entire world came at them in their early 20s. That can be very unsettling. For some people, it’s a trigger for leaving the community entirely.”

A Haredi woman in West Jerusalem
Pfeufer is a testament to the fact that not all Haredim live within these confines. More ultra-Orthodox men and women are taking degrees and entering the general workplace. Yet a Haredi woman has yet to take political office, which makes Pfeufer’s ambitions to be elected to the Jerusalem city council highly provocative. Moreover, her politics lean to the left, directly opposing the rightwing nationalist shift in the Haredi community as a whole.

She also began a Haredi feminist group, which has hundreds of members, and fights for women’s access to education and media debate. But she feels the segregation of the city acutely. “More hardcore traditional Haredim see the fact that I’m a woman as more of a threat, and working people who tend to be more rightwing nationalist, more Zionist, see my opinions as more of a threat.” She offers a sad smile.

A view from the roof of the Clal Centre on Jaffa Road
The artist: ‘In the end, this land is just dirt’
The Clal Centre encapsulates the strange contradictions of Jerusalem. Inside, a shop selling Torah scrolls neighbours a lingerie emporium. It is home to Jerusalem’s only sex shop, yet the top floors of the building are occupied and owned by an Evangelical Christian group who sing songs of worship non-stop for days. It’s in a mixed cosmopolitan area, but the rooftop – where artist Sharon Glazberg is hosting a live installation – overlooks ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods, including the Prima Palace hotel favoured by the ultra-Orthodox for going on escorted dates.

Glazberg chose to use its strange neutrality as a place to bring the most contested and holy soil in the city: a vast pile of red earth, dug up from beneath al-Aqsa mosque, the place the Jews call Temple Mount and the Muslims call al-Haram al-Sharif, which contains what she calls “the ashes” of the Jewish temple destroyed in AD70. Glazberg has animated the soil: it moves up and down as if it is alive and breathing.

Sharon Glazberg on the roof of the Clal Centre
“When you isolate things, take them out of their context, you can look at them a little bit differently,” she says of the soil, which she obtained from an archeological project. “And a new perspective on Temple Mount is definitely hard to find in Jerusalem.”

Indeed, it’s a provocative idea in a city that just three months ago was rocked with violent clashes over the holy site, fuelled by the stabbings of Israeli police and the installation of metal detectors at its gates. A couple look at the installation with disbelief and amusement. “This is just the sort of thing that will spark the third intifada,” says one with a wry laugh.

Yet she feels her audience’s harmonious reaction says as much as the violence.

Glazberg’s installation on the Clal Centre rooftop, which features 2.5 cubic metres of earth dug up from under Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif
A footprint in the earth
Seven people aerate the mount’s dirt for seven days
“It’s really beautiful how people come here and treat it completely differently. Yesterday, a Haredi came here and prayed for an hour with closed eyes, so intensely, and when he left he just took a bit of the ashes. And a Christian woman asked if I could leave some of the earth here, because she wanted to come here again. People have left me songs they wrote about Jerusalem, really beautiful things. Someone even played the flute.”

Glazberg laments that few Palestinians have been able to see the work, typical of a liberal Israeli echo chamber. “There has not been enough of a Muslim audience, to my disappointment,” she says. “It is definitely the weak point of the work, of so many things that happen in this city.”

Hyperventilation – an installation by Ayela Landow on the roof of the Clal Centre
Nor has the reaction been uniformly positive. An ultra-Orthodox friend raised objections. “I asked him: ‘We live in a wireless age, why are you placing so much importance on this physical earth?’ And his reply was: ‘Yes, but where does the router sit?’ You see, all the people that fight over this place, they really believe that this earth is the router and from there you get all the best reception for the spirit of God.” She laughs as a wind whips up a layer of the fine red soil into the air.

“To me that’s the problem. Everyone in Jerusalem puts so much on this land, on this soil, which in the end is just dirt.”

Palestinian boys practice parkour on the Galizia roofs, opposite the Dome of the Rock, in the Old City
The parkour gang: ‘The police don’t bother us on the rooftops’
As audiences gather to view an earnest installation involving flags on a rooftop in the Old City, something much more interesting is happening nearby. A group of young Palestinian boys do backflips, jump across the uneven surfaces and vault from dome to dome. On the streets, they get stopped constantly by Israeli police. Up here, the city is theirs.

‘I feel so much more free on the rooftops. The IDF and the police also bother us a lot less’
“We are not as free in a playground as we are on the rooftops, because here people don’t see us. A playground would feel like a trap,” says Mahmoud Shaladi, 13.

Majd Abuattduan, also 13, butts in. “I feel so much more free on the rooftops. The IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] and the police also bother us a lot less on the roofs, though they do still come round here to tell us to stop. Most of us who are doing this sport are trying to keep it healthy and clean – no drugs, no alcohol, no smoking.”

The boys, between the ages of 13 and 17, first saw parkour videos on Facebook, and were given clothes and some tools for practising by a local NGO. Now they come here almost every day.

‘We’re not afraid of the police or the army because everything we do round here, someone will try and stop us anyway’
Even here there are restrictions. “A few of us were arrested because the police told us it was an illegal sport for us to do on the roofs,” says Ahamad Shalodi, 14. “And Israeli families round the neighbourhood are also giving us a hard time. We used to have mattresses around here to practice on, which we used to hide, but they got burned. But we’re not afraid of the police or the army because everything we do round here, someone will try and stop us anyway.”

They look with bemusement at the art that has temporarily taken up residence in the rooftop domain they have long claimed as their own. Soon it will be gone, and they can reclaim their training ground. “I don’t know what those flags are,” says Hamzah Salem, 17, casting only a glance over at the work. “We’ve been seeing it for a few days, but no one has explained it to us. It’s not for us and we’ve been told to move.”

The view from the roof of the Citadel youth hostel in the Old City
The hostel owner: ‘The inequality is getting worse’
October 2015 was the last time Jerusalem was really convulsed by violence. But for Chris Alami, a Palestinian who has lived in the Old City all his life and runs one its most popular youth hostels, it is not religious violence that splinters Jerusalem but economic inequality. The Israeli government is pushing to make its mark on every corner of the city, he says – but it only invests in neighbourhoods without Palestinians.

“The face of the city is changing, architecturally and in terms of infrastructure, but not to benefit us,” says Alami from his hostel roof, where as part of Mekudeshet he is inviting people to sleep overnight for free. “Everyone pays the same exact taxes, but you go to Damascus Gate [in the Muslim Quarter] and you see fewer street cleaners, fewer garbage bins and fewer street lights, but more soldiers.”

He grows angrier. “And it’s even worse in Palestinian neighbourhoods like Silwan. You don’t see paved streets, and there will be just one big garbage bin overflowing with rubbish. That tells the Palestinians who live here: ‘You are not welcome here, we don’t want your streets to be clean, for you to be comfortable.’ And that inequality is getting worse.”

Hannah Ellis-Petersen takes in the view from the roof of the Citadel youth hostel
While the current consensus is that another intifada is unlikely anytime soon, Alami says the tensions of the city are palpable. “I’ve been fined so many times, been prosecuted for things that were so unreasonable, even jailed for one month,” he says. The poverty and police harassment has led him to believe Jerusalem is “a slingshot that is getting stretched and stretched and stretched, and one day soon it’s going to be launched”.

Alami’s family have lived in Jerusalem for more than 700 years, since the times of the Crusades. From his roof, which offers one of the best views over the Old City, he points to the churches, mosques and synagogues that are monuments to regimes past and empires fallen. “Look, nobody here lasted,” Alami says. “Not the Romans, not the Turks, not the Christians, not the Muslims, not the Jews, not the British. No matter how powerful they were, no matter how great they were, no one has lasted in Jerusalem. In the end, Jerusalem has always belonged to Jerusalemites only.”

A final shot from the roof of the Citadel youth hostel
Note: All photographs by David Levene

Friday, 20 April 2018

Raising good wives & bad husbands: This Kerala woman’s viral post is a must-read!

No one questions the different standards that are set for boys or girls, and continue to follow them blindly.

Patriarchy often shows its colour in various forms. Sometimes it is a blatant “girls should not (insert activity of choice)” and sometimes it is very subtle, almost invisible.

And then, in some families and some parts of the society, patriarchy wears the veil of normalcy. No one questions the different standards that are set for boys or girls, and continue to follow them blindly.

Jaseena Backer, a psychologist and gender expert, had such a conversation with her domestic help one day.

The help was blaming her daughter-in-law for being an “inadequate” wife because she could not stop her husband’s drinking habits.


To Jaseena, this was a part of a much larger picture—that of bringing up boys and girls in a completely different fashion. It was even larger than letting the boys enjoy uninhibited freedom while restricting girls.

“The Indian society has spent centuries grooming young girls to be future good wives (sanskaari bahus), yet fails to produce good husbands who deserve them. This makes these girls grow up to feel that they have to cater to childish, juvenile behaviour in their marriages,” Jaseena says in her post.

Read the full story about Jaseena’s take on why girls should not be raised as future wives here.


Woman what are you?

“My son drinks. My daughter-in-law is no good. She isn’t able to stop him nor keep a contorol” my domestic help was complaining to me.

“Only if the woman who comes home to be a wife is good will the husband turn out to be good,” she judgementalised.

You have to be a good woman, respectful, because one day you will be someone’s wife, you will have to learn family morals… what it is to be a good woman????

“She has been married to him for 8 years and I wonder what the hell she has been doing all these years of marriage? She lamented.

“What were you doing for 28 years?” I asked her
“Means?” she questioned.

“Your son has been with you 28 years before marriage and what were you doing then to correct him?” I asked her.

“I am the mother I have limitations and he wont listen to me. She is a wife she should control him,” she said.

“What you couldn’t do for son in 28 years you expect her to do in 8 years?” I asked her.

“Men are like raw mangoes. The wife can be good and let the mango ripen, and if the wife is bad then she will rotten the mango,” was her organic explanation.

“Did you tell your daughter-in-law before marriage that your son was a drunkard,” I asked her.

“No, I got him married thinking the wife will fix it all,” she told me blatantly.

There are so many things I find problematic with statements like the above one. It’s strenuous; we have to keep repeating the same things. The problem is not becoming a wife; it is setting the standard to become a wife rather than her own individual first. It’s suppressive and regressive.

“So she can actually sue you for selling her a rotten mango,” I couldn’t contain my laughter.

The India society has spent centuries grooming girls to be future good wives( sanskaari bahu), yet failing to produce good husbands who deserve them. This makes girls grow up to feel they have to cater to childish juvenile behaviour in their marriages.

In this patriarchal society we live in, there is a notion that, “girls are more mature than boys at a particular given age,” and that is one monumental social constructs. Girls aren’t more mature than boys their age mentally. Therefore wives are not officially teachers, mentors or coaches for their husbands.

Indian society has just given one gender the freedom to be careless, carefree, and disorganized. While the other to conform to the poised and acceptable behaviour expected of a good wife.

Instead of directing all the energy to teaching girls how to be “good wives”, 50% of it need to be directed toward boys. In the similar fashion some of the energy directed towards teaching boys how to pave their own way should also be directed toward girls. An apt balance of gender in parenting.

No uncles and grandfathers will have a talk to a man before marriage on being a good husbands. While too many women are left to think their self worth is dependent on their ability to cater to a man.

Here is something for you women- don’t fall into the trap that you have to correct the man all the time. Men do not like to me mothered by their wives.. They have one mother which is more than enough for them.

However, the coming generation of husband and wife will usher in some changes as the world is evolving for the better.

We as the next generation of parents ought to raise all children to be accountable, responsible and well behaved irrespective of gender. No one should be given a special benefit of any gender.

When the society blames everything (parenting/ divorces etc) that goes wrong in a marriage on women or feminism, what they actually try to reinstate is that the world cannot function well because the modern woman refuses to bow down to suffer.

That’s the fact….. and we are getting there

Women, you are NOT rehabilitation centers for badly raised men.

It is NOT your job to fix him, change him, parent him or raise him.

You want a partner, not a project.

Jaseena Backer

Disclaimer: Yes,"Not all Men"

(Source: TBI)

'Haifa is essentially segregated': Cracks appear in Israel's capital of coexistence

For decades, Haifa has been Israel’s model of what a ‘mixed’ Jewish-Arab city could be. But as the country’s 70th anniversary nears, the strain is showing, writes Ian Black in the Guardian. Read on: 

Ben-Gurion Boulevard climbs from the bustling port on Haifa’s Mediterranean shore up Mount Carmel towards the famous Bahai shrine, its gleaming golden dome surrounded by lush terraced gardens. On the south side of the palm-lined road, on a spring lunchtime, the Fattoush restaurant is packed with customers chatting noisily in Arabic and Hebrew over Levantine and fusion salads, cardamom-flavoured coffee and exquisite Palestinian knafeh desserts.

Fashionable eateries like Fattoush are one reason why Israel’s third largest city and its biggest “mixed” one, as officially classified, is held up as a model of Jewish-Arab coexistence. Not everyone agrees with the concept, of course, and the “c” word is often qualified, placed in inverted commas, or simply dismissed as propaganda. Official figures say Arabs make up 14% of Haifa’s 280,000-strong population; unofficial estimates are closer to 18%, swelled by students and commuters from nearby Galilee. Public spaces, at least, are open to all. And the ever-present Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, usually, softer-edged than elsewhere in the country.

“I prefer to talk of shared existence rather than coexistence,” says Yona Yahav, the veteran Jewish mayor. “Haifa’s Jews and Arabs are the same Jews and Arabs as in Jerusalem, but here things work in a stable way.”

Yahav’s office is lined with portraits of his predecessors, the first two wearing Ottoman tarbooshes. The street outside bears the name of one of them, Hassan Bey Shukri. Yahav flourishes a copy of a Hebrew newspaper notice mourning Shukri’s death in 1940. “I can promise you that this won’t happen if I die,” he jokes. He is also keen to point out that his secretary, Reem, is an Arab. “I can’t tell you that all Jews love Arabs and vice versa, but people do feel safe here.”

No one questions that the city is special. “If all of Israel and Palestine could be like Haifa, I’d be happy,” muses Amjad Iraqi, a twentysomething Palestinian intellectual. “It’s not lovey-dovey. Life is essentially segregated but every community accepts that you can do your own thing. It’s not perfect, but it’s still better than everywhere else.” Asaf Ron, who runs the municipally funded Beit Ha’Gefen cultural centre, argues that it is all about promoting empathy. “Many Israeli Jews don’t know any Arabs. We need to break down stereotyping and fear.”

Wadi Nisnas, a predominantly Arab neighbourhood. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
Ayman Odeh, Israel’s most prominent Arab politician, lives in the Kababir neighbourhood, with its handsome mosque and stunning views over an azure sea. He also believes his home town is different. He served on the city council before being elected to the Knesset in 2015. “The situation between Jews and Arabs has always been better in Haifa than anywhere else in Israel, but it is far from equal,” he insists. “The mood is good and there is a sense of sanity. But it is not an island.”

The local HQ of Odeh’s party, the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, is on Ben-Gurion Boulevard opposite Fattoush. It is ironic that the street is named after David Ben-Gurion, the Jewish state’s founder and first prime minister. But there are many similar examples: the Istiqlal (“Independence”) mosque is at the junction of Shavei Zion (“Returnees to Zion”) and Kibbutz Galuyot (“the Ingathering of the Exiles”) streets. Zionism Avenue snakes across the Carmel to the downtown Arab quarter of Wadi Nisnas.

Identity issues will be in the air in Haifa this month and next when Israel celebrates the 70th anniversary of its independence and Palestinians mourn the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, that the 1948 war represented for them. “Arabs don’t take part in Independence Day celebrations,” says Yahav. “They don’t feel it is their holiday.” Johnny Mansour, a historian from the Greek Catholic community, will be joining a “march of return” to some of the hundreds of Arab villages destroyed after the war – the same symbolic commemoration that has triggered the recent deadly upsurge of violence on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Fattoush, proudly flaunting its Palestinian nationalist credentials, will be closed to mark the occasion.

1948: A fateful year
Haifa once represented modernity and progress but feels less dynamic these days. In the twilight years of the Ottoman empire it was the terminus for a branch line of the Damascus-Hejaz railway. Allenby Street is named for the British general who freed the town in 1918, soon after the Balfour declaration backed the establishment of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine. The port opened in 1933, followed by an oil pipeline starting in Iraq. At that time, explains historian Motti Golani, half the Jewish population spoke Arabic. During the second world war, when Italian aircraft bombed the city, Jews and Arabs huddled together in basements.

By 1948, the population was 70,000 Jews and 65,000 Arabs. But war changed that. In April, as fighting raged and the British prepared to leave, all but 3,000 Arabs were expelled or fled to Lebanon or the West Bank. The history of that fateful year remains bitterly contested: the Jewish mayor – unaware of military planning – urged Arab leaders to stay but they felt unable to comply with the terms for a truce. Newly arrived Jewish immigrants moved into abandoned homes in Wadi Salib. Many houses, defined as “absentee property”, are now in a state of advanced decline. The city’s flea market is held in the shadow of a crumbling Turkish bathhouse, Hammam al-Pasha. Impressive new glass and steel towers, housing the city’s courts, loom over the ruins.

Arab refugees from Haifa disembarking at Port Said, Egypt in 1948. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images
Haifa occupies an important place in Palestinian collective memory thanks to local luminaries such as Emile Habibi and Toufik Toubi. Habibi wrote the best-known novel by a Palestinian in Israel: The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist. Etched on his grave are the words: “I remain in Haifa.” Acre-born Ghassan Kanafani, assassinated by the Mossad, captured the essence of the conflict in his novella Return to Haifa, in which a visiting Palestinian refugee encounters an Israeli woman who survived Auschwitz. Palmer Gate, the entrance to the port, is where Holocaust survivors came ashore and terrified Palestinians fled by boat to Acre or Beirut, mostly never to return.

‘Coexistence is not equality’
Emile’s shawarma restaurant – Haifa’s legendary best – is always crowded. Abu Shaker, near the port, serves superb hummus. Both are no-frills Arab-run establishments with large Hebrew signs outside and a majority of Jewish customers. But the city’s reputation for inter-communal harmony can be illustrated by even more impressive – if non-culinary – achievements: 32% of the doctors at the Rambam hospital are Arabs. Arabic is heard in Haifa’s shops and on its streets and buses in a way that it rarely is in West Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. The offices and clinics of Arab lawyers and dentists line the streets of overwhelmingly Jewish and upmarket residential areas. In other “mixed” Israeli cities like Jaffa, Ramle and Lod, Arabs are poorer and less socially mobile.

Hadar HaCarmel, up the hill from Wadi Salib, is Haifa’s most diverse neighbourhood. In its western quarter, 60% of the population is Arab. On Masada Street, a hipster cafe culture has blurred ethnic differences that are normally easy to spot. “Coexistence!” shrugs Arik, a Jewish antiques dealer. “In Haifa there’s no choice.” Yossi, who runs a nearby record shop, lives in Kababir; Walid, an Arab architect, in the largely Jewish area of Merkaz HaCarmel.

Haifa’s tolerance is tested at regular intervals. In October 2000, at the start of the second intifada, 13 Arab citizens were shot dead by police while demonstrating in solidarity with their kinfolk in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Yahav’s predecessor ensured the city remained calm. It was harder three years later when a woman suicide bomber from Jenin blew herself up and killed 21 others in Maxim’s restaurant – jointly owned by Jews and Arabs. In the Lebanon war of 2006, a missile fired by Hezbollah killed two elderly Arabs. Successive Israeli wars against Hamas in Gaza – in 2008-9, 2012 and again in 2014 – saw anger flare. “In Haifa, Arabs and Jews live alongside each other, but when there is tension they move apart,” argues Amjad Shbita of Sikkuy, the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality. “Haifa’s coexistence is the best in Israel, but it can still be easily damaged.”

Palestinians in Haifa and across Israel have grown closer to relatives and friends beyond the pre-1967 “green line” border with the West Bank, but their lives are very different and they have their own issues close to home. In 2013, protests erupted over a government plan to demolish the homes of“unrecognised” Bedouin communities in the Negev and build a Jewish town. Two years ago, after an unusually hot autumn, fires consumed large areas of the Carmel, triggering accusations by rightwing Jewish politicians of an “arson intifada” – though no one was ever charged.

A Palestinian refugee stands next to graffiti depicting assassinated Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani. Photograph: Nasser Nasser/AP
Haifa-based NGOs have their work cut out tackling discrimination in social services and budget allocations. The worst poverty is in Halissa, a mainly Arab neighbourhood where violence is blamed on rivalry between Bedouin clans and relocated collaborators from the West Bank. “The Israeli idea of coexistence is about a majority and a minority – the strong and the weak,” observes Tom Mehager of Adalah (Justice), which is devoted to securing the rights of Israel’s Arab citizens – and has vocally condemned the army’s killing of Palestinians in Gaza. “Coexistence is not equality. Speaking the same language and eating hummus together doesn’t mean Jews and Arabs are equal.” Jafar Farah, who runs the Mossawa (Equality) centre, compares the relationship between the two peoples to one between “a rider and a horse”. And that, he insists, “is how Yona Yahav deals with the Arab community in Haifa.”

‘In Haifa it’s not hate, but not love either’
Education provides important insights. In Haifa, as elsewhere, Jewish and Arab children mostly attend separate schools. Many Arab children (the majority are Christians), study in fee-paying church schools, and a few dozen in Jewish ones. There are no Jews in Arab public schools, where standards are poor. The curricula are different too. “People want to stay within their own communities to speak in their native languages, have days off on their own holidays, and learn about their own history, culture and religion,” says Asaf Ron. “Assimilation through attending the other community’s schools is a free choice that almost no one chooses.”

 The whole country is based one separation in a very profound way
Merav Ben-Nun, Yad beyad

The Yad beyad (“Hand in Hand”) private network of bilingual schools complains about long waiting lists and a struggle to secure municipal support. In its kindergarten in Hadar, Arab and Jewish six-year-olds sing songs and are captivated by nursery rhymes that interchange Hebrew and Arabic – a heartwarming but highly unusual sight. “The whole country is based on separation in a very profound way,” says Merav Ben-Nun, its community organiser.

Higher education is a different story. Haifa University is 40% Arab, and the Technion, the Israeli Institute of Technology, 23%, though Arab graduates are unlikely to find jobs in security-related industries. Arab students are younger than Jewish ones, who mostly spend up to three years from the age of 18 doing the compulsory military service from which the vast majority of Arabs are exempt. “Arab and Jewish students sit in the same classes but barely speak to each other,” notes Golani. National holidays – Holocaust Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day – feel especially awkward on campus.

Independence Day is celebrated in Haifa with concerts, folk-dancing and firework displays, but the highly polished jewel in the crown of the city’s coexistence narrative is the annual “Festival of Festivals”, held in December to mark Hanukah, Christmas and the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Tens of thousands of Jewish visitors throng the narrow streets of Wadi Nisnas, marvelling at the feeling that they have gone abroad for the weekend. Yahav is especially keen to promote the month-long event.

Older Palestinians tend to be relaxed about this, but younger activists can be contemptuous about condescension or racism towards “colourful” natives. Many are keen to assert their growing self-confidence in the face of what they condemn as Israeli “apartheid and settler colonialism” – in the words of a strategy paper that was drawn up in the cafe Fattoush last December.

The closure of Haifa’s Arab theatre, al-Midan (“The Square”), is cited as an example: state funding was withdrawn after it staged a play about a Palestinian security prisoner. The defiant response was to create an autonomous crowdfunded alternative – al-Khashabi (“The Stage”). Its Arabic-language performances are translated into English, but conspicuously not into Hebrew. “Independent Palestinian institutions do not believe in coexistence,” explains Al-Khashabi’s director, Bashar Murkus. “We believe in dialogue from a position of strength and independence.” His colleague Khoulood Tannous flatly refuses even to use the “c” word. “No one is shelling us here,” she adds. “It’s no Gaza, nor the West Bank. It’s mind games.”

The annual ‘Festival of Festivals’ marks Hanukah, Christmas and
Eid al-Adha. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
Politician Ayman Odeh’s disapproving view is that influence should matter more than identity to Israel’s Palestinian minority, in Haifa and beyond, and that joint struggle is the key to a more equal future. “Arabs are developing autonomy at the expense of Arab-Jewish cooperation,” warns Sikkuy’s Shbita. Neither side harbours illusions about the other. “In Haifa it’s not hate, but there’s not too much love either,” is the stark conclusion of Omer Shaffer, a Jewish Technion postgraduate who was both moved and surprised when an Arab colleague told him to “take care” when he went off to do a stint of reserve army duty at a checkpoint in the West Bank. “It’s pretty indifferent. We’ve found a way to ignore each other without killing each other.”

Up to a third of millennials 'face renting their entire life'

Up to a third of young people face living in private rented accommodation all their lives, a new report by the Resolution Foundation has found.

The think tank said 40% of "millennials" - those born between 1980 and 1996 - were living in rented housing by the age of 30.

That was twice as many as "generation X" - those born between 1965 and 1980.

The government said it was already putting policies in place to improve the housing market.

The Foundation's Home Improvements report said "generation rent" needed much more help. It called for more affordable homes for first-time buyers to be built, as well as better protection for those who rent.

Although renting is often a reasonable choice for people who have few ties, the private rented sector is "far less fit for purpose" for those with children because of a lack of security.

The report reveals that a record 1.8 million families with children rent privately, up from 600,000 15 years ago.

It adds that while housing benefit should be able to help millennial families, its value has been reduced relative to the generation who came before them.

Lindsay Judge, senior policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: "Britain's housing problems have developed into a full-blown crisis and young people are bearing the brunt - paying a record share of their income on housing in return for living in smaller, rented accommodation.

"While there have been some steps recently to support housebuilding and first-time buyers, up to a third of millennials still face the prospect of renting from cradle to grave.

"If we want to tackle Britain's housing crisis we have to improve conditions for the millions of families living in private rented accommodation. That means raising standards and reducing the risks associating with renting through tenancy reform."

'Caught in a cycle of renting'
Leah Wilson is in her early 20s and is living with her parents and cannot afford to get on the housing ladder.

She told Radio 4's Today programme: "I've currently been saving for about two or three years now but I do find it very difficult due to the fact that my wages don't always match my expenditure and I don't always get the opportunity to save every month.

"The prices are just too ridiculous to even consider buying. I think that a lot of people my age turn to renting because it is cheaper in the beginning and you just get caught in a cycle of renting and can't save up."

The report says the tax system should be changed to discourage second home ownership, reducing stamp duty for people who own one home and increasing surcharges for second home owners.

It also calls for "light touch" stabilisation policies to limit rent increases to the rate of inflation over a three-year period.

The experience of those who rent has become much more important politically as the numbers have increased.

The accountancy firm PwC predicts that as the price of owning a home rises, 7.2 million households will be in rented accommodation by 2025, compared with 5.4m now and 2.3m in 2001.

The Labour Party has already proposed a cap on rent increases, along with three-year tenancies and a licensing scheme for landlords.

The party has also said it will build more council houses.


The Liberal Democrats are proposing a "rent-to-buy" scheme to help renters purchase the homes they live in, as well as far more shared ownership and social housing.

A Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: "Our Help to Buy scheme and the recent cut in stamp duty are helping more young first time buyers get on the property ladder. Figures show that we are seeing the highest number of first time buyers for more than a decade.

"But we're also ... giving councils stronger powers to crack down on bad landlords and consulting on stronger protections for tenants themselves."

(Source: BBC)