JAFFA – Dudu Shahafi was despondent. The 33-year-old fisherman stood on the dock next to his boat, washing out ice chests that had contained the day’s catch.
“It’s all been horrible,” said Shahafi. “There’s no fish and what there is, we can’t sell.”
Shahafi, a Jaffa native, has been fishing these waters for 20 years. He usually sells most of his catch of small fish, snails, clams and shrimp to Gaza, averaging about 40 kilograms (88 pounds) a day on the good weeks.
The fish is treif, he said, or nonkosher. “I sell some to the restaurants around here,” he added, pointing to the nearby eateries at the port.
Local fishermen having been having trouble for years in this small port, due to a gradual decline in the fish population of the Mediterranean Sea as well as a recent spate of warm, dry winters that keep the local fish away.
Now they can’t even sell what they catch.
Shahafi said he hasn’t been able to sell fish to Gaza since the June kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrah, which were followed by the kidnapping and murder of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir. It immediately became harder to get anything into Gaza, which is about an hour-and-twelve-minute drive from Jaffa.
Now, he said, “I don’t see it happening for a long time.”
Shahafi isn’t alone in his despair. Throughout the recently renovated Jaffa port, in the quaint quayside cafes and fish restaurants, at the colorful docks and spacious outdoor bars, locals and business owners expressed their frustration about the situation.
The weeks leading up to the ground invasion into Gaza, and now the continuing conflict, heading into its third week, have wreaked havoc on local businesses. The tourists, both local and foreign, just aren’t around, said owners.
Roni Levinson, who owns Kayak4all, a kayak rental business at the port, shook his head, pointing at the kayak he was in the midst of painting.
“You should never see me doing this in the middle of the summer,” he said, spray painting fresh blue paint over a stencil bearing his company’s name. “The issue isn’t even the tourists, it’s that no one’s coming around.”
Levinson said he usually has a group of teenagers from the south each week, kids at risk who spend time on his kayaks as part of their therapeutic activities.
“They’ve been coming once a week for the last two years,” he said.
The teens didn’t make it this Tuesday, after shellfire in the Eshkol region killed four people on Monday afternoon. Their counselors double as security officers, he said, and couldn’t accompany them on the trip up to Jaffa.
Restaurateurs and boat captains sat at the entrances to their businesses, quietly contemplating the subdued port.
“I don’t feel like saying anything,” said one boat owner, who had just waved off a sparsely filled tourist boat departing on an hour-long excursion.
Across the way, the owner of The Old Man and the Sea, a well-known Jaffa fish restaurant, sat drinking his Turkish coffee and smoking a cigarette.
“Tell them everything is fine,” he said.
What doesn’t appear to have changed in Jaffa, the southern, oldest part of Tel Aviv, is the mostly quiet status quo between its resident Arabs and Israelis. The area’s population of 46,000, of which some 16,000 are Arab, has lived in relative peace and quiet for years.
Jaffa is not problem-free. There is, for example, a high rate of crime and violence, as well as a constant battle over whether the Israeli authorities are trying to push Arab residents out of the neighborhood in order to make room for higher-end, gentrified homes.
There are also pockets of coexistence such as the Peres Center for Peace and the Arab Jewish Community Center, both of which host activities for locals looking to share experiences and cultures. The area’s schools, from kindergarten through high school, have mixed classes of Jews and Arabs, creating a bubble of joint life that isn’t always apparent from the outside.
“We live together here; no one bothers us,” said Hani Harawi, the long-time manager of Abouelafia, a well-known restaurant and bakery located near Jaffa’s clock tower. “We’re twins with the Jews. We grow up together, in school, and that’s how we want it to be.”
Abouelafia’s owner, Walid Abouelafia, this week gave his staff new T-shirts made of fluorescent orange mesh and printed with a message of coexistence, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.”
“It’s because of the situation,” said Harawi. “It’s bad now, and it was a lot better before this,” he added, pointing to the nearly empty restaurant, its thick stone walls covered with plaques and certificates awarded to Abouelafia.
According to Harawi, “no one in Jaffa is talking about riots; what bothers us is work,” he said. “We hope this will pass.”
Ditto for Roi Sterman, a bartender, and his fellow staff members at a bar on the port.
“We’re all getting along around here,” he said. “We just don’t have that many customers.”
Some might worry about possible disorder or demonstrations in Jaffa, but it’s not likely, said Bino Gabzo, the 62-year-old owner of Dr. Shakshuka, a Jaffa institution.
The restaurant, which serves hunks of bread with its Tripoli-inspired salads, couscous and shakshuka, usually works with groups from Taglit and the Ministry of Tourism, but it’s remained empty for days, said Gabzo.
“People are slowly getting used to the situation, but most Israelis have family members in the army right now and no one’s in the mood to go out,” said Gabzo, who has been feeding about 1,000 soldiers a day down south. “It’s not just us, it’s all the movie theaters and restaurants.”
The nearby Jaffa market, an upscale indoor space of food stalls, boutiques and souvenirs, was mostly empty, although businesses from the south will fill up the space on Thursday and Friday for a special fair sponsored by the Municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
“I hope it will be different one day,” said Levinson, looking around the port. “We live in a state that this is what you get. You need endless patience to live here.”