In Haifa, Israel sells Palestinian homes as luxury real estate
Haifa, Israel – The city of Haifa sits like a cascading waterfall on the lush green slopes of the Carmel Mountains on the strikingly blue Mediterranean Sea.
It is often portrayed by Israeli officials as well as Western and Israeli media as being a hip, modern city and a model of “coexistence” between Israelis and Palestinians.
But beyond the skyscrapers and rows of cement buildings in Haifa, a small number of pre-1948 Palestinian sandstone homes tell a different story.
Haifa came under the control of Zionist militias in April 1948, three weeks before Israel signed its declaration of independence on May 14, hours before the end of the British Mandate in Palestine at midnight on May 15. The latter date is commemorated annually by Palestinians as the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, marking the violent ethnic cleansing of their country.
By then, Zionist forces had expelled more than 95 percent of Haifa’s residents. Out of an original 75,000 Palestinians in the city, only 3,000 to 4,000 remained. The rest became refugees, mainly in neighbouring Lebanon and Syria, and they are barred from returning to this day.
During the Nakba and the decades that followed, Zionist and Israeli forces flattened the majority of Palestinian neighbourhoods and buildings in Haifa.
Almost all of the historic centre of the town was destroyed. Today, it is a modern square of Israeli governmental and commercial buildings and a large parking lot.
For example, a 29-storey building housing government offices was constructed in 1999 on the ruins of Seraya City Hall, which was built in the middle of the 18th century and demolished in 1949.
“They built governmental buildings on the ruins of the Arab-Palestinian buildings – the buildings that were demolished and erased during the Nakba,” said Orwa Sweitat, a Haifa-based urban planner and activist who works to prevent further demolitions.
“Today, there is no trace of this big crime,” he told Al Jazeera.
’11 buildings for $20m’
According to Haifa-based historian Johnny Mansour, “Only 20 percent of Haifa’s original homes remain.”
Ownership of the Palestinian buildings that survived the Nakba was transferred to the state under the Israeli Absentees’ Property Law.
This was not unique to Haifa. All Palestinian properties whose owners became refugees, including those who were internally displaced, were taken over by the state.
“In historic cities such as Haifa, Jaffa and Akka, some 70,000 historic buildings were confiscated immediately after 1948,” Sweitat said.
Of those buildings taken in 1948, only 4,800 remain today, he said.
“These are all in the hands of the state. The rest was either demolished or sold to private real estate companies,” he explained. “In Jaffa, only some 1,200 buildings remain, 600 in Haifa, 600 in Akka and some 350 in Nazareth.”
Israelis now live in some of the Palestinian buildings in Haifa while others have been turned into Israeli art galleries and hipster bars. Some house Palestinians.
Since 2000, the Israeli government has been selling the remaining Palestinian buildings to public and private real estate companies, which will either demolish them and build modern residential or commercial projects in their place or renovate and sell them as luxury real estate directed towards the Israeli market.
“They are transforming the ruins of the Nabka into economic jewels for the benefit of the Israeli market,” said Sweitat, explaining that the “process of gentrification aims to attract middle- and high-class Jews and push out Palestinian Arabs”.
“Both Israeli laws and city planning worked together to seize the property and lands of Palestinian refugees” and to “erase, destroy, deform and privatize the Arab-Palestinian identity and characteristics of Haifa”, he said.
Nowhere is the story of the dispossession and erasure more evident than in Wadi Salib, a formerly thriving Palestinian neighbourhood where it is as though time has stood still since the Nakba.
The stone homes stand as silent survivors, looking out onto the Mediterranean Sea about 1km (0.6 miles) away.
Most of the neighbourhood was demolished. In 1949, Israel settled Jews from North African countries in the remaining Palestinian homes and buildings. They lived there for 10 years before protests broke out against difficult living conditions and racism, and the community was resettled elsewhere.
Since then, most of the Palestinian buildings have been sealed off with concrete blocks or covered with metal sheets.
In the past two decades, all that remains of Wadi Salib was sold by the Israeli government to private and public real estate companies.
“They conduct very big bids that only large companies can enter into and Palestinians can’t afford,” Sweitat said. “Ten years ago, for example, 11 historic buildings were sold for $1m. Today, they want to sell the 11 buildings for $20m.”
‘How did this happen to us?’
Abed Abdi is an 81-year-old Palestinian man who was expelled from Wadi Salib and Palestine as a whole along with his mother and his four siblings in 1948.
His father managed to remain in Haifa, and after three years in refugee camps across Lebanon and Syria, Abdi, his mother and three of his siblings became one of the few Palestinians allowed to return to their city for family unification.
Abdi’s eldest sister, Lutfiyeh, however, was not able to return and remained at the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria until her death three years ago.
“We tasted dispossession and estrangement in Lebanon and in Syria,” Abdi, a visual artist, told Al Jazeera from his studio in Haifa. “Our family was separated like many Palestinian families from Haifa at the time.”
From 1947 to 1949, Zionist forces expelled at least 75 percent of the Palestinian population, destroyed 530 Palestinian villages, ethnically cleansed major cities and killed about 15,000 Palestinians in a series of mass atrocities, including dozens of massacres.
Today, Palestinian refugees represent the longest unresolved refugee problem in the world. About six million registered refugees live in at least 58 camps located throughout Palestine and neighbouring countries.
The first refugee camp Abdi and his family arrived at was the Mieh Mieh camp in Lebanon, Abdi said as he was surrounded by dozens of his paintings, many depicting the Nakba and Arab neighbourhoods in Haifa based on his childhood memories.
“I remember that the separators between the families were made out of sackcloth. When I touch and smell this fabric now, it takes me back to my childhood, and this memory has stayed with me all my life,” said Abdi, who has incorporated sackcloth into his art pieces.
“I also remember how my mother would make shoes for us out of leather bags,” he said.
The several thousand Palestinians who remained in Haifa after the Nakba, including Abdi’s father, were rounded up and forced to live in the Wadi Nisnas neighbourhood. They were not allowed to reclaim their properties in other parts of the city, which came under Israeli military rule and constant curfew.
Abdi’s father moved into his aunt’s house in Wadi Nisnas, a couple of kilometres away from their destroyed home in Wadi Salib. He shared the four-bedroom house with a displaced Palestinian family, also from Haifa.
When the rest of the Abdi family returned in 1951, the six of them lived in one bedroom for 10 years before managing to move out.
Despite the passing of more than seven decades, Abdi said the loss and displacement of the Nakba are still too much to bear.
“I used to return to Wadi Salib a lot,” Abdi said. “The area is not far from me. I would remember my childhood and my tragedy.”
“When I see it, I always get a feeling of not only sorrow, but the recurring question of ‘how? How did this happen to us? These empty and destroyed buildings, where are their owners? How is it that we were expelled?’”
Luxe $9m South Yarra sanctuary for sale with six-car basement garage
A winning collaboration by some of the best in the business has produced this luxurious modern sanctuary in a prized lifestyle location.
High-end builder Agushi teamed with celebrated Workroom architects and Nathan Burkett Landscape Architects on the private inner-city residence.
The four-bedroom, five-bathroom house at 12 Rockley Rd, South Yarra has hit the market with a $9m-$9.5m asking price.
Largely crafted from concrete – which even features on the sculptural curved staircase that links the home’s three levels – and marble, it delivers sophisticated interiors with carefully framed garden views.
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When at home, a mirrored lift, infinity pool with in-floor cleaning and a six-car basement garage provide the ultimate in convenience.
But it is the state-of-the-art automation that paves the way for a lock-up-and-leave lifestyle.
The technology has been a game-changer for vendor and interior designer Georgie Coombe-Tennant and her husband, Mark.
It has transformed the way they live, doing away with the need for front door keys and allowing them to turn on the oven remotely, let the postie in the gate while sitting on a ski lift or turn on the sprinkler from Europe.
“We had always had old traditional homes and renovated them, and we just felt like it was time for something modern,” Mrs Coombe-Tennant said.
“We saw Bear (Agushi’s) work and my expression for his work is that everything is so resolved.
“He has not left a single detail out of it. If you think of something you would need in a home it’s there.”
She has delighted in decorating the home, which she said offers loads of space despite having a townhouse feel.
“I found the home is so easy decorate and furnish because you have got this beautiful blank canvas and you can put any amount of colour or neutrality into in,” she said.
As well as three living areas and four bedrooms, the two-year-old home has the luxury of two home offices with desks crafted of the same grey Damastas marble that features in the lavish kitchen and bathrooms.
The main open-plan living zone screams entertainer thanks to a series of full height sliding doors linking it to a covered outdoor dining space with a built-in barbecue, a conversation pit and north-facing sun deck.
A second ground floor lounge room provides another breakout space, perfect for curling up beside the fire.
Despite its proximity to Chapel St and Toorak Village, Mrs Coombe-Tennant said the home felt secluded.
“I guess with South Yarra people are always worried about noise and things like that but it’s very, very quiet, it’s really secretive. No one knows it’s here,” she said.
“Once we are in that front door you don’t hear a single sound, but you have got everything on your doorstep.”
RT Edgar Toorak director Sarah Case added that it was rare to find homes of this calibre created specifically for a lock-up-and-leave lifestyle.
“This home has every luxury we’ve come to expect from Agushi, who’s renowned solid concrete construction, superior quality, generous spaces and meticulous attention to detail, while providing for a modern way of living with a lift to all levels, stunning pool and six-car garage,” Ms Case said.
“From the magnificent marble kitchen to the beautiful bedrooms and the poolside outdoor spaces, every aspect has been thoughtfully designed to meet the needs of even the most discerning buyer.”
Mr Agushi said he prided himself on building homes with “over specced” insulation, glazing, solar panels and smart home integration.
Expressions of interest close on June 15 at 5pm.
According the latest Proptrack Home Price Index, national home prices continued to stabilise in April after rising for the fourth consecutive month, rising 0.14 per cent.
A grandmother's van life and where housing investors live: This week's top real estate stories – The Globe and Mail
Here are The Globe and Mail’s top housing and real estate stories this week, with the lowest mortgage rates available in Canada today, commentary from our mortgage expert and one home worth a look.
The housing crisis chose van life for this 57-year-old grandmother
Terri Smith-Fraser, a nursing assistant, was renovicted from her Halifax apartment last spring when the cost of rent for her two-bedroom apartment more than doubled. Unwilling to be a burden on her adult daughters or find a roommate, she decided van life – usually associated with the young and adventurous – was her only viable option. Suddenly a bronze 1998 GMC Savana purchased in January, 2022, was home.
“I’m a grandma. I’m not a 20-year-old nomad snowboarder. I’m just your regular person who goes to work every day, and I live in a van,” Ms. Smith-Fraser told The Globe and Mail.
Three reasons why mortgage refinances are disappearing
Mortgage refinances have fallen off a cliff. They’re down by 32 per cent, according to the latest data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). People still need to refinance, but there are three reasons why they can’t, Robert McLister writes in his column:
- Tumbling home values
- Soaring rates
- The stress test
And here’s what to do about it if you’re in this boat.
This week’s mortgage rates: Markets price in another dose of tough rate medicine
“Higher for longer” is again the buzzphrase in Canada’s rate market. So much for the mini-U.S. banking crisis, which drove rates lower for all of two months, McLister writes. Now we’re dealing with a U.S. debt ceiling mess and persistently disappointing inflation indicators, not the least of which is stubbornly low unemployment. Both those factors have been driving rates higher.
Four in five Ontario housing investors live in the province: Statscan
More than 80 per cent of individual home investors in Ontario live in the province, according to a new report from Statistics Canada. Just 3 per cent of individual home investors reside elsewhere in Canada and 16 per cent live outside of the country, reports Rachelle Younglai.
The story is the same in British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which does not reflect the spike in investor buying that occurred during the COVID-19 real estate boom. The study provides a window into investor buying patterns, which have come under scrutiny as home prices and rents have soared across the country.
Home of the week: An urban manse on Toronto’s Humber River
From the street the home is an imposing two-storey stone manse at the top of a circular driveway with bay windows flanking the formal entrance. The foyer is a festival of detailed millwork and wainscotting that continues into the central hall and then into the formal rooms flanking the entrance. All of the doorways and windows in this space have modest arches, which adds a bit of Hobbit-like character.
The second floor has more of the original woodwork and arched windows, and the landing at the top of the stairs is generous enough for another formal sitting area with ravine views, and a balcony.
What do you think is the asking price for this house?
a. The asking price is $7.59-million.
LACKIE: Busy Spring in Toronto Real Estate
This has been a busy, bustling spring for the Toronto real estate market.
There are people who will say it’s all an illusion. A perfectly coordinated dance between snake oil selling realtors and their greedy clients, all unified in pumping a market currently back on its heels as means of personal enrichment.
How does that saying go — never let the truth get in the way of a good story?
They will say it makes no sense that the market should have any signs of life at all given the rollercoaster of the last 18 months (slash, the three years since COVID, if we’re being honest) and that with rates high and staying there, and prices still high and mostly staying there, we are looking at the furthest thing from a healthy marketplace.
And perhaps it’s all relative — things feel particularly energized because in comparison to last fall, we are actually seeing some action out there.
Houses in dodgy pockets fetching upwards of 20 offers, buyers seemingly undeterred by the needles on the street just steps away from the front door.
Cute houses in great pockets drawing multiple offers and landing peak-of-2022 prices.
Sellers who may have wondered if the time-was-now realizing they didn’t want to miss their moment.
There are many utterly baffled that the market has held. That prices have held. That the pain of 2022 didn’t reset the playing field.
They are adamant that any attempt to explain it by pointing to how grossly insufficient our inventory levels are is really just distortion and manipulation. The idea somehow being that people can be scammed into engaging and thus what we are really looking at is a mirage.
They think our problems will be solved if buyers simply stay home. Refuse to show up to houses that are underlisted. Refuse to engage in multiple offers. Refuse to pay a dollar more than list price. Refuse to pay realtor fees. Refuse to participate.
Legislate agents into listing at market value. Legally obligate sellers to accept any offer that meets the price they chose to list at. Cap realtor fees. The list goes on.
Absent from all of this is the reality very much apparent on the ground: for all of the noise and anger, Toronto has not enough houses and more than enough willing participants who are capable of driving a marketplace.
By this time next week, we will have stats to support that the spring market is very much here and with it I expect we will note a sharp increase in transactions and a notable bump to average sale prices.
Is it a seasonal blip that will fizzle out as temperatures rise? Entirely possible. But even just a return to some seasonal rhythms in our marketplace would be a welcome return to normalcy.
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