Harriet Sherwood is taken for a ride in Acco.

Although the south of Israel was still under rocket attack on June 24th, Harriet Sherwood decided to take a trip north to Acco. 

The headline of her subsequent article declares that “Israel’s historic city of Acre faces tourist and settler tensions” with the strap line further claiming that “Mixed Arab-Jewish ‘sleeping beauty’ city awakes to gentrification and influx of nationalist-religious Jews”. 

Sherwood’s basic claim in this article is that rich Jews are buying up property in the old city of Acco in a process of ‘gentrification’ and driving out the poor Arab population. 

“According to Arab activists in Acre, this is part of a grand plan, driven by the city’s Jewish mayor, to gentrify and rebrand the old city – and persuade, induce or coerce Arabs to leave.” 

Of course if Harriet Sherwood wanted to trace the beginnings of economic troubles in Acco, she would have to start back in Ottoman times when the builder of the Hejaz railway, Sultan Abdul Hamid II, decided that its branch line would terminate in the small fishing village of Haifa rather than in Acco.  She would then have to progress to the decision by the British Mandate to overlook the ancient silted-up Acco port in favour of the construction of a new deep-water port at nearby Haifa in 1932, the subsequent construction of oil refineries there and the opening of the oil pipeline stretching from Iraq to Haifa in 1934. She might also take into account the evacuation of the Jews of Acco by the British authorities following the riots of 1929. 

For many years Acco has been one of the worst affected towns in Israel from the point of view of unemployment and a low average wage. Among the reasons for this has been the closure or relocation of some factories and the increased mechanization of others. Acco’s traditional fishing industry has been hit by the falling of numbers of fish in the eastern Mediterranean in general.  Its traditional markets lost their prominence in the area as shopping centres became fashionable and its tourism industry was hampered by the fact that most visitors only came for day trips, preferring to use hotels in nearby Haifa due to Acco’s lack of night-life. 

In 2006 the Israeli government declared Acco a ‘national goal’ and by 2009, 36 new factories had been opened in the city, along with a new shopping centre.  There has been serious investment in many conservation and restoration projects in the old city and in updating the infrastructure of the city as a whole. At last it seems as though Acco is moving beyond its run-down state and the opening of hotels such as the one featured in Harriet Sherwood’s article is one important way to boost the economic potential of the city – and in particular that of its ancient quarter, where some 40% of the 6,000 residents receive social security allowances.  

The importance of tourism to Acco’s economy is obviously not lost on residents of its old city. Whilst on a tour of the city’s market after the completion of part one of its restoration the Chair of the Committee of Traders in Old Acco, Mr Anaan Hajazi, said:

“We thank the mayor of Acco Shimon Lankry and we all hope that this project will help to develop tourism and improve the situation of traders in the old city.”

So how does Harriet Sherwood manage to turn a story of the physical and economic regeneration of a depressed city (something which takes place the world over) into a tall tale of quasi ethnic cleansing? 

The clue is in some of her interviewees (and possibly also hosts?) who are using this story to advance a political agenda. 

Let us begin with Ahmed Odeh who, as Sherwood states, is a member of Acco’s city council. Odeh – the owner of a bakery in the town – is also chair of the communist anti-Zionist Hadash party in Acco, which he represents on the council. He is one of three Arab members of the city council, one of whom is deputy mayor and another head of the Waqf. In other words, despite his frequent protestations in various media outlets, Mr Odeh and his fellow Arab councilors, along with the mayoral assistant Samir Batah, have been active partners in the changes being made in the city. 

Here is Mr Odeh (far right) in December 2008 demonstrating against Operation Cast Lead. The sign the councilor is holding says “Stop the massacre immediately” but apparently does not refer to rocket fire at his fellow Israeli citizens. More recently, Ahmed Odeh came out publicly in support of the speech made by Mahmoud Abbas at the UN in 2011 as part of the Palestinian Authority’s plan for a universal declaration of statehood. 

The second of Harriet Sherwood’s interviewees is “local activist” Sami Hawari. Hawari is a media consultant, holding an MA from Haifa University. He also sits on the UNESCO committee for the preservation of Arab heritage sites in Israel. 

Hawari is also General Director of the NGO Al Yater which claims to engage in “educational activities and advocacy efforts to promote the rights of the Arab population of Akko” and is supported by the New Israel Fund among others. In April 2012, the Haifa District Court rejected a petition brought by Al Yater and others on the subject of housing in Acco because it was not established that there had been discrimination.  Obviously not content with the court’s decision, Hawari and Ahmed Odeh took their campaign to the media 

In 2006 Al Yater was criticized for organizing the screening of the controversial film ‘Paradise Now’ – which is about suicide bombers – in Acco. In 2008, at the time of the clashes between Jews and Arabs in Acco, Sami Hawari gave an interview to Al Jazeera in which he suggested that the events in Acco were reminiscent of Kristallnacht and expressed fear of “another massacre of Palestinians, this time in Acre”. 

Finally, we come to Sherwood’s third interviewee Jafar Farah, founder and director of the Arab human rights organization Mossawa in Haifa, which is also funded by the New Israel Fund the Abraham Fund and Oxfam UK among others. 

In October 2000, as the second Intifada erupted, Farah gave an interview to ABC News in which he supported the call by then MK Azmi Bishara for UN troops to be sent to Israel, also distorting both history and the events at the time. 

“And I have to remind that the U.N. decision in ’47 was for two countries for two peoples, the Jewish people and the Palestinian people, in the homeland of the Palestinians.”

“Also if they [Palestinians] use stones and any way of expressing themselves, it’s not war. War is when both sides use guns and war machines. Palestinians are using mainly, especially in Israel, stones.”

“I didn’t hear Arafat, the chairman of the P.L.O. or the Palestinian Authority, talking about destroying Israel. It’s mainly rumors that get out from Israeli right-wing groups. They want to prove that there is no partner for peace in the Middle East.”

“I know that Arafat doesn’t think about destroying Israel. I know it personally.”

In June 2010 Jafar Farah thought it necessary to visit ‘activists’ from the Mavi Marmara in a Haifa hospital. During the second Lebanon war in 2006, Farah took the opportunity to blame the deaths of Arab Israelis not upon the rockets fired from Lebanon by Hizballah, but upon supposed Israeli discrimination which, according to him, meant that Arab Israelis had neither shelters nor sirens. (Note – since 1991 it has been mandatory in Israel to build a safe room in every new home constructed.) However, Farah opposes attempts to recruit Arab youths to National Service programs. 

So in a nutshell, Acco provides fertile ground for all manner of people and organisations to advance their own agendas. We have the anti-Zionist communist who deals in local politics, the NGO which uses charges of discrimination in order to delegitimize Israel at every turn and the media maestro who appears to have recruited Harriet Sherwood (knowingly or not) as part of his latest campaign.

The interesting thing about it all is that whilst all these activists warn of racism and anti-Arab discrimination in Acco’s newer neighbourhoods, even invoking the spectre of ‘settlers‘ coming to town and the ‘Judaisation‘ of the city, not one of them – or Harriet Sherwood herself –  seems to find anything amiss with the concurrent campaign objecting to  Jews buying property in Acco’s old city.

When all-Jewish neighbourhoods are presented as racist and discriminatory, but all-Arab neighbourhoods are just romantic and quaint, the writer obviously has either a serious problem with double standards or a political agenda. Or both. 

26 replies »

    • First, put on your ruby slippers. We know you’ve got a pair. Then you click your heels together and say, “it’s the brutal Israeli occupation, stupid” Do this 3 times fast and then open your eyes. Did you make peace in the world, RealZionist? Is your nightmare over? Or are teh Joos still laughing at you?

        • I am your nightmare, Rezzie. All of us Yids are. We own the banks. We control the sharks. We are the doctors bringing VD to your pathetic, tiny penis. Without us, you can’t make up your own online moniker. Without us, you have nothing to complain about. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year. You are obsessed with us, and we won’t go away.

          So you come here, post something stoopid, and claim to be the Champ. But, really, you’re just a chump with no life.

    • No it isn’t, it is the inherent tendency towards anti-Israel/anti-Jewish bias (the Pals/Arabs don’t distinguish between the two so why should I?) coupled with the one-track pursuit of the Guardian’s agenda. If you were half-awake you would realise that

    • No it isn’t, it is the inherent tendency towards anti-Israel/anti-Jewish bias (the Pals/Arabs don’t distinguish between the two so why should I?) coupled with the one-track pursuit of the Guardian’s agenda. If you were half-awake you would realise that

  1. Excellent report, Hadar. When even economic development in a poor city can be framed as evidence of soft ethnic cleansing it’s clear that any story about Israel can be written to impute racism to the Jewish state.

    • Not by intelligent journalists rather than lazy hacks, Adam. Can Hattie Sherwood really be worth the peanuts she’s paid?

  2. As someone who is pretty familiar with Acco and has many acquaintances there (mostly Arabs btw) simply can’t believe that any normal mainstream paper could publish this kind of total crap. The huge majority of the Arabs of Acco are either intellectuals or businesspeople deeply involved with the tourism industry and their absolute basic interest is to welcome investors wishing to put their money into the development of the old city. Acco btw, the administrative center of the Western-Galilee and the majority of the government employees in the customs-office, the tax-office the police and the department of the interior and the department of health are Arabs too.
    Sherwood with this article demonstrated that not only poultryfarms and the use of a GPS are far above of her intellectual capabilities.

  3. Large parts of London were and still are being woken to gentrification mainly by the likes of Harriet Sheerwood and her Guardian mates.

    Gentrification of cities happens all over the world,the poorer areas around these cities are bought up by cashed up customers.

    Hey Sheerwoodforbrains……. it is called progress.

    Thank heavens the Guardian sent Sheerwood as their reporter in Jerusalem and not someone else who has brains in their heads instead of sawdust.

    BTW why is she living in Jerusalem is it because Jerusalem IS THE CAPITAL of Israel…..

  4. Acco is a great city,and if the gentrification and influx of Jews to Acco bothers these “palestinian Israelis” that are not happy about it,then they can always migrate to Egypt.Now that Egypt is a democracy.

    • Benorr, why would Palestinians migrate to Egypt when their families have been living in the Holy Land for centuries?

      Don’t you know that forced displacement is a war crime?

      • inconvenient facts, ignored by hamasslickers, admitted even by their masters (in rare moments of admitting the obvious):

      • Tell that to the Jordanians who forced Jews out of Jerusalem (their holiest city) in 1948. It was a war crime indeed. And now the Palestinians claim ‘Arab East Jerusalem’ ( judenfrei for only 19 years out of 3500+ ) as their capital!

        Not all Palestinian Arabs have been living in the Holy Land for centuries. The majority only started settling there around the beginning of the 20th century.

      • So, the economic revival of a poor city in Israel becomes, in Sherwood’s hands, a tale of soft ethnic cleansing and “Judaeisation”. But that is not enough – in Nat’s warped view of the world, it is now an example of forced displacement and is a war crime.

        It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

      • Who said anything about forced displacement? And if they’ve been living the the holy land for centuries then good for them. I was going to say they shouldn’t whinge if the going gets tough but I guess they are entitled to do so. My beef is with the Guardian for embroidering any legitimate concerns (see benorr’s post above about the gentrification of areas in London) blowing them out of all proportion simply to bash Israel.

  5. Edge of : They used to say in Israel : build and be built! It’s better than saying: destroy and be destroyed, isn’t it?

    I suppose we can always build castles in-the-air in cyberspace, like the fiddler on the roof so that no guardian penpricks, mickytakers or pretzeleaters can harm us, right?

  6. She’s really soon her part to makemsure people hate Jews. She’s straight out of Der Sturmer. She should he arrested in Israel for hate speech.

  7. Sheeerwood lives in a fantasy. She fancies herself as Harriet of Arabia,defending the palestinians.Little does she know that in actual fact she does them more harm than good.But why tell her this and spoil a good thing……….