Two reflections from participants who joined our April Sponsored walk:
On 18th April ICAHD UK organised a hugely successful (and over-subscribed!) fund-raising walk through the Jewish East End led by tour guide David Rosenberg, author of ‘Battle for the East End’ and more recently, ‘Rebel Footprints.’
As a Jewish East Ender myself, I found this tour enormously informative, incredibly entertaining but also saddening and disturbing. David Rosenberg managed to recreate for me the world my Russian and Polish Yiddish speaking grandparents would have inhabited after fleeing the pogroms in the early 20th century. We learnt about the Jewish refugees’ struggles and the challenges they faced in the workplace, in housing and in education. He spoke movingly of the mutual solidarity between the Irish dockers and the Jewish sweatshop workers in their respective battles to improve their appalling working conditions. My own father was to endure similar exploitation as a tailor in one of these sweatshops in the 1920s and 30s.
We saw some beautiful old Victorian buildings such as The Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor (1902) in Brune Street which we discovered that, inevitably, property developers are now selling off as luxury apartments (a one –bedroomed flat being offered at £1.5 million, its chief selling point being its ‘unique historical significance’ and ‘stylish living in the heart of historic Spitalfields’) Directly opposite this valuable piece of real estate, our guide pointed out the Holland Estate, social housing ear-marked for demolition by East End Homes (without consulting the tenants) as the tenants’ homes are deemed ‘unfit for human habitation.’ They plan to decant these long-standing tenants to less profitable areas of London, thereby in effect, socially cleansing the area in readiness for wealthier and therefore more desirable residents.
While recognising that the current iniquities of property developers in East London cannot be compared to the suffering of the Palestinians, it struck me as unbearably ironic that we were on a sponsored walk to raise money to resist house demolitions in Palestine and here we were in central London witnessing greed and discrimination being played out against our own UK citizens. This selling off of historical buildings and social housing for ‘spacious luxury apartments and office space’ was replicated wherever we went on this tour, every street being dwarfed by massive glass skyscrapers dominating the City nearby. Over the centuries, respective communities had created new lives for themselves and found refuge in this area, from the French Huguenots, Eastern European Jews, followed by Bangladeshis and Somalis, but now it seems only the rich and powerful are welcome to claim London’s East End as their own, regardless of its proud and formerly totally inclusive social history.
In summary, a superb and thought-provoking event which inspires me even more strongly to oppose house demolitions in both Palestine, and, disgracefully the UK too!
– With thanks to Irene Sedler
How glad I am that I joined the ICAHD UK Walk. It would be difficult to find as inspired and committed guide as David Rosenberg. He lived and breathed the history of the East End and it came alive. The whole area is so resonant of working class struggle. It was not all Oswald Mosley and the Black Shirts, conflict and strife. It was also Irish Dockers finding common cause with Jewish immigrants and women stepping up to the plate.
Many more recent arrivals could readily find common cause with ICAHD. Rapacious property developers are dispossessing local residents as systematically as Israelis are evicting the residents of East Jerusalem.
If ever there was a Walk to stiffen the sinews of resistance, this was it.
At last year’s ICAHD AGM, John McCarthy spoke movingly about the luxury of feeling secure in his own home. Most of us are fortunate enough to echo his sentiment. Could we remain ‘sumud’ and sustain steadfast resistance if our home were entered without a ‘by your please’ and we found ourselves on the street with little more than we could carry or heard that ominous phrase “you can stay today but we’ll be back.”
– With thanks to Angela Glendenning