zondag 8 februari 2015

Whitewash of a black city


Bauhaus Museum in Tel Aviv. 

Tel Aviv became famous for its ''Bauhaus'' houses and even was made a 'World Heritage Site' in 2004. It became a symbol of how European Jews built their own city on empty sand dunes. For Sharon Rotbard, an architect who was born there, this is whitewash. 'The Economist' about a book he wrote about the city, White City, Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa: .

Three architects active in Tel Aviv in the 1930s had graduated from the Staatliches Bauhaus in Germany, he writes in “White City, Black City”. The rest had studied in other countries. More important, he explains, the myth ignores Tel Aviv’s ties to its parent city, Jaffa, an ancient port which at the time of Tel Aviv’s birth was Palestine’s modern hub, complete with cinemas and printing houses, and whose density on aerial photographs literally coloured the city black.
Mr Rotbard chips away at the façade of his birthplace. He describes how Tel Aviv supplanted Jaffa’s Arab-owned orange groves, and goes on to explain how, in the violent birth of Israel in 1947-48, Jewish paramilitary fighters overpowered and subsequently largely levelled the city from which it had sprung. His tale of Tel Aviv’s growth from a Jaffa suburb founded in 1909 to a metropolis whose population grew 20-fold in the 1920s is gripping.

 Its inhabitants, he writes, were for the most part adolescent Jewish men who were no less ideological than today’s settlers. Even their methods were often the same. Their fortified outposts interrupted Arab contiguity. Their first bypass, Allenby Street, today a spine through the city, ran around Jaffa’s perimeter. It gave Tel Aviv access to the sea, but also reduced Jaffa to an enclave that was in effect cut off from its Palestinian hinterland.
In November 1947 the UN published its plan for dividing Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. Jaffa was made a Palestinian island within Jewish boundaries. In the fighting that followed, paramilitaries commanded by Menachem Begin, a Tel Avivan who later became Israel’s prime minister, rolled barrel bombs down the alleyways into Jaffa’s cafés and fired mortars into residential districts. By the time Israel declared independence on May 14th 1948, prompting Arab armies to move in, Jews had chased Jaffa’s Arabs out of the city, leaving less than a 20th of the population behind. Many were forced to escape by sea. For the first time in 5,000 years, Mr Rotbard goes on, Jaffa “ceased to exist as an urban and cultural entity”. Much of the Arab medina was bulldozed and grassed over. Some monuments, including mosques and Crusader-era buildings, were preserved, but walking through Jaffa today you would never know that it had once been Palestine’s Arab economic and cultural centre.
[''White City, Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa.'' By Sharon Rotbard. Translated by Orit Gat. Pluto Press; 244 pages; $24.95].

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