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Jaffa Shared and Shattered: Contrived Coexistence in Israel/Palestine

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Binational cities play a pivotal role in situations of long-term conflict, and few places have been more marked by the tension between intimate proximity and visceral hostility than Jaffa, one of the "mixed towns" of Israel/Palestine. In this nuanced ethnographic and historical study, Daniel Monterescu argues that such places challenge our assumptions about cities and nationalism, calling into question the Israeli state’s policy of maintaining homogeneous, segregated, and ethnically stable spaces. Analyzing everyday interactions, life stories, and histories of violence, he reveals the politics of gentrification and the circumstantial coalitions that define the city. Drawing on key theorists in anthropology, sociology, urban studies, and political science, he outlines a new relational theory of sociality and spatiality.

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8 Chapters

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1 Spatial Relationality: Theorizing Space and Sociality in Jewish-Arab “Mixed Towns”


In the Mediterranean, birthplace of the City-State, the State, whether it be inside or outside the city, always remains brutal and powerless, violent but weak, unifying but always undermined, under threat. . . . Every form of hegemony and homogeneity are refused in the Mediterranean. . . . The very idea of centrality is refused because each group, each entity, each religion and each culture considers itself a center. . . . The polyrhythmy of Mediterranean cities highlights their common character through their differences.

HENRI LEFEBVRE, “Rhythmanalysis of Mediterranean Cities”

The large-scale protest demonstrations staged by the Palestinian citizens of Israel throughout the country in the first two weeks of October 2000, now widely known as “the October 2000 events,” did not bypass Jaffa. For a few days in early October, Palestinian youngsters marched through the streets in solidarity with the casualties of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, destroying public symbols and state institutions including banks, post offices, and Jewish-owned stores.


2 The Bridled “Bride of Palestine”: Urban Orientalism and the Zionist Quest for Place


Above the mosques the moon is rising

Above your house the neon lights are lit

And again the jasmine bush gives its scent

And again we’re here by the clock tower

And again a girl without “why” or “how come”

My hands are holding yours

There’s something strange and unknown

Something wonderful about this town

The seagulls flew from the dock

The sea has gone silent

This is Jaffa, girl, this is Jaffa

That penetrates the blood like wine.

YOSSI GAMZU, “This Is Jaffa”

The gentrified city is a cultural space of unyielding desire for the quality of life lost in the metropolitan chaos or in the emptiness of suburban sprawl. Imagining a new authentic lifestyle in the erstwhile disinvested yet quaint “inner city” is bound to cause considerable adaptation pains for the individual(ist) newcomer, but these are often overshadowed by the promise of a new enabling environment—a horizon of creative possibilities for the “new middle class.” In cities like Jaffa, located at the periphery of the metropolitan center, gentrification bridges the anonymous functionality of the big city and the communal intimacy of the neighborhood. Seen as a convoluted shell of negation and passion, alienation and purpose, the cultural problem of gentrification echoes early formulations of the modern city as a site of “bitter hatred” as well as the seat for urbanites’ “most unsatisfied yearnings” (Simmel [1903] 1950, 420).


3 The “Mother of the Stranger”: Palestinian Presence and the Ambivalence of Sumud


Yafa! My tears have dried up.

I weep for you with stricken eye.

Will I ever see you?

Will I live long enough?

How are your sister towns? How are they?

I long for them

As if each were a paradise.

And those we left behind?

Those we left for dead.

I’m weary! I’m weary!

But in my weariness I only complain to God

And to no one else.

Yafa. Yafa!

MAHMOUD SALIM AL-HOUT, “Yafa,” translated by Reem Kelani and Christopher Somes-Charlton

In the late 1990s, on the crumbling wall of Jaffa’s Kazakhane Muslim graveyard overlooking the Mediterranean, faded graffiti comprising a drawing of an orange reads in black and orange colors, “Jaffa, the city of the sad orange that will smile again” (Yafa madinat al-burtuqala al-hazina allati satabtasim). A direct reference to Ghassan Kanafani’s The Land of the Sad Orange (Kanafani 1980), this statement reflects the tragic transformation of the former orchard city known in the Palestinian discourse as “the city of flowers” (madinat al-zuhur).1 The unbridgeable gap between reality and memory is metaphorically represented in the opposition between the “sad orange” and the mythical “Bride of Palestine” (‘Arus Falastin). “Jaffa came a long way since its golden days before the occupation, the days of the Arabs [ayyam al-‘Arab],” I was told by my Palestinian walking companion. “Back then, Jaffa was known as ‘the Bride of the Sea’ [‘Arus al-Bahr]. Today, ‘Arus al-Bahr is no more than a crappy local newspaper.”


4 Inner Space and High Ceilings: Agents and Ideologies of Ethnogentrification


I moved to a mixed Arab-Jewish building in Jaffa last spring, a refugee from the astronomical rents in Tel Aviv. . . . Jaffa radicalized me, in a way. I think about politics when I walk through Ajami, the neighbourhood that was, until recently, an Arab ghetto. . . . I think about politics when I look at the crumbling and neglected Muslim cemetery, right next to the architecturally striking new building that houses the Peres Center for Peace. . . . Jaffa is an interesting and cool place to live. . . . I just did not expect to feel like a colonizer for having moved 15 minutes’ walk from Tel Aviv. But, I do.

LISA GOLDMAN, “Jaffa, Habibti, Our Relationship Is Complicated”

In front of a newly built cubist construction on 60th Street in ‘Ajami, a large and colorful marketing sign promising “authentic and luxurious housing” read, “Living in Jaffa is a matter of style. Investing in Jaffa is a matter of wisdom.” A few days after it had been posted, someone covered the large board with black graffiti exclaiming in Hebrew, “House Thieves” (Ganavey Batim). The contractor in turn soon taped over the graffiti a yellow band with additional marketing content. Stemming from a local dispute involving the Palestinian Sawaf family, who originally lived on the lot and claimed to have been cheated out of their house, and Yoseph Shiloah, a famous Jewish-Israeli comedian who bought the land and later sold it to a private developer, this public correspondence of messages captures the political implications embedded in gentrification. Thus aggressive marketing of urban renewal (“luxurious housing”), on the one hand, and local protest against urban removal (“house thieves”), on the other, illustrate the contentious politics of urban space. Claiming to be deceived into signing the contract that positioned them as “illegal squatters,” the Sawaf family was promised replacement housing but eventually found themselves without a roof over their heads, living in a tent at the nearby public park.


5 To Buy or Not to Be: Trespassing the Gated Community


The city is intimidated, the city is breathing its last, the woman on the rock does not hope for anything anymore! Or perhaps she does? I recall the beginning of the work in Acropolis. I was hoping for something other than the architecture of the thick cardboard, the stone mask of death. . . . Jaffa—a theater bereft of actors where tourists move about. A thousand years may pass till the dragon licks this festering sore, and till Andromeda, filled with shame, steps out of the Hammam, the nightclub, to found the old city anew. This is an “Old City” resembling an “Ancient City”—says Jouha with a sad expression on his face.

ARCHITECT LEON GENEVA, in a publication of the Rabita

Walking with a group of Palestinian and Jewish guests, we silently crossed the iron gate of the luxurious gated community. Slowly, we traversed the premises toward the western viewpoint overlooking the Jaffa port. Enjoying the breathtaking sunset we sat on the bench, still thrilled by the relative ease of our entry. Suddenly, as if reading our minds, a woman of around sixty approached us and exclaimed in Hebrew, which she then translated into English, “You can pass but you can’t stay!” Slightly alarmed but somewhat amused by her response, we nevertheless remained seated.


6 Escaping the Mythscape: Tales of Intimacy and Violence


Peace, doves of two strangers who share

The last cooing at the edge of the abyss.


Jaffa was once a Jewish city, but what the Jews took

by force the Arabs are now taking by money.

PAOLINA, an aged Bulgarian Jew in Jaffa

Safiyya Dabbah and Hanna Swissa, two elderly neighbors living in the Jaffa C. (Yafo Gimel) neighborhood, meet daily over breakfast. Safiyya, a Muslim woman in her nineties, was widowed thirty years ago and today lives on her own in a dilapidated shanty only a few steps from the building where Hanna lives. Hanna is a Jewish Moroccan woman in her seventies who has been a widow for twenty years. Despite the class differences between Safiyya and Hanna, which are metaphorically embodied in the buildings they inhabit—a ramshackle hut on the one hand and a tidy apartment building on the other—the two elderly women found a common ground they use to nourish their symbiotic friendship: both came from strict patriarchal families (Safiyya’s husband used to forbid her to leave the house, while Hanna’s husband was jealous and violent) and both gained considerable personal freedom after their husbands’ deaths; both speak Arabic and share a common cultural background; both are going through the experience of aging; and they live in geographical and functional proximity next to each other. While Hanna, aided by her welfare-funded housekeeper, shows concern for Safiyya, whose means are more limited, by supplying the food for their daily rendezvous, Safiyya keeps Hanna company and makes this pleasant morning routine possible.


7 Situational Radicalism and Creative Marginality: The “Arab Spring” and Jaffa’s Counterculture


For one evening we will revive old city Jaffa from its constant death to a clear night, and to a bright imagined future that doesn’t give up the connection with the surrounding Arab World. An Art and Music Movement aware [of] where it all started from, and . . . where we are all heading to.

—7ARAKEH FAWREYEH’s “Music/Art/Struggle/Rave—Struggle for Home”

One of the striking features of the “Arab uprisings” is their cascading effect on social movements worldwide. The rapid diffusion and mimetic circulation of their core revolutionary principles to markedly different political contexts throughout the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas pose a conceptual challenge for the social sciences. Another distinguishing feature of the Arab revolts is the central role cities play in both enabling mobilization and repressing protests. While some revolts have worked their way from the periphery to the center (notably in Libya and Syria), in most cases their success has hinged upon the urban co-presence of others to turn the local revolts into a transformative historic event (Sewell 2001). Thus size, density, permanence, and heterogeneity—the four classical sociological characteristics of the city identified by Wirth (1938)—have been strategically mobilized by the masses in Tunis, Cairo, Madrid, and Tel-Aviv to reclaim political space and redefine citizenship.


Conclusion The City of the Forking Paths: Imagining the Futures of Binational Urbanism


This land is a traitor

and can’t be trusted.

This land doesn’t remember love.

This land is a whore

holding out a hand to the years,

as it manages a ballroom

on the barber pier. . . .

It laughs in every language

and bit by bit, with its hip,

feeds all who come to it.


A land that devours its inhabitants

And flows with milk and honey and blue skies

Sometimes itself stoops to plunder

The sheep of the poor.

NATAN YONATHAN, “A Song to the Land”

In the agonistic landscape of Israel/Palestine, no place has been more continuously inflected by the tension between intimate proximity and visceral violence than ethnically “mixed” towns. The immanent ambivalence of the binational encounter bespeaks the paradox of the copresence of political Others who are also immediate neighbors. This book has proposed a historical ethnography of binational urbanism by scrutinizing sites of daily interaction and ongoing conflict in contested urban spaces since 1948. Recapturing the longue durée of ethnic mix in the Mediterranean, the Ottoman legacy of confessional sectarianism, and the enduring effect of British colonial rule, I have conceptualized the intricate relations between ethnicity, capital, and binational sociality in these cities and beyond.



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