Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Isreal/Palestine 5: Tel Aviv-Yafo

Jaffa is built on a slight hill overlooking the sea.  They claim it was founded by one of Noah's son's after the flood, and that Jonah sailed to his appointment with the whale from its port.  The municipal website boasts that during the times of King Solomon, Jaffa's port served as a gateway for cedars from Lebanon used in the building of the First Temple.  Today, Jaffa is part of the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality. 

When we say "port city," we are not talking Long Beach, Rotterdam,  Genoa, or Venice; we are talking a quiet smugglers cove on a coastline with few natural harbors.  In the late 1800's the old city walls of Jaffa were demolished, and the city expanded north along the sand dunes to accommodate successive waves of immigrants.  The result is a modern city with a population of 414,000 and 20 square miles of area.  Tel Aviv has 40 percent the area of San Francisco but 55% of its population.  The increased density makes itself felt in a thriving cafe culture.  [The greater municipal area has a population of 3.3 million]

The Ingathering

The building of Tel Aviv requires some context of the broader transformation of the land of Israel/Palestine over the past 100 plus years.  This table from the Guardian newspaper tells the story (numbers are for all of Palestine):

In 1880 there were
Jews living among
In 1914 there were
Jews living among
In 1922 there were
Jews living among
In 1936 there were
Jews living among
In 1940 there were
Jews living among
In 1946 there were
Jews living among

The ratio that existed in 1946 was essentially reversed during the next six years.  First, during the war of independence in 1947-48 approximately 700,000 Palestinians were driven out.   
The exact number of refugees is a matter of dispute.[7] But around 80 percent of the Arab inhabitants of what became Israel (50 percent of the Arab total of Mandatory Palestine) left or were expelled from their homes.[8][9] The causes remain also the subject of fundamental disagreement between Arabs and Israelis. Factors involved in the exodus include Jewish military advances, attacks against Arab villages and fears of another massacre after Deir Yassin,[10]:239–240 which caused many to leave out of panic; expulsion orders by Zionist authorities; the voluntary self-removal of the wealthier classes,[11] the collapse in Palestinian leadership,[12] and an unwillingness to live under Jewish control.[13] Later, a series of laws passed by the first Israeli government prevented them from returning to their homes, or claiming their property. They and many of their descendants remain refugees.[14][15] Later in the war, Palestinians were expelled as part ofPlan Dalet.[16][citation needed] The expulsion of the Palestinians has since been described by some historians as ethnic cleansing,[17][18][19] while others dispute this charge.[20][21][22]

Today, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)  has approximately 5 million Palestinian refugees registered, meaning people who were displaced in 1947/48 and their descendants.  Many of those families have found productive lives elsewhere, but approximately 1.5 million continue to languish in refugee camps.  The total number of Palestinians under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip number about 4.5 million:
Nearly one-third of the registered Palestine refugees, more than 1.5 million individuals, live in 58 recognized Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. A Palestine refugee camp is defined as a plot of land placed at the disposal of UNRWA by the host government to accommodate Palestine refugees and set up facilities to cater to their needs. .... Socioeconomic conditions in the camps are generally poor, with high population density, cramped living conditions and inadequate basic infrastructure such as roads and sewers.  
Second, as the Palestinian population was cut in half during the war of independence, in the three and a half year period immediately following statehood the Jewish population of Israel doubled with an influx of 688,000 from post-Holocaust Europe and from the Muslim world.  In 1949 alone 249,954 arrived in Israel.  In all this Sturm und Drang, Tel Aviv was built.

Tel Aviv

Based on a recommendation from Bobbi's friend Andi, we stayed at the Diaghelev Live Art Hotel on Mazeh Street, off Rothchild Boulevard in Tel Aviv.  It's modestly priced, has great staff, and spacious suites.  We highly recommend it for your next stay in Tel Aviv.  When you come, call them directly.  The price is less than booking through Expedia or other services. 

Tel Aviv has 4000 Bauhaus architecture buildings and is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.  Most of these buildings were built in the 1930's, 40's and 50's.

The concept for a new garden city, to be called Tel Aviv, was developed on the sand dunes outside Jaffa in 1909.[2] British urban planner Patrick Geddes, who had previously worked on town-planning in New Delhi, was commissioned by Tel Aviv's first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, to draw up a master plan for the new city. Geddes began work in 1925 on the plan, which was accepted in 1929.[3] The view of the British Mandatory authorities seemed to have been supportive. In addition to Geddes, and Dizengoff, the city engineer Ya'acov Ben-Sira contributed significantly to the development and planning during his 1929 to 1951 tenure.[4] Patrick Geddes laid out the streets and decided on block size and utilisation. Geddes did not prescribe an architectural style for the buildings in the new city. But by 1933, many Jewish architects of theBauhaus school in Germany, like Arieh Sharon, fled to the British Mandate of Palestine.[5] Both the emigration of these Jewish architects and the closing of the Bauhaus school in Berlin were consequences of the rise to power of the Nazi party in Germany in 1933.
Since their construction, many of these houses have fallen on hard times.  The salt air has eaten away at the stucco facades.  But at this time there is a building boom.  A lot of the existing housing stock is being refurbished and updated.  Tower cranes dot the landscape.

We walked the length of Rothchild Boulevard several times.  Rothchild is a tree lined boulevard with a bike lane, walking lane, grassy and gravel play areas for chess and boules players.  It was laid out after famous boulevards in Paris, but today somehow the scale seems too small. Yet, if this reflects a certain lack of confidence by the early city planners, it has served the city well.  The scale is intimate and young and old are milling about the length of the boulevard night and day.  Parking is impossible.

Boulevard Rothchild runs from Allenby Boulevard, named after the British General who ended the Ottoman era in Palestine during World War I, in the South, to the Bronfman concert hall and the Tel Aviv Playhouse, in the north.  The grassy strip was the site of three months of peaceful protest by a wide cross-section of Tel Aviv during the summer of 2011, protesting unaffordable housing prices.  As a result, measures have been taken making it easier to add stories to existing buildings, and adding to the housing stock by building more residential tower projects.  Meanwhile, prices in Tel Aviv are not falling.

From Allenby Boulevard down towards Old Jaffa runs Shabazi Road through Neve Tzadek, the newly gentrified Soho of Tel Aviv.  This area is filled with artist studios, cafes, restaurants and boutiques.

North of us, in the center of Tel Aviv along Shaul Hamelech (the first Jewish King) Boulevard, lies the headquarters for the IDF.   Young Israelis in uniform walk in pairs and groups on the surrounding streets.  Several sport kippahs and tzizit, even as they walk, flirting, next to women in uniform.  It's a sign of hope for the future.

Just behind the IDF headquarters lies a major performing arts center and the Tel Aviv Art Museum, designed by Preston Scott Cohen from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.  There we saw a fascinating short film, Invert, by Ben Hagari.  The film inverts color, speech, and plays on the concept of freedom with a caged parrot.

With Bobbi's cousins we went up to the Tel Aviv's amusement attraction by the old harbor.  This harbor is even more pathetic than Jaffa's, so much so that they abandoned the whole thing, built a boardwalk and converted the warehouses to restaurants, shops, and a market space.  It's adjacent to the Yarkon river, which makes the Charles look like the Mississipi.  But there is a 20 km park that runs along its shores, and the whole project is a huge success.  It's like Venice beach;  everyone's out enjoying it.  Alas, it's not worth jumping on a plane for.

In fact the whole coastal strip of Tel Aviv leaves a lot to be desired.  There's a major road along the beach, and the hotels there are like those outdated monstrosities on the Las Vegas strip.  The beach is nice, and popular, full of beachgoers happy to slather on sunscreen and roast in the sun, or huddle under umbrellas.

The life and charm of the city begin a couple of blocks off the ocean, in Old Yafa, Neve Tzadek, Rothchild Boulevard, the upscale Dizengoff Boulevard, and in countless restaurants, cafes, and night clubs where all of Tel Aviv seems to party late into the night, every night.  The place hums.




  1. Tel Aviv's waterfront had a Miami Beach type of feel to it. I enjoyed staring out at the water and the scene on the beach. Peggy liked the vandalism aka graffiti further inland. I think it would be a great place to live if I were a rich man.....

    1. Yes, I would live here. However, I'm feeling guilty about not speaking Spanish; I'd be daunted by the tough of learning two new languages. Seems like everyone here speaks five.