The last joint election of Tel Aviv and Jaffa?

Photo: Martin Wein

Ever since Sharon Rotbard’s classic White City-Black City was published in 2005, exposing the deep rift between Tel Aviv and Jaffa, the clock has been ticking for the joint municipality. Eternal Mayor Ron Huldai has been trying to keep the city together, but at the same time his neo-liberal economic and social policies actually increased the polarisation. Since May 2021, when Jaffa descended into anarchy, the rift has been open. Since October 7, the fracture even manifests itself visually all over: two cities, side-by-side, one pro-war, the other pro-ceasefire; one pro-Israel, the other neutral.

Tel Aviv is now de-facto Arab-free. Even the most established falafel stand workers, known to their whole neighbourhood for decades, or typically Arabic-speaking construction site workers, are gone. No more Arab shoppers, and few if any Arabs still dare to live in Tel Aviv, with its war hysteria and blue-and-white ocean of flags and stickers, often with a religious slant, plus the soundtrack of military radio news in Hebrew turned up to full volume. On the other hand, orange, as in the iconic Jaffa oranges, has become the omnipresent colour of Jaffa posters, announcing a myriad of the all-volunteer Arab-Jewish civic guards activities, including for children, calling on Jaffans to stick together, or to “Stop the War,” in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.

Of course, anyone familiar with this city’s modern history knows that the early phase of the Arab-Jewish conflict was to some degree a “tale of two cities” – the competition between multireligious Jaffa and its northernmost Jewish suburb Tel Aviv, the Zionist model town and “First Hebrew City.” Split into two municipalities at the start of British rule, the 1947-1949 War ended with a destruction of large parts of Jaffa, including a terrorist attack that destroyed the old municipality building on Clock Tower Square, the displacement or expulsion of about 95% of the Muslim and Christian citizens (often to Gaza), the plundering of their properties by private individuals and the state, and the annexation of Jaffa municipality to Tel Aviv. The rapist married his victim.

However, Jaffa had been earmarked as a separate territorial exclave of the Arab state surrounded by Jewish territory in the 1947 UN Partition Plan, on the basis of which Israel was founded. Therefore, internal Arab refugees were resettled in Jaffa, possibly from the Galilee and other places, in what may have been an attempt by David Ben Gurion to cover up what amounted to a religious-origin-based cleansing, specifically for foreign press, observers, or visitors. Initially, however, even Jaffa’s few remaining and new Christians and Muslims were forced into a locked, barbed-wired and guarded “ghetto” (as it was called back then), around Ajami. The rest of the city was resettled with Jewish refugees, specifically Bulgarians, Sephardic or Mizrachi Jews. This established the status of Jaffa as a “Black” City, meaning “not Ashkenazy.”

The elevation of Tel Aviv to a “White City” world heritage site by UNESCO in 2003 used a term lifted from French and British colonial life, in which natives were physically segregated from their masters at night, reserving modern suburbs to Europeans only. Under the false pretext that the name was derived from the original colour of buildings, the municipality cemented once and for all the Ashkenazy supremacy bid. Whites rule.

Today’s situation in the Holy Land is extremely opaque on all levels. And yet, Jaffa, out of all places, has remained an oasis of peace, mainly thanks to the community board of about 100 local leaders and a volunteer “army of social workers,” the Arab-Jewish civic guard, with perhaps 5,000 members. But Tel Aviv’s Eternal Mayor, who barely pretends to care about Jaffa, established separate Jewish neighourhood guards and is already allowing Israel’s “public security minister” to distribute free arms to urban settlers, often knit-kippah donning colonialists and religious extremists.

The ideological rift between Tel Aviv and Jaffa has never been starker than today. On November 9, 2023 (the commemoration day of Kristallnacht) at least 18 local pro-ceasefire and peace protesters were arrested at the main Jaffa police station. The same evening an online meeting was held, of the Jaffa community leaders, from all faiths and languages. The atmosphere was tense. What is the precondition for normal life in Jaffa is now being criminalised by Israel and its Tel Aviv cronies: peace.

In fact, Jaffa is so multi-religious/secular and profoundly multilingual that it is already a miniature one-state-solution. This is not to say that the Jaffa model could be applied elsewhere, except perhaps in Haifa. In Jaffa, Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian, and French are widely used as quasi-official languages. Moreover, a mixed local language is developing – Jaffish. Will this city be able to buck the trend and continue to protect a censorship-free base for culture, education, academia, tech, and journalism? Will it be able to escape the grip of war fever?

The current top Jaffa candidate for the municipality is Amir Badran. He is a young lawyer and leader of the secular and multilingual “We All Are The City” party and co-founder of the Arab-Jewish civic guards. His mother is Jewish, his father is Muslim, and he was educated at a French school. He is a Jaffan as it gets. Since the next municipal elections may well be held separately for a resurrected Jaffa Municipality, it is of key importance to build up Amir Badran already now to then secure a stable democratic transition for Jaffa.

About the Author
Dr. Martin Wein taught history at New York University and Tel Aviv University. He is a former research student of US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt. Dr. Wein has published on Prague Zionism, on the secret Czechoslovak military role in the foundation of Israel in 1948, on "global comparative genocide," and on multi-religious relations in Europe and the Middle East, from the 19th century to the present.
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