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Yaffa: the Bride of Frankenstein

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 09.07.2006:

By Mary Geday

Monthly, This Week in Palestine folds its perimeters with maps of the cities of Palestine. But monthly, my city and many others are forgotten, folded and stored aside like the laundry of a passing season, like pristine nostalgia, only excavated for sentimentality and footnotes to a passing memory and a passing identification with history and posterity.

My city is Yaffa. It is not my city. It is a farcical remembrance that exists in autobiographies and historical commentaries, in the fabricated and

marketed notations of the West Bank and Diaspora elite. It is a snowballing monster home to a drug addicted local population and the new rich of the left-wing liberals of the ‘Rise to Zion’ population. It is not the Bride of Palestine, as Ramallah has usurped that sceptre, but the bride of Frankenstein, the bride of Mephistopheles, the bride of heroin and cocaine, the bride of purple coloured pickles on the sides of streets mangled and disfigured by military police preventing Palestinian shop-owners from serving customers, the bride of Israeli real-estate shops packed like compost in the doorways of old Palestinian houses arched by marble and stained glass, and haloed by military helicopters. This is Yaffa.

Yaffa is the Sheikh Jarrah (East Jerusalem) of 1948 occupied territories. It is the home of others. It is the home of someone else who owns your key because you are in need of integration, development, placation, silencing and surveillance. Yaffa is home to the real-estate elite of the Zionist cause under the umbrella of economic cooperation, civil development and coexistence. Yaffa is no longer Yaffa; it is Tel Aviv-Yafo.

After the full occupation of Jerusalem, and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, it took the municipality of what was then Yafo-Tel Aviv many years, as it appeared back then, to fathom and materialise a vision for Yaffa. For decades, namely, the 1960s to the 1990s, its Palestinian residents, that miniscule number remaining from 1948 and the influx which penetrated the city from the remaining part of the territories thereafter, accepted their subjugation to Tel Aviv and their subjugation to the rising mound of garbage which lined the coastal shores of Yaffa and became known as ‘Il Tamam.’ But the municipality had a vision, a Faustian vision worthy of Joseph Conrad’s title, “The Heart of Darkness.” This dumping ground, the largest dumping ground of the lower Gush Dan region (Tel Aviv and its suburbs) which populated and polluted Yaffa’s beach, leaving the Tel Aviv beachfront seemingly blue for the wave of tourist, diplomatic and hotel development boom of the 1980s, was the vision. It was the vision of Shlomo Lahat, the real-estate father of Tel Aviv, the maker of the ‘Tayelet’ boardwalk spanning from the old city of Yaffa, past Palestine’s old train station, past Hassan Beik Mosque and its imposing neighbour, the David Intercontinental Hotel, past the embassy and consulate strip to Reading Station, the electrical-power backbone of the long devised, designed and contrived municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo. Lahat demolished 75% of Yaffa, its original homes, buildings and port structures, 100- to 300-year-old shops, houses and mansions. In their place he brought the physical waste of Tel Aviv. The beachfront, the heart of left-over Yaffa, became a 2 km heap of rubbish. The plan was perfect. After more than twenty years of living in and next to a waste and sewage disposal site, the Palestinian population either emigrated, left for other parts of the territories, or fled the beach line inwards or towards the southern rim of Yaffa, now called Bat Yam and Rishon Le Zion.

Today, the vision is on its way to full realisation. Yaffa is an Israeli’s city, a diplomat’s city, and an artist’s playground. It is the home of French Jews, South-African Jews, Russian Jews, American Jews, all rich, all property owners in Yaffa who might visit their property ten days during the summer with the added possible visit during Pessah(Passover). It is the home of diplomats, and aid and development foreign nationals who prefer the marble balconies and stolen citrus and olive trees to the polluted cubicles of Tel Aviv matchbox apartments. It is the home of independent filmmakers and aspiring directors who cloud the debris of Yaffa with Israeli actors in Kafiyas pretending to be West Bankers or Gaza refugees in a soon-to-be the latest talk at the Berlin Film Festival. The dumping ground, as you might have guessed, is gone. Gradually and silently cleared away over the last ten years, metre by metre with the purchase of beachfront real-estate, the Yaffa shoreline is now home to consulates, consulate and embassy housing and, of course, home to the new wave of ‘Aliya’ (Rise to Zion) communities: rich Jews lured to Israel with the promise of top real-estate, money making opportunities, and the prestige of owning a left-over Arab home in the new ‘Artist Village’ of Israel, the young, liberal, leftist, cosmopolitan Yafo, as close as it gets to Sydney, Australia, where you can go to work in your shorts and flip-flops with a shake and a falafel from some Arab guy down the street for a total of 13 Shekels.

Source: This Week in Palestine, July 2006

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