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Jaffa: Israel's mixed city

By Adam LeBor

Tile map of Jaffa
A tile map of Jaffa - a city mentioned in the Bible and once the cultural heart of Palestine

Before 1948, when the state of Israel was established, an event Palestinians call the Nakba (Catastrophe), Jaffa was the cultural capital of Palestine.

The city is mentioned in the Bible and is now a mixed Jewish and Arab city in Israel.

It was known as the 'Bride of the Sea' and boasted numerous newspapers, cinemas, theatres and sports clubs.

About 90,000 residents fled during the fighting in 1948, and only a few thousand stayed, but it is now a vibrant mixed city home to Muslims, Christians and Jews.

The relationship between Jaffa and neighbouring Tel Aviv is a metaphor for that between Israel and Palestine.

Tel Aviv, which became the modern Hebrew city, was founded in the late 19th Century as a suburb of Jaffa to absorb Jewish immigrants. Jaffa is now a suburb of Tel Aviv and is blighted by high levels of crime, unemployment and drugs gangs.

But now Tel Aviv is spending millions on urban renewal projects. Clock Tower square, the heart of the city has been restored, roads are being repaired, the port is being reconstructed and education improved.

Eyal Ziv, the Israeli architect in charge of the renovation, is so passionate about the city he loves, that he jokes he hears the buildings calling to him to restore them.

Soaring prices

However as Jaffa becomes a more desirable place to live house and land prices are soaring.

Activists say that the local Arabs, such as the Hatab family, who have lived in their home for seven generations, are being forced out, to make way for new developments. Municipal officials deny this and point to the monies being spent on improving Arab schools.

Despite the difficulties, Jaffa's Arabs are finding their voice in Israel's lively civil society.

When there are tensions between the Jews and Arabs regionally, then you feel those tensions here very quickly
Frank Meisler, artist

Khamis Aboulafia, a prominent Arab journalist and businessman, broadcasts each Saturday on Radio Tel Aviv.

He says: "It's the first time in Israel's history that they give a microphone and a stage for an Arab to talk about his feelings and needs, and to say what he wants, within the law."

Safa Younes too is a Jaffa pioneer. An observant Muslim and mother of three, Safa, 33, is one of the founders of a new Arab women's organisation in Jaffa - 'Urs al-Bahr', the Bride of the Sea.

Arab women in Israel have two major problems, she says.

"Firstly, that they are women, with less rights than men, and secondly that they are part of a national minority, as Arabs in a Jewish state. We want to empower them, not from the top, but from the bottom up."

Jews and Arabs work together at Frank Meisler's foundry. Frank escaped the Holocaust and built a new life in Jaffa.

Now one of Israel's most famous artists, he says Jaffa is a microcosm of the wider Middle East.

"When there are tensions between the Jews and Arabs regionally, then you feel those tensions here very quickly."

The national question may be an ever-present backdrop, but day to day Jaffa's inhabitants, whatever their faith, just get on with their lives.


Readers can see Jaffa Stories, presented by Adam LeBor, on BBC World News at these times [all GMT]:

• Wednesday 7 May at 1930

• Thursday 8 May at 0930

• Friday 9 May at 1530

• Saturday 10 May 10 at 0130, 1030 and 1930

• Sunday 11 May at 1330, 1830

• Monday 12 May at 0830

Readers can also see Jaffa Stories on the BBC News Channel at these times [all GMT]:

• Saturday 10 May at 0530, 1430 and 2130

• Sunday 11 May at 0330 and 1430




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