Media Analysis

The ‘NYT’ turns Jaffa into an ‘ancient neighborhood’ of Tel Aviv revived by Israeli realtors and chefs

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Debra Kamin’s March 14, 2019 New York Times Travel section piece, “Jaffa Is Tel Aviv’s Unexpected Luxury Hotspot,” follows the familiar pattern of Zionist revisionist history that completely ignores Palestinian history.  The article refers to Jaffa only as an “ancient neighborhood” of modern Tel Aviv, and focuses on the upscale Jewish real-estate boom in the old Palestinian city, complete with gorgeous photos to accompany the piece.

The article offers a sanitized Jaffa that avoids any mention of the Palestinian point of view, likening the relationship between Jaffa and Tel Aviv to the famous American comedy duo:

Jaffa, the age-old Abbott to youthful Tel Aviv’s Costello, is an ancient port in the midst of a luxury renaissance. This 3,000-year-old harbor is a labyrinth of white stone alleys, hushed mosques and markets brimming with antiques and spices.

By fetishizing the old feel of the “hushed mosques,” and juxtaposing them to the modern “luxury renaissance,” Kamin draws a line from ancient to today, a “quiet intermix of ancient walls and sleek modern lines.”  But the article ignores the Judaized mode of gentrification of the Palestinian city that has also included altering street signs–all efforts to commodify and colonize any existing Palestinian land.

And it altogether erases Jaffa’s special place in Palestinian history: the “bride of the sea,” the largest Palestinian population center before the Nakba, from which leading cultural figures such as the late Ibrahim Abu-Lughod were ethnically cleansed when Zionists conquered the city in violation of the UN partition plan.

Kamin writes about three new upscale hotels, providing the unique history of each that never mentions the city’s Palestinian history:

The Setai Tel Aviv (in a former Ottoman prison with Crusader-era origins); The Jaffa (an Aby Rosen recreation of a former hospice for malaria victims) and The Drisco, a revival of Jaffa’s first luxury hotel, shuttered since 1940)–opened last year, within spitting distance of each other.

Hotels aren’t the only new addition, Kamin boasts:

And that’s not all: Add to the mix of this major makeover a new lush Japanese spa, a bustling night life district and a flea market packed with restaurants led by major Israeli chefs.

According to Aby Rosen, a New York-based real estate tycoon, Jaffa’s appeal is that it is both ancient and modern at once:

“Jaffa is the hottest area in Tel Aviv–the energy and authenticity, coupled with the creativity seen in the ancient architecture, the local artists, galleries and not to mention the amazing food and the sea–it’s all part of the appeal…Jaffa has all the components to be the next big thing.”

Israel loves its Palestinian cities, of course, because they contain fewer and fewer Palestinians.  The architecture is appropriated into background scenery, its visitors get a thrill as they sit in new shiny restaurants on top of ancient stones.  Everything before 1948 becomes prehistoric and mystified.  Any remaining Palestinians in Jaffa, if they’re referred to at all, are called Arabs–they’re from there but not really from there, part of the landscape but not its history.

It turns out that the erasure of Palestinian history was even a bit much for the New York Times.  The piece became a lightning rod in our progressive community; and the online edition included this Editors’ note on March 14, 2019:

The original version of this article, in focusing exclusively on the new high-end hotels and other additions, failed to touch on important aspects of Jaffa’s makeup and its history–in particular, the history and continuing presence of its Arab population and the expulsion of many residents in 1948. Because of this lapse, the article also did not acknowledge the continuing controversy about new development and its effect on Jaffa. After readers pointed out the problems, editors added some of that background information to this version.

 And here’s the paragraph the editors added to the body of the piece to make things right:

The gentrification hasn’t pleased everyone. Jaffa for centuries has been a stronghold of Arab and Muslim life. In 1948, when the State of Israel was founded, most of Jaffa’s Arab residents were forcibly removed from their homes. Today the district is one of the few areas of the country with a mixed Arab and Jewish population, and as luxury projects have moved in, so have accusations that the city’s Muslim history is being erased.

But even the New York Times’s attempt at transparency includes a sanitized history.  This paragraph states that Jaffa had a strong “Arab and Muslim life,” yet the word Palestine or Palestinian is never used.  Jaffa still has a “mixed Arab and Jewish population,” but nothing is mentioned about Israel’s ongoing efforts to Judaize and colonize the city.  

Additionally, the added paragraph, intended to placate readers upset with the piece, only suggests that there are “accusations that the city’s Muslim history is being erased,” which only further contributes to the erasure of any mention of Palestinian life.

Instead, the article sticks to its sterile “ancient” history: a stone wall that dates “to the Crusader period, that had once formed the perimeter of a 12th-century fortress,” the “Ottoman-era clock tower,” and its ancient port, “said to be where Jonah set out to meet his whale.”

Ultimately, Kamin’s piece says nothing new. It’s another marketing opportunity for Israeli real-estate to cover up the ongoing colonization of Palestinian land and culture, another Orientalist fetish-fest whereby visitors amble and patronize the former Palestinian spaces, take in the cultural vibe without understanding its erasure.

The article perpetuates the newspaper’s commitment to preserving a Zionist myth that says these stones might be ancient, but the New York Times won’t talk about what’s happened there since. And why would they? They’re on their way to try the hip new restaurant starring an Israeli chef with a backdrop of ancient stone walls.

P.S. Kamin, who is said to live in Tel Aviv, a month ago tweeted a photograph of Ben-Gurion airport with this appreciation: “Back in the motherland and it feels so good.”

Debra Kamin’s appreciative photo of Ben Gurion airport, Feb. 15, 2019.


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Zochrot is always a good source on pre-colonised Palestine – here’s Jaffa: Jaffa was the largest city in historic Palestine during the years of the British mandate, with a population of more than 80,000 Palestinians in addition to the 40,000 persons living in the towns and villages in its… Read more »

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Jaffa. Alhambra Cinema. 1937

If memory serves, Jaffa was not included in the Jewish portion of the Plan for Partition. The attack began about a month before the declaration of independence.

“Debra Kamin, in 2018 at a TEDx talk on the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide. “

Wonder what she had to say about that.

This article ends with a little P.S, quoting a tweet (“back in the motherland and it feels so good”) and showing a photograph of inside the airport near Tel-Aviv. Actually, it’s all quite trivial and really very uninteresting – so I just couldn’t imagine why on earth the author of… Read more »

That photo puts the “Welcome to Israel” sign into context. It still has a Ming the Merciless feel, though.