The Jaffa Slope Park
The ongoing process of gentrification of Yafa and ‘ruination’ of the Palestinian heritage
By: Margot Pagot and Francesca Atzas
11/2020

I. Focus on ‘Ajami, Jaffa: ghettoization, environmental injustice and gentrification (1948-2000).

Ajami’s timeline: 

• 1948–1960:

- May 1948:  Fall of the Jaffa during the Passover festival by the Jewish underground militia and exodus of more than 95% of Jaffa’s Palestinian residents.

-  April 1950: Annexation of the city by the Tel Aviv municipality. Jaffa becomes an overcrowded immigrant city.

• 1960–1985: Disinvestment and demolition as part of the Urban Renewal Plan.

- 1969: Creation of the ‘Ajami municipal landfill.

• 1985–2000: The Municipality’s policy change: Orientalization of Jaffa, promotion of gentrification and new environmental policies to enhance Tel Aviv’s coastline. 

  - 1988 & 1990: Two urban master plans were deposited by the municipality ʻThe Sea Park’ and the ʻJaffa Slope’ project to replace the garbage mountain.

- 1989 & 1994: The Andromeda Hill high gated community is constructed on the ‘Ajami Hill. 

- 1995: Jaffa housing crisis known as the ‘Housing Intifada’ (Intifadat al-Sakan). 30 families squatted empty houses formerly owned by the state, administered by the ‘Amidar’ government housing company.

When Israeli militia captured the city of Jaffa during the 1948 war, 70 000 of its Palestinians residents, including most of its local elite, forcibly fled by sea and were never allowed to return.  Jaffa – the former Arab metropolis, still referred as the “Bride of Palestine” – lost its autonomous municipal status and was annexed to Tel-Aviv in April 1950, becoming a poor neglected ‘Arab neighborhood’ and a new hub for Jewish mass immigration coming from Eastern Europe and Northern Africa. The lesser known fact about the history of Jaffa is that most of the 4,000 Palestinians who remained were forced by the newly established state to concentrate in the neighborhood of ‘Ajami, a middle class Palestinian neighborhood overlooking the sea, located in South Jaffa. In fact, in the chaos that characterized the city after the Nakba, ‘Ajami was used as a ghetto: three gates were built and the population within these walls were placed under military control: nobody was allowed to leave without an Israeli Military Governor's authorization (Rabinowitz & Monterescu, 2008; Mann, 2015; Meishar 2017).

   In the aftermath of the war, most of the Palestinian houses in Jaffa were assigned to newly settled Jewish families. Around 2800 buildings were available for accommodation in the area, comprising 16000 rooms, but in order to multiply the number of units and to respond to a very high demand by the new immigrants, homes were architecturally dissected and split into flats. The Jewish immigrants took also the empty houses in ‘Ajami, often sharing the apartments with Palestinians newly displaced. It is in this part of Jaffa that Jews and Palestinians residents lived together through common economic hardships, forced to share kitchens, bathrooms and other facilities. 

As the South Western neighborhoods of Jaffa became overcrowded, the reality of a vibrant ‘mixed’ immigrant city started to disappear in the mid 1960s. The systematic neglect and disinvestment of the Tel-Aviv municipality to those poorer neighborhood triggered an out-migration of Jewish inhabitants who left to newly established housing projects in Bat-Yam and Holon located at the eastern outskirts of Jaffa. As a result, the population of ‘Ajami decreased from 22,000 in 1961 to 4000 in 1989, becoming a neighborhood mostly inhabited by Palestinians (Rabinowitz & Monterescu, 2008). It is also at this same period that the process of demolition of ‘Ajami started, as part of the Urban Renewal Plan firstly implemented in the 1960s. The aim was to replace the Palestinian houses with new and modern residential blocks, not in the purpose of renovating the area and ensuring a better quality of life to the inhabitants, but rather to implement a process of “erascape”, a term coined by the researcher Ziva Kolodney (2008). The concept of erascape consists in the creation of a new spatial order by erasing the existing landscape and uprooting the inhabitants and their life stories from their lands. Consequently, most of the houses were evacuated and then demolished. Their remains, together with additional construction waste form the entire area of Jaffa, were gradually stored in Ajami’s shore, making part of a massive mountain of rubble overflowing the Mediterranean Sea. 

Parallelly, the environmental situation of the neighborhood worsened in the late 1960s: as the institutions in Tel Aviv started to worry about the hygiene all over the city, they decided to improve the standards of living. This plan actually had direct consequences on the weakest sectors of the population and also on the ecosystem, especially on the waters of Mediterranean. Indeed, in order to develop this plan, it was firstly necessary to change the dumping habits of the population and to find a place where the garbage could be dumped.  In this logic, it was declared in 1969 that Ajami’s waters would be sacrificed for this purpose and the new municipal site for dumping construction waste arose in ‘Ajami. It was a wall of waste that covered a sea area of 75,000m. The living conditions in the neighborhood became precarious and the Palestinians who did not want or could not move out, being declared ineligible to receive any financial aid, continued to suffer from the lack of services and the general deterioration caused by the noise, the bad smell and the air pollution. Naama Meishar refers to this case as a clear example of “environmental injustice” or “environmental racism”, being part of the ethno-national plan designed to enhance the social gap between the two parts of new State’s population (2016). The ruination and neglect of the ‘Ajami neighborhood was actually immortalized by foreign film companies and in the 1985 the director of “Delta Force” commented on his selection of Jaffa as the main site for his shooting by saying that Jaffa “looks just like Beirut after the bombings” (Mazawi & Khuri-Makhul, 1991).

However, the demolition of ‘Arab style’ buildings stopped in the 1980s and the gentrification of the neighborhood intensified with young Israeli artists in search of alternative spaces. ‘Arab houses’ became attractive to this new generation and a new orientalist architecture language was created and enhanced: the ‘Jaffa style’. This new interest in the Oriental dilapidated building found in Jaffa triggered a radical change in the municipal planning policy as the government realized that ‘old, dilapidated Arab neighborhood' have an ‘oriental potential’ and could bring more commerce, tourism and hotel lines. In this logic, the Jaffa Planning Team, established by the city engineer in 1985, has led a neoliberal planning policy based on a tight coupling between the municipality and the private sector for the sake of Jaffa’s physical and socioeconomic rehabilitation as both a site for tourism and new chic neighborhood for the burgeoning Jewish elite of ‘global Tel Aviv’. 

The paradigmatic example of the economic conquest of ‘Ajami’s land and the new Orientalist approach towards Jaffa’s neighborhood is the Andromeda Hill project. The Andromeda Hill project is the largest private housing enterprise promoted by the Tel Aviv - Jaffa municipality in Jaffa. The project started in 1989 when the Jewish Canadian entrepreneur, Murray Goldman, signed a deal with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem to build a luxury housing complex on church waqf land overlooking the Jaffa Park, at the top of the Ajami Hill.  In 1994 the architectural plan for building 270 housing units obtained official approval, and work on-site began soon after. Prices start at well over $300,000 for a fifty-square-meter studio apartment and go up to $4 million for the most luxurious penthouse (Levine, 2007; Rabinowitz & Monterescu, 2008). 

Parallelly, between 1988 and 1990 two urban master plans were deposited by the municipality to replace the garbage mountain previously created by a “wide-open sea promenade worthy of its name”: ʻThe Sea Park’ and the ʻJaffa Slope’. The project did not take into consideration the needs of the inhabitants of the area, Jews and Arabs, who represented an obstacle to the project development: for instance, in this difficult and precarious everyday life, the sea and the one-kilometer rocky beach in ‘Ajami represented not only a place of socialization and leisure for the Palestinian residents but a source of livelihood and food supply. This microcosm was a “loosely regulated socionatural enclave” (Meishar, 2012 p.12) for the ethnically marginalized poor population that struggled to survive after the Nakba. Physical exercises and water sport activities took place there for kids and adolescents who preserve today a very clear memory: “We had a beach, I don’t know if in Greece they have such places. Because of this beach I didn’t go to school. We were living in the sea all day” (Suliman Batshon, cited in Meishar, 2012). 

 

II. The Jaffa Slope Park: the ongoing process of gentrification of Yafa and ‘ruination’ of the Palestinian heritage (2000-2010).

It is within the scope of a visionary land reclamation and growing environmental considerations that the project of the Jaffa Slope Park was born and inaugurated in 2010. The project was designed by the same team behind the renovation of the Tel Aviv coast and the Old Port district. Its aim was twofold: to provide an environmentally friendly solution to the landfill disaster, as well as creating a new space of socialization and leisure in ‘Ajami. The project actually generated international buzz and was promoted as an exemplary solution to recycle landfill or neglected poorer areas (Mann, 2015), but the construction of the Jaffa Slope Park on ‘Ajami beach certainly raise many ethical concerns: if the Jaffa Slope Park was made of the recycled debris that accumulated on the site over the years, it means that this so-called environmental success was built on ruins of hundreds of pre-1948 Jaffan Palestinian homes. 

Jaffa Slope Park is, however, a rather unusual case: if it echoes a familiar procedure of covering the state implication in the ruination of Palestinian heritage through greening landscape, Meishar points out that the memory of the Nakba was actually discussed during the early deliberations of the project conducted in Jaffa between 2004 and 2005 (2012, 2016). According to Meishar’s account of the workshops and meetings attended by the residents of ‘Ajami (among them were members of Kedem Street Residents Group, the Arab Christian Orthodox Scouts Cadets Group, and the Muslim Women’s Group) one request was made by a Palestinian resident to the architect Aliza Braudo: ‘to leave it all [the mound] as a symbol of the Nakba’. This request had a strong impact on Braudo and instilled the idea of creating a landscape that would evoke the Palestinian urban loss experienced by the residents of ‘Ajami (Meishar, 2016). How the traces of this usually silenced past were translated and embedded into the park’s structure? 

Jaffa Slope Park’s major feature is its massive grassy rolling hills, an important design element that reminds the observer-pedestrian of Tel Aviv’s northern and wealthier neighborhoods. The other less obvious features of the park are the ones that aim at representing the Palestinian memory in the park’s structure. The utterance of the Palestinian Nakba is embodied in three main designs: the paving of two small plazas with broken tinted tiles, a walking route roughly paved with ground debris that follows the buried shoreline, along which some larger ruins discovered in the mound that have been vertically posted (Meishar, 2016). The broken tiles and the ruins scattered in the park are the most concrete material traces of the Palestinian urban loss in the park, but they are somehow, bothersome presence. The broken tiles found in the center of the plazas were recycled in a sort of ‘orientalist style’, grossly showing that those were probably part of an ‘Arab House’. This gesture of symbolic re-insertion of the indigenous culture into the paving and peaceful surrounding of the park was probably meant as a sort of ‘healing’ metaphor and acknowledgment of the anteriority of the Palestinian presence. Yet, the significance of those tiles are never mentioned, and the park does not contain plaque regarding the origins of these tiles. Consequently, their presence is unremarked and their symbolic potential ineffective. To the uninformed public, those tiles are just oriental decorative ornaments and thus, the Palestinian material heritage become simply part of the general institutional strategy of Orientalization and romantic ruination of Yaffa.

The other utterance of the Palestinian memory is represented by the walking path located at the park’s margins which is paved with debris, transgressing the more ‘harmonious’ landscape architecture. According to the architect Braudo, the path was made along Ajami’s historic waterline that was gradually covered with waste from the 1970s onwards:

The historic shoreline path is almost congruent to the original water line, along which we will post debris from the site, like statues. I think we should not hide what had been there; there was a neighborhood, and there was waste. All layers should be presented. ... It is right that the past will return in a tacit manner (Meishar, 2016). 

But again, despite the attempt of acknowledgement of a prior historical and geographical presence, it remains a passive gesture: it certainly evokes the lost geography and instills a sort of melancholic and haunting presence in the park, but it still obliterates the active institutional destruction that caused this geographical absence and its aftermath.  

There was undeniably an attempt to answer the request made by some residents to physically or metaphorically include the Palestinian traumatic memory within the park. In this sense, the broken tills, the scattered ruins and the melancholic walking path contributed to the transgression of the usual Zionist landscape template and ideology. However, the dominant feature of the park remains its grassy hills, echoing the green veiling process and thus reinforcing not only the hegemonic Zionist narrative ideology but also institutionalized logic of leisure and erasure. Moreover, the traces of the Palestinian memory inserted in the park are not only marginal but also sterile: the park is not a place of remembrance, as it fails at investing in the ruins any sort of symbolic aura. As the experience of the park does not trigger a proactive reading or investment from the observer-pedestrian, the broken tiles and ruins remain unmarked sites of destruction that do not serve either the local community, or any other group, as a site of memorialization. 

Jaffa Slope Park might stand out from other projects of the gentrification of the neighborhood, as it initially aimed at (re)inserting the Palestinian traumatic memory within the Israeli symbolic landscape and provide to the ‘Ajami residents a better alternative to the landfill that preceded it or the high end real estate development that plagues the neighborhood (the Andromeda hill gated community as most striking example). However, as already pointed out by Meishar (2012, 2016) and Mann (2015), despite this gesture made to the Palestinian residents of ‘Ajami, the urging issue of housing distress and municipal neglect faced by the Palestinians community was not tackled and it actually worsened, as the new park significantly raised the prices of properties. The Jaffa Slope Park is thus an ethical failure as well as another striking example of the futility of ‘prettyfying’ marginalized neighborhoods of oppressed residents when its process is undertaken by the same force that marginalize and oppress them. 

References:

Kolodney, Z. & Kallus, R. (2008). From colonial to national landscape: Producing Haifa’s cityscape. Planning Perspectives, 23(3), 323-348.

Levine, M. (2007). Globalization, architecture, and town planning in a colonial city: The Case of Jaffa and Tel Aviv. Journal of World History, 18(2), 171–198.

Mann (2015). “An apartment to remember”: Palestinian memory in the Israeli landscape. History and Memory, 27(1), 83. doi: 10.2979/histmemo.27.1.83

Mazawi, A. & Khuri-Makhul, M. (1991). Spatial policy in Jaffa: 1948–1990. In H. Lusky (Ed.), City and Utopia (pp. 62-74). Tel-Aviv: Israel Publishing Company (Hebrew).

Meishar, N. (2012). In search of meta-landscape architecture: The ethical experience and Jaffa Slope Parks design. Journal of Landscape Architecture, 7(2), 40–45. doi: 10.1080/18626033.2012.746086

Meishar, N. (2017). Up/rooting: Breaching landscape architecture in the Jewish-Arab city. AJS Review, 41(1), 89–109.

Rabinowitz, D., & Monterescu, D. (2008). Reconfiguring the “mixed town”: Urban transformations of ethnonational Relations in Palestine and Israel. International Journal of Middle East Studies, 40(2), 195–226.

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