Tel Aviv´s Jaffa Gate, or, small scale geopolitics

The famous Jaffa Gate in Jerualem has a more abstract equivalent in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Right at the former border between the Jewish settlement of Tel Aviv and the ancient town of Jaffa there are today two remarkable structures in the cityscape of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. There is the Hasan Bek Mosque, now surrounded by a huge parking space and a series of high-rise hotels; and there is the abandoned Dolphinarium, the only big structure located directly at the beach in the city. Lying on the opposite sides of the main motor artery along the beach, both are situated where once Menshiyeh, the northern Arab suburb of Jaffa, met the new Jewish settlement of Ahuzat Bayit, what later became Tel Aviv. Walking or driving from the city centre or the beaches towards Jaffa, the two structures symbolise the transition from Tel Aviv proper into a border-zone between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. The interplay between architecture and border-space, particularly in this area, has been addressed by Tali Hatuka and Rachel Kallus.[1]

© borderlandlevant

The Hasan Bek Mosque was built in 1916, in a time when Tel Aviv, founded seven years earlier, set out to grow considerably. The building site was certainly not chosen by chance but to put down a marker of Arab presence in the northern fringes of Jaffa, where the newly build Jewish settlement was about to expand. In the period of conflict before the 1948 war, the mosque was used by Arab snipers as a fighting platform, underlining the area´s characteristic as a contested border zone. After the Jewish victory in the war, Arabs were expelled from Menshiyeh. Plans of modernisation and, concomitantly, Jewish nationalisation of the land were made and the old Arab structures of the quarter were razed in the 1960s and 70s.[2] But the mosque remained as an architectural remnant. Today, the area is dominated by the mentioned parking spaces, a large park that is a popular leisure space with both Arabs and Jews, and high-rise hotels. There is also an entirely misplaced commercial centre, once intended to bring the CBD to the area. But by doing so, it cutted off ties between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. The existenc of the mosque is clearly disregarded in all this. Nimrod Luz places this exceptional location of the sacred site next to the wider geo-political conflict by seeing “the mosque within a dynamic boundary between two ethnonational communities and their struggle to dominate the same geographic space.”[3]

hasan bek mosque

© borderlandlevant

The Dolphinarium, located opposite to the mosque and directly at the seashore, was opened in 1981 and was meant to be a recreational facility, the `blue-and-white Disneyland´. Due to a misjudgement of the economic viability of such a project and difficulties with the investors, the complex was closed after only four years in operation in 1985. Several attempts to rebrand it failed. It´s sad history peaked by a deadly suicide-bombing, which killed 21 young women and men and wounded over 100 more in 2001.[4] The victims were queuing for a night out in the club into which the dolphinarium had been turned, and the attack was one of the most harmful in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. These days the building is in decay, but plans to demolish it were postponed due to differing opinions about the future of the structure and the site.[5] As it is privately owned, the city would have to offer significant compensation for the owner. There is talk about a piece of land nearby that can be developed (and turned into massive profit).

© borderlandlevant

The immediate connection to the adjacent mosque with regard to the bombing is that the day after the attack, Jewish demonstrators gathered around the mosque, partly violently protesting against – the symbol of – Palestinian presence in the area. Only one in a series of incidents putting pressure on the Muslim community running the mosque. Luz, writing about this `Hassan Bek mosque conflict´, states that “[t]he symbolic meanings of this act are readily apparent. The rioters wanted to annihilate the mosque by breaching its sacred boundaries and eliminating as much of its physical attributes as possible. But by this very act they did nothing but reify its sociospatial boundaries […].”[6]

© borderlandlevant

Now these historic facts are interesting, but what I would like to highlight is that there obviously was and still is an atmosphere of contestation in this border-zone between parts of a rather uncomfortably (and unilaterally) unified city, mirroring a conflict that by far exceeds the urban limits of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. The razed quarter of Arab-Menshiyeh with the Mosque as the only remnant, the Dolphinarium and the whole surroundings represent a noticeable wound in the urban fabric and the authorities seem not to know what to do with it. The two structures are only symbols and not really a gate towards Jaffa, but a zone of uncertainty. This socio-spatial setting can therefore be seen as yet another scale of the bigger geo-political situation. Or, as emphasised by Hatuka and Kallus, that “the border between Tel Aviv and Jaffa is affected by the unstable geo-political situation of their undefined national borders. Hence, although defined as a concrete physical place and connected to architectural practice and everyday lived experience, the border between Tel Aviv and Jaffa is altered according to political events at the national level.”[7] Once again, borders are folding into the microcosms of urbanity.

[1] Hatuka, T, Kallus, R 2006, Loose ends: the role of architecture in constructing urban borders in Tel Aviv–Jaffa since the 1920s, in: Planning Perspectives 21(1)

[2] Luz, N 2008, The politics of sacred places: Palestinian identity, collective memory, and resistance in the Hassan Bek mosque conflict, in: Environment and Planning D-Society & Space 26(6)

[3] Luz 2008, p 1038

[6] Luz 2008, p 1037

[7] Hatuka & Kallus 2006, p 24

All rights reserved: Sigi Atteneder, 2013