[on the politics of space & cultural interventions]

Al-Manshiyya: Desert Bloom or Bust


University of Arizona

Seaside vignettes of leisure and decadence along the Homat HaYam Promenade in Palestine omit the historicity of the al-Manshiyya neighborhood upon which these modern Israeli spaces are built, and gloss over the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians in greater Tel Aviv. Consecutive eras of Zionist colonialism since the late 19th century in this coastal city are generative of physical and psychic bordering through the contemporary moment. In its current form, al-Manshiyya is a repository for construction equipment; cinder blocks, heaps of dredged beach sand, backhoes, forklifts and plastic basins holding rough stones and miscellaneous plastics piled on sidewalks nearest the shoreline. The nearby mechanic and metalwork shops are in structural disarray; several roofs are on the verge of collapse, many storefront windows have been broken and stucco work is on the brink of disintegration. The al-Manshiyya of today is unrecognizable from its pre-1948 iteration:

The neighborhood was built of a combination of one- and two-story buildings, stretching along the shore. According to a 1944 local police report, the population of Manshiyya numbered some 12,000 Palestinians and about 1,000 Jews, on an area of some 2,400 dunums…According to the 1944 police report, Manshiyya had 12 bakeries, 20 coffee houses, 14 carpentry shops, 3 bicycle repair shops, 5 doctors, 7 factories, 7 jewelers, goldsmiths and silversmiths, 6 hotels, 10 laundries, 3 pharmacies, 3 printers, 6 restaurants, an electrical power plant and other commercial establishments.[1]

This once-vibrant neighborhood is presently in a holding pattern for the next wave of development aimed at attracting socioeconomically privileged Jews and international tourists. The Hassan Bek mosque and Charles Clore Park, situated in what was historically al-Manshiyya, serve as sites to anchor this understanding of negation and erasure of Palestinian homes and livelihoods in the area.

Image 1 Pre-Nakba Neighborhood boundaries of al-Manshiyya (De-Colonizer: Research/Art Laboratory for Social Change, 2015)

Spatializations of difference and exclusion are noticeable in the vernacular landscape and modern architectures which contribute to the Judaization of the neighborhood and a global aesthetic in these spaces that all but entirely expunges Palestinians’ connection to this land. My approach to visualizing this ongoing annihilation and cooption of Palestinian history on Tel Aviv’s coast includes a close reading of a selection of archival photographs and documents of al-Manshiyya primarily from the 1930s-2000s, as well as drawing from my own digital photography, cartographies and written observations while working and conducting research in the city (2014-2019).

I utilize wayfinding and psychogeographic methods to explore this palimpsest of colonial space to critically attune to minutia in the processes of urban usurpation and the ways in which continual annexation and dispossession reproduce social and spatial segregation. This interdisciplinary sensory ethnography helps illuminate the transformation of the landscape and built environment in al-Manshiyya. These processes can aid in recovering memories that revive Palestinian identity in the city and shed light on details that the Tel Aviv municipality and neoliberalizing pressures of the redeveloping city seek to disconnect and/or delete Palestinian identity from the space. While there is scholarship on the politics of design and separation between Jaffa and Tel Aviv, little attention is paid to al-Manshiyya, which is located on the coast in the perceived boundary-region of the two.

Image 2 Construction signs mask remaining structures in what remains of al-Manshiyya (Photo by the author, 2018)

The Past as Paved Over Present

The historiography of Jaffa frequently details recurrent destruction of the city—from its conquering by the Egyptians as early as 1496 B.C.E. to the Muslims in 639 and then the Crusaders; its fall to Ottoman rule in 1517 to Napoleon’s 1799 invasion and then European economic expansion in the years following the Crimean War (1853-1856) (LeVine, 2005). By the turn of the 20thcentury, there was great interest in its port as a stronghold for new European economic activity, which fed a construction boom for foreign investment, trade and tourism. During this time of dynamic change, Jaffa quickly developed into a center for immigrants from neighboring Arab countries. Many Egyptians came to Jaffa with General Ibrahim Pasha in the 1830s, and these groups later founded the neighborhoods of Abu Kabir and Rashid, among others (ibid.). This flurry of development in Jaffa Port also attracted early Zionist settlers to the region and increased tensions between these new Jewish communities and preexisting Palestinian ones:

The problems generated by increasing penetration of Jews (especially Zionists) in what was heretofore a rather uniformly Palestinian Arab economy were exacerbated by the construction of new buildings by Jews in the Jaffa region, which caused “public reaction,” struggles, and even physical violence between Jews and Palestinian Arabs. (LeVine, 2005, p. 48)

While the festering animosities were more complex than just “Zionists vs. Palestinians”—including disputes between Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian leaders, Hassidic Ashkenazi and Sephardi-Maghrebi Jews, and more—most notable was the need for the increasingly dominant Zionist immigrants to physically separate themselves from their Arab neighbors. These new neighborhoods, including al-Manshiyya (established in the 1870s), “led to new streets being cut through the existing orange groves, creating new spatial patterns that facilitated the urbanization of the region, including its villages” (p. 52). The nascent Tel Aviv municipality expanded to encompass these communities, demonstrative of the determined beginnings of a Jewish nationalist spatial regime that fed the modern sprawl of Tel Aviv.

Image 3 Al-Manshiyya, 1928 (Zochrot, 2014)

Image 4 Al-Manshiyya, before the Nakba (Zochrot, 2014)

The municipality continued to encroach upon and expropriate Palestinian land throughout the 1930s and 1940s with rapidity leading up to the Nakba and Israel state formation in 1948, often employing skillful and deceptive justifications for the annexation of land. The Etzel (Irgun), a Zionist paramilitary organization during the British Mandate, directly attacked al-Manshiyya on April 25, 1948 to cut off the neighborhood from surrounding Arab villages. Over 600 fighters with large amounts of grenades and ammunition attacked at dawn. Residents tried vehemently to resist, but failed due to lack of weaponry and available fighters. Al-Manshiyya fell on April 28 after scores of Palestinians were wounded or killed, and the neighborhood was cut off from Jaffa. The following day, the Etzel detonated the al-Manshiyya police station, planting the Jewish flag on its ruins (Zochrot, 2014). Following the neighborhood’s capture, power was transferred to the Haganah, which expelled remaining inhabitants to Jordan, Egypt or by sea to Gaza. The rest of al-Manshiyya’s infrastructure was demolished in stages, with some homes spared for newly-arrived Jewish immigrants to settle.

Of Ruins and Remodels

In subsequent eras of Zionist colonialism since the early 20th century, physical and psychic bordering is continually reproduced. This is evidenced not only by critical historians and theorists, but by the few remaining Palestinian elders who experienced these erasures and traumas and the ongoing dispossessions first-hand. A short documentary on al-Manshiyya produced by the NGO Zochrot in 2011 highlights the stories of Eftekhar Turk and Saleh Masri, both from Jaffa. Eftekhar painfully recalled the near constant displacement and instability her family experienced once Zionist forces began attacking, “Within al-Manshiyya we were expelled six times. You go out into the street and see people running. Everyone was looking for a vehicle to get out” (Zochrot. 2011, 6:32). The film includes photographs of the neighborhood following the Nakba, which help illustrate the widespread destruction she and others faced (Fig. 5). The decimation of this Arab neighborhood created, in essence, a blank slate for Jewish Israelis to redesign and rewrite the space and its storied history—leaving little to no trace of the once-vibrant Palestinian community.

Image 5 Al-Manshiyya, 1949 (Zochrot 2011)

Now more than 70 years on from the Nakba, I walk the Mediterranean shore of Tel Aviv and expanses of nearby concrete with aims of finding (im)material traces of al-Manshiyya. As philosopher Michel de Certeau noted, “What the map cuts up, the story cuts across” (O’Rourke, 2013, p. 1), which serves as a diagram for psychogeographic methods I utilize in my exploration of this storied space. Psychogeography, then, can be interpreted as a toolbox for experiencing, reading and meditating on space where (de)territorialization constantly occurs. Theorist Guy Debord wrote on how these practices can examine the specific effects of the geographical environment, and recommended drifting (which I refer to as wayfinding):

The practice of de-familiarization and the choice of encounters, the sense of incompleteness and ephemerality, the love of speed transposed onto the plane of the mind, together with inventiveness and forgetting are among the elements of an ethics of drifting we have already begun to test in the poverty of the cities of our time. (p. 7)

These processes, including but not limited to interdisciplinary artmaking, alternative cartography and curettage, expand the potential ways to document and interact with the built environment of Tel Aviv. The Hassan Bek mosque is one site where I drift to bear witness to the ruination of al-Manshiyya and the totalizing erasure of Palestinian indigeneity in the space. But the nuances of this destruction are just that; traces potentially impossible to view without constant attunement to the lives and stories that thrived there only some decades ago.

Images 6 & 7 Dismal attempts at making “the desert bloom” (Photo by the author, 2018)

All of the ground surrounding the mosque is now either paved thickly with asphalt or laid with concrete, so as to deny the neighborhood’s ruins the slightest chance to breathe. Even the sand on the shore is trucked in from elsewhere. In recent years when I walked the ground’s perimeter, there are no visible signs in Arabic (everything is written in Hebrew and/or English; signage directing tourists to parking lots and beaches) that testify to the mosque’s recent turbulent history, its architecture nor its importance to the Palestinian people of the region as a stronghold for resistance. It appears like a purposeful oversight by the municipality, with aims of removing the opportunity for tourists’ curiosity and “ignoring it away” out of the city’s collective memory.

Across the street from Hassan Bek mosque, Charles Clore Park was constructed, serving as a second example of negation and erasure of Palestinian history on the land:

[The park was] named for a Jewish British philanthropist, designed by E. Hillel, the landscape architect and poet, [and] established on most of Manshiyya. The rolling surface of the park formed “dunes” concealing the rubble remaining from the demolition of the neighborhood, which had been pushed to the seaside. In the Zionist tradition of making the wilderness bloom, the dunes were covered with grass and colored green…[this project] is an example of how the process of destruction, which started with an attack on the neighborhood, continues even now, in the guise of “planning” or “development.” (Zochrot, 2014)

This is the park that two nearby parking lots serve, underscoring the isolating organization of the city around Hassan Bek mosque; pay-per-vehicle entry for access to the beach, sea and other leisure activities that severs the mosque-goers from the sea. Planning and design measures (re)produce and preserve spatial control by expressing materializations of ideologies that manipulate the ways people experience space (Hatuka & Kallus, 2006), and Charles Clore Park is a vast swath of coastal land reconstructed with the intent to eradicate what remained of al-Manshiyya. My digital photographs serve as reference to the ongoing erasure of Palestinian history in the neighborhood, as well as the municipality’s vested interest in Israeli and international investment and development in the city.

Images 8 & 9 Charles Clore Park (Photo by the author, 2018)

The destruction and re-urbanization of al-Manshiyya is not unique to the coastal region—as there are spatial critiques of ruination elsewhere in Palestine, yet it must be emphasized:

Rather than assert the homogenous and consensual status of colonized space, the ambiguity of emptiness and ruination exposes the deep uncertainties and contradictions that are inherent in the production and perpetuation of ethnonational spatial regimes…The slippages and ambiguities that plague the symbolic domain of spatial production signal the volatility of the hegemonic structure and point to critical instances in which it is forced to defend and reassert its ideological foundations. (Leshem, 2013, p. 533)

With focus on the Hassan Bek mosque and the landscaping and vernacular architecture of Charles Clore Park, consecutive eras of Zionist colonialism since the early 20th century in al-Manshiyya are rendered visible despite Israelis’ efforts to depict these pasts as unnecessary or altogether nonexistent. This demonstrates the visual and stylized violence inherent in modern architectur