In the late 19th century, travelers on the long road from Jaffa to Jerusalem could stop at a rest station to relax and have a cup of (overpriced) coffee. This past, and the story of Jerusalem opening itself to the world, has been lost in the Zionist retelling of history.
By Yonathan Mizrachi
There is an ongoing debate in Israel over whether an Ottoman-era site along the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway should commemorate the actions in 1948 of the late, deeply controversial Rehavam Ze’evi, or the Harel Brigade of the Palmach, the pre-state incarnation of the Israel Defense Forces. But the inn at Bab al-Wad, or Sha’ar Hagai in Hebrew, has a pre-Israeli and pre-military past that has been brushed over in the debate.
Built in 1869 by the Ottoman government, the inn was intended as a rest station on the route from Jaffa to Jerusalem; the journey was made by carriage on a dirt road, and took at least 12 hours. The Turks built the inn as part of their efforts to improve the conditions for travelers on the route after many years of neglect, and its construction attests to the significant political and cultural changes that the land — and in particular Jerusalem — underwent in the second half of the 19th century.
The same period was also marked by the increasing involvement of world powers in the Holy Land, with more and more representatives from European countries arriving for short- and long-term stays. The number of tourists and pilgrims also jumped, and that same route from Jaffa to Jerusalem, renovated by the Ottomans and with the Bab al-Wad inn beside it, became the major highway it is today in Israel, which is once again under renovation.
The work on the route back then included widening the road and establishing refreshment and rest stations along it. Bab al-Wad was the first such station, with a stable and water well on the first floor and a cafe on the second floor, which was later joined by a hostel. Written sources describe free parking at the inn, although patrons were required to purchase an exorbitantly-priced coffee — meaning that even back then, the idea of charging astronomical sums in the middle of nowhere was an accepted one.
Bab al-Wad was managed by various Jewish families who had to pay taxes to the Turkish district governor. But the laying...Read More