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Jaffa is neither Palestinian nor Jewish: A response to Rami Younis

What kind of democratic struggle excludes people based on their ethno-religious or national identities, and what kind of liberation is really possible when it concerns only one nation and its nationalism?

By Benjamin Birely

On the evening of May 1st, 1921 the Jaffa-based Socialist Workers Party (MPS), later the “Palestine Communist Party” and a forerunner of today’s Maki, organized a small, unauthorized march between Jaffa and Tel Aviv. Participants marched under a banner in Yiddish that triumphantly called for the establishment of “Soviet Palestine.” Arabic filers were distributed to onlookers. The march ran through Manshiyya, an Arab neighborhood erased literally and metaphorically from the post-48 Israeli consciousness like so many others, on its way to Tel Aviv. When the peaceful rally collided with the large, authorized May Day celebrations of the Zionist, Labor Unity party (Ahdut HaAvoda) with its Hebrew-only language policy, a violent brawl broke out. Police sought to violently disperse the MPS activists. Some bystanders, Jews and Arabs, intervened to protect the revolutionary activists.

Rumors of the fighting spread like wildfire throughout Jaffa and, believing that Arabs were being targeted and attacked, some men organized into armed groups to allegedly defend the Arab population of Jaffa. Horrifying reports soon followed of Arab men looting Jewish businesses and attacking unarmed Jewish pedestrians. Brutal details of Jews, including young children, being murdered in their homes and on the streets shocked and terrified the Jewish populations of Jaffa and Tel Aviv. British High Commissioner Herbert Samuel declared a state of emergency, imposed press censorship, and called for reinforcements. The anti-Jewish violence continued for days and spread quickly to neighboring areas.

A demonstration commemorating Land Day, Jaffa, March 30, 2014. (Photo: Keren Manor/ActiveStills.org)

A demonstration commemorating Land Day, Jaffa, March 30, 2014. (Photo: Keren Manor/ActiveStills.org)

By May 7th 1921, most of the Jewish population of Jaffa had fled, taking refuge in makeshifts tents on the beach between Jaffa and Tel Aviv, or in neighboring Tel Aviv itself. The Haycraft Commission Report, issued shortly after the riots, found that “the racial strife was begun by Arabs, and rapidly developed into a conflict of great violence between Arabs and Jews, in which the Arab majority, who were generally the aggressors, inflicted most of the casualties.” The British Authorities and particularly the Zionist leadership also blamed the Socialist Workers Party.

In reading Rami Younis’ piece on how the Israeli-Left can’t be a partner in the Palestinian struggle for liberty and democracy, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of democratic struggle excludes people based on their ethno-religious or national identities, and what kind of liberation is really possible when it concerns only one nation and its nationalism. In thinking about the Palestinian activist in Younis’ article who claims Jaffa for his nation – and his nation alone – I wonder what my or any other Jews’ place is in his Palestinian, Arabic Jaffa.

This land that we all live in, from the River to the Sea, has political and economic realities shaped by over a century of colonialism, massive immigration, expulsions, warring nationalisms, violence, and an unjust distribution of resources. Our everyday reality echoes events such as the Jaffa riots of 1921, or the Irgun’s offensive on Jaffa in 1948. None of us, neither Israeli Jew nor Palestinian Arab, exist in a vacuum disconnected from our histories or our neighbors’ histories. None of us is disconnected from the events that happened in the same streets that we walk today and none of us is disconnected from the Jews and Arabs who have been murdered, harassed or expelled for no other crime than their national identities. This is precisely why nationalist calls for a Jewish-only Israel or an Arab-only Palestine are not only old ideas not worth recycling, they are also dangerous and racist fantasies.

Read: The Jewish-Israeli Left can participate in the Palestinian struggle, but not as a partner

The Palestinian who calls out: “Yafa Arabiyeh Falastaneeyeh!” (“Jaffa is Arab-Palestinian!”) in Younis’ article, is saying: “Yaffa belongs to us! She is ours and only ours!” The Jewish activist who took issue with the nationalist chant shouldn’t have reprimanded him. She should have simply asked: What about me? What about the Jews who live and work in Jaffa today? What about thousands of years of Jewish history in Jaffa? What about Jaffa being mentioned in the Hebew Bible, Midrash, and the Talmud? What about the 1921 riots? Is it all erased in the name of liberating Palestine? Will a ‘liberated’ Jaffa and Palestine even include Jews?

For anyone interested in ending the occupation (whether she is referring to ’48 or ’67) and building new political and economic realities between the River and the Sea, Jewish-Arab partnership is the only possibility. If for no other reason than the fact that none of us are going anywhere. The young man who yelled: “Yaffa Arabiyeh Falastaneeyeh,” the Jewish activist who took him aside, Rami Younis and myself: none of us live rootless and artificial lives here; we all belong to this place.

Palestinian and Jewish men speak at protest against settler violence in Jaffa. December 5, 2008 (Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Palestinian and Jewish men speak at a protest against settler violence in Jaffa. December 5, 2008. (Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

In saying that the Palestinian struggle for freedom and democracy may include minimal Jewish participation “for now,” but is not open to Jewish partnership, Younis is excluding over half of the population between the River and the Sea from involvement in determining all of our futures. In “understanding” Palestinian activists who want to exclude Jews from demonstrations solely based on their ethno-religious background or identity, he is “understanding” hateful exclusion based on identities we do not choose. In agreeing that “Jaffa is Palestinian,” he dismisses the existence of every Jew in Jaffa as either superfluous or, even worse, as a colonial aberration. He appears to be advocating for a racist nationalism, disguised as liberation, which dreams of a Palestine that can never exist: a Palestine without Jewish-Arab partnership.

Unlike colonial conquerors, Jews have a religious and national connection to this land that stretches back thousands of years. This isn’t propaganda; it is a historical reality that cannot be denied. Of course, it is a history that has been used to justify crimes and injustices against Palestinians, but the history itself cannot be carelessly swept under the rug to suit Younis’ nationalist narrative. Younis has decided that Jewish-Arab partnership is impossible, but not because I or any other Jew refuses to acknowledge our history. It is because he refuses to see Jews as a real and natural part of this place.

Jaffa is neither Palestinian nor Arab; how can it be when so many non-Arabs live and work there? How can it be with a history thousands of years older than the first Arab conquests of this land? Neither is it Jewish, how could it be? It is a city – not a nationality or ethnicity. Jaffa belongs to all of its residents, and they all belong to Jaffa. Just like Eretz Yisrael; just like Falasteen.

The author is an American-Israeli in love with Jaffa, who believes in Jewish-Arab partnership from all segments of Israeli and Palestinian societies.

Read more:
The Israeli Left can participate in the Palestinian struggle, but not as a partner
Grappling with intolerance at demonstrations: a dialogue
Jaffa, habibti, our relationship is complicated

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    COMMENTS

    1. Js

      Very well written. Excellent rebuttal to a racist article.

      Reply to Comment
    2. directrob

      “Jaffa is neither Palestinian nor Arab; how can it be when so many non-Arabs live and work there? ”

      I think the whole article is questionable, but this part of your argument is outrageous. Jaffa for at least 75% belongs to refugees.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Rubbish.

        Reply to Comment
      • Guy L.

        Directorb- why is it questionable?

        Don’t you think it raises a few rather valid questions?

        Just try interchanging the word “Israel” with “Palestine” in Rami Younis’ article- and hey, whaddyaya know- the same kind of stupid you’ll find in a Kahana Chai forum!

        Reply to Comment
        • directrob

          How can one of a forcefully depopulated area claim that it is not Arab because there live so many other people and the town belongs to the people that live there? Of course one should not depopulate it again but a bit more respect for the rights of the displaced is in order.

          Reply to Comment
          • bp

            And the respect for the rights of Jews forcibly pushed out in 1921?

            The point isn’t disrespect of Arab refugees. The point is that even before 1948, Jaffa wasn’t an Arab-only city. It has a Jewish past as well. It also has a past long before Arabs and Arabic language and culture ever arrived to this region. And yes, today non-Arabs live there too.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Bar

      It is fascinating to watch the far leftists struggle against the quicksand of their own creation.

      While Rami Younis has absolutely no doubt about who he believes is right and who is wrong in this conflict, who is just and who is unjust and who has sole right to Yaffo and who does not, Benjamin Birely finds himself equivocating.

      For example, the Jaffa riots? Well, according to Benjamin, the story involves some wacky leftists handing out fliers in Arabic, so young Jewish children had to be murdered in their homes by Arabs. The pathology of this is somehow equated with Jewish nationalism.

      And Birely gives us this gem:

      “This land that we all live in, from the River to the Sea, has political and economic realities shaped by over a century of colonialism, massive immigration, expulsions, warring nationalisms, violence, and an unjust distribution of resources. Our everyday reality echoes events such as the Jaffa riots of 1921, or the Irgun’s offensive on Jaffa in 1948.”

      He actually compares the Haganah 1948 operation to these riots, because, well apparently because you can’t have a conflict without moral equivalence. Never mind that the Wikipedia page to which he links falsely claims that both sides shared fighting the day after the UN’s Partition Resolution when, in fact, it was a Jaffa Arab who climbed aboard a bus the next morning and opened fire, murdering 7 Jews – the true parallel to the 1921 Jaffa riots. That attack was the first in the 1947 Arab war against the Yishuv. The Yishuv’s response was defensive and over 1000 Jews would be murdered over the next three months. But, apparently, both sides are guilty because the Haganah eventually had an operation there.

      As for all the negative aspects of the conflict, with violence falling to the middle and “colonialism” at the top of the list, the author should not forget all the positives Jewish return to Zion has had on the region: improved life expectancy, improved infant mortality, significantly improved literacy, Western-level personal incomes, amazing advances in agriculture, medicine, technology, a refuge for millions of Jewish refugees and those fleeing persecution and challenging locales, Arab women who are the free-est in all the Middle East, the only growing Christian community in the Middle East, better water resources FOR EVERYBODY, etc., etc., etc.

      If you don’t have the confidence of your convictions, Mr. Birely, you will remain Rami Younis’s servile assistant because he is not equivocating and it is his narrative you’ve adopted in your fear to openly criticize his side’s history.

      Reply to Comment
    4. RudyM

      European Jews came as colonialists. The history of a Jewish presence in Palestine doesn’t change that. Descendents of convert populations who for the most part didn’t even have roots in ancient Israel cannot “return.” They came as colonizers. Maybe the religious connection will impress those who embrace that religion, but for me it is no excuse.

      Reply to Comment
      • Dazed and Confused

        The racial purity demanded by the Quran and the global Left has no place in 2014. Your racist culture has failed and it has no future.

        It’s self evident that if “Palestinian” culture can only be maintained through the racial purity of Quranic lands and the ritual suicide of its children, then it will fail. Just look at what the pro-“Palestinian” Social Justice activists did to Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. And if Joachim Martillo truly speaks for the global Left, then you guys don’t stand a chance.

        Jews (and Slavs and Turks and Caucasians) have as much right to live in Ram’Allah and Makkah (and all Quranic colonies) as global Leftists have a right to live in Dearborn and London. If anything, priviled Westerners have a special obligation to settle in and civilize the savage lands of Shari’ah. Call it a Crusade, call it Colonialism, call it whatever you want. The Leftist culture of “Palestine” needs to be replaced with Humane values.

        Reply to Comment
        • JG

          Hail to your racist zionist culture

          Reply to Comment
          • Dazed and Confused

            I’m not Zionist.

            I’m anti-Quranic (and anti-Nazi and anti-Communist). As are all moral people.

            It’s not racist to dissent from the global Left and to work toward the eradication of “Palestinian” culture. Your warlord, Mohammed, is not a race. He’s a political leader like Hitler and it’s not racist to criticize him or the Leftist culture of “Palestine”.

            Reply to Comment
        • andrew r

          If anything, priviled Westerners have a special obligation to settle in and civilize the savage lands of Shari’ah.

          And Mussolini was doing some excellent work in that area. Too bad the Jihadist left beat his ass.

          Reply to Comment
      • Rudy M.

        Please note that in the wake of World War I, the Paris Peace Conference, the San Remo Conference Declaration, the Covenant of the League of Nations and the Mandate for Palestine gave Jews the right to settle, develop the land and have the Jewish Agency advise the British in Mandate Palestine.

        Winston Churchill explained in 1922 Jews were in Mandate Palestine as a right. They were not colonial occupiers.

        Further more than 50% of Israelis today are descendents of Jews who left Arab countries for Israel after being expelled or forced to leave those countries.

        Reply to Comment
        • andrew r

          Please note that in the wake of World War I, the Paris Peace Conference, the San Remo Conference Declaration, the Covenant of the League of Nations and the Mandate for Palestine

          Going on for years now Israel proponents completely blow-off the UNSC resolutions and the ICJ ruling on the West Bank wall because they assume these measures only pass due to the huge amount of Arab/Muslim countries influencing the other UN members.

          If the invoking or formulation of international law is to be ignored because you don’t like the source, why should that not be applied to the LoN members who approved the Mandates system? The British who speculated on grain in Bengal during periods of famine, the French who cut off body parts in Algeria, the Italians who committed a warm-up for the Nazi concentration camps in Libya and the Japanese who notoriously took comfort women in Korea. We’re supposed to recognize any legitimacy these powers gave to Jewish settlement in Palestine?

          If you want to chuck out international law, there’s no shortage of demagoguery to go around.

          Reply to Comment
      • Tzutzik

        “Maybe the religious connection will impress those who embrace that religion, but for me”

        Who the fuck cares Rudy, what you are impressed or not impressed with. We are not here to impress the likes of you.

        We are too busy living in the real world trying to survive in a part of the world which despises weakness, devours all who are weak, non Muslim, or not the right kind of Muslim and non Arab.

        Reply to Comment
    5. RudyM

      I’m a non-Jew in the U.S. and every day this problem persists, I became a little less sympathetic toward Israeli Jews.

      Reply to Comment
      • Pat Nguyen

        Oh no, lets give up so we don’t marginalize Rudy!

        Reply to Comment
      • Dazed and Confused

        What is “this problem”?

        And why do you care?

        Reply to Comment
      • Tzutzik

        Lets face it Rudy. You and the likes of you were never sympathetic to us Jews.

        And you know what? We don’t care anymore. Life is too short. We never had your sympathies nor do we want it anymore because no matter what we do or don’t do we cannot gain your sympathies. We used to care, but we no longer care. We gave up on the likes of you.

        You haven’t got our sympathies either. So we are even. Go give your sympathies to the ones who made 9/11 happen and who hate your guts just as much as they hate our guts. Give your sympathy to your Arab buddies, dude.

        Reply to Comment
    6. There is no reason why Jews, Christians and Muslims cannot live together in Jaffa, Israel. Jaffa has a proud Arab history and a proud Jewish history. It is unfortunate that some activists want to declare Jaffa a Palestinian city when it is clearly a city in Israel. What these activist really want is the dismemberment of the Israeli state and the expulsion of the Jews.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Sinjim

      Honestly, this is some entitled BS.

      You, the people who maintain an occupation, expelling Palestinians from their homes and villages, killing Palestinians with impunity by gun and missile, have the gall to “What about me???” at Palestinians who want to assert a threatened and violated identity of their historic cities?

      How can you in good conscience, in the context of the Nakba that violently erased so much of Jaffa’s Palestinian and Arab character, accuse Palestinians of racism for a chant?

      Is this the best the Israeli left has to offer? Good lord.

      Reply to Comment
      • Israeli

        So then what is the alternative? Is the Israeli Jew who was born here, lives here, and deserves human and cultural rights like every other resident of this place, supposed to chant “Jaffa is for Arabs!” and “Jaffa is Palestinian!”?

        Is the Israeli Jew supposed to apologize to the Palestinian every 5 seconds for being born here? Is the Israeli Jew supposed to leave? Maybe return to his grandparents’ home of Iraq or Yemen or Morrocco or Ukraine. And if those states refuse her? If those states are not safe for Jews? What exactly do you propose?

        All you have to offer is liberation for Palestinians and only Palestinians. But Israelis aren’t going anywhere, so yes we have the gall to say “what about us?”.

        Reply to Comment
        • Sinjim

          Ideally, yes, Israeli Jews should chant “Jaffa is Palestinian.” That’s an excellent way to demonstrate that you oppose the ethnic expulsions of the Nakba and the discrimination, violence, and dispossession that your state continues to enact on all Palestinians. That you all perceive it to exclude Jews rather than affirm Palestinians’ right to a country that is being stolen from them says so much about Israeli Leftism.

          Furthermore, yes, this is a Palestinian movement for liberation because Palestinians are the ones who are oppressed. Israeli Jews do not need any liberating, so what exactly are Palestinians supposed to liberate them from?

          Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Jaffa isn’t Palestinian. It isn’t Arab.

            Jaffa could have been Palestinian, but the Arabs refused the various deals that would have made it Palestinian. Then, the Arabs launched a war against the Jews, eventually joined in by Arab armies. The war’s first attacks by the Arabs came from Jaffa. Sadly for the Arabs, their plans for destruction, murder and expulsion boomeranged.

            And now the Arabs want those who were willing to compromise, willing to make peace, willing to live side by side, hopeful of democracy and a positive life on this land, to accept the blame AND make reparations for the Arabs’ crimes and losses.

            Well, you might convince some dupes and even some Europeans, but with respect to Israel and most Israelis who are well aware of the history, you’re actually going to have to climb down from that tree and learn to compromise and live together. Otherwise, enjoy the status quo.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bp

            “Younis has decided that Jewish-Arab partnership is impossible, but not because I or any other Jew refuses to acknowledge our history. It is because he refuses to see Jews as a real and natural part of this place.”

            Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Because it is racist. It is objectively and undeniably racist to chant for the racial purity of a place.

        The Palestinians appear to want their racism to be embraced by people that otherwise would condemn racism.

        Reply to Comment
    8. BOOZ

      The only thing I want to know is that Jaffa is the city of Haj Kahil and its drop-dead tasty knafeh ( Yum!)

      (Dear Haj kahil, do I get a free meal for the advetisement ? : – ) )

      Reply to Comment
      • Ed

        Yeah, also Abulafia bakery, everything it sells is delicious … can I have some free food too?

        Reply to Comment
    9. Ugh. How much denial of power relations and power structures can you people muster? How much denial of colonialism, institutionalized racism, de-Arabization, and more?

      You cannot replace Palestine with Israel and get Kach, because factually, Palestine has not colonized and de-judaified Israel. You cannot cry “what kind of democratic struggle excludes people on the basis of race” when SOME people are not quite as equal under your democracy as others. Oppressed peoples do not need to act as if they and their oppressors have the same rights, experiences, and expectations. Sorry.

      After the poor occupiers get over their hurt feelings for being called out as occupiers (boo hoo), they can take a step back and three steps down, learn how to navigate in a situation where they are the guys with the big sticks (bloodied), and THEN talk about “democratic” struggles.

      Reply to Comment
      • Israeli

        Even if you were correct that Israeli Jew = oppressor and Palestinian Arab = oppressed, with no nuances or considerations of class, ethnicity, color, etc., then you are arguing that what is forbidden to the powerful oppressors is acceptable for the victims. According to you, racism and nationalism is deplorable when the oppressors use it, but the oppressed can use them as legitimate tools of resistance.

        Tell a mizrahi or ethiopian Israeli with no bagrut who makes minimum wage that she is a big, bad oppressor oppressing a wealthy Arab family in Umm Al Fahm. Tell her that when they call for a Palestine for Palestinians and only Palestinians, and tell her to shut up, she just needs to apologize to admit to all the sins of the State of Israel.

        You all live in a crazy movie.

        Reply to Comment
      • israeli

        Maybe Tsipi, you haven’t realized that not all Israelis are privileged, left-wing bloggers? Maybe you haven’t realized that not all us are middle and upper-middle class Ashkenazim with white guilt. You have enough privilege that to enables you to identify as a big, bad, powerful oppressor. Go talk to a poor Israeli Jew. They don’t have that privilege.

        Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >You cannot replace Palestine with Israel and get Kach, because factually, Palestine has not colonized and de-judaified Israel.

        “Palestine” had not colonized Israel because “Palestine” do not exist, which is the precise reason why we can replace is by anything we please.

        Reply to Comment
      • Tzutzik

        Fucking slogans. Communist slogans. You should be tried for your crimes of creating Gulags and mass murder of innocents in the name of your non existent communist utopia, Tsipi.

        Reply to Comment
        • Tzutzik

          Tsipi

          Your kind murdered 50 million people in the name of your communist utopia. Haven’t you had enough yet?

          Reply to Comment
      • Guy L.

        @Tsipi-
        I’m not a “you people”, thank you very much.
        And I’m in no way condoning the acts of my government, nor am I denying the injustices that are done on my behalf.

        However, a person shouting “This is mine and not yours”, is not fighting a democratic struggle, but rather a nationalistic one.
        They can be wearing a Kippah, they can be wearing a Kaffiyeh, they can be wearing a 50’s style dress with purple ribbons and combat boots for all I care.
        It’s all the same poison.
        You just happen to prefer one because it’s strawberry flavoured.

        Reply to Comment
    10. shachalnur

      If this whole discussion will lead to the realization that Palestinians and Israeli Jews are pawns and will be victims of the same criminals who created this monster,then we might be getting somewhere.

      Only once Israeli Jews and Arabs identify the common enemy,they will collaborate and be able to solve this problem.

      Only when the idea kicks in you are both slaves of the same Pharao,you can try to liberate yourselves.

      Untill then divide and rule will have you going for eachother’s throat,preferably over issues created by the London Bankers.

      Reply to Comment
      • Vadim

        1987 Zionism!!!

        Reply to Comment
        • shachalnur

          Nope,

          1897 Zionism are just sociopath slaves and free riders.

          Your Pharao is Protector of Edom.

          Reply to Comment
    11. directrob

      The article is a bit selective with the truth. On the one hand it was pure luck that not more Jews died (the European Zionist were extremely unpopular) but it was not at all a one sided conflict.

      “That the Jews retaliated with equal savagery is not to be denied, but they had much to revenge” (and you don’t want examples)

      I do think comparing the Nakba to these riots is artificial.

      Reply to Comment
      • Tzutzik

        “I do think”

        Stop exaggerating Rob.

        Reply to Comment
    12. Shlomo Shunn

      > “what kind of democratic struggle excludes people based on their ethno-religious or national identities”

      Israel’s.

      Reply to Comment
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