Telling account of Israeli war on architectural ideals

Issue 
The 'Black City' of Jaffa.

White City, Black City: Architecture & War in Tel Aviv & Jaffa
By Sharon Rotbard
Pluto Press, £14.99

In July 2003, Unesco put the “White City” of Tel Aviv on its list of World Heritage Sites. It took almost 20 years of incessant campaigning by the Israeli state to secure this recommendation that, de facto, legitimised far-reaching aspects of Zionist ideology.

But was there any merit to the Tel Aviv case in the first place? In fact, the building of Tel Aviv began adjacently to Jaffa — one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world — only from about 1909.

More importantly, from the start the White City segregated itself from Jaffa — the “Black City” — and its predominantly Palestinian inhabitants. This was hardly “integrating with local traditions”, as Unesco claimed in its ruling.

Sharon Rotbard points out in this important book that the overriding objective for Zionism — the ideology supporting a specifically Jewish state in historic Palestine — was to detach the White City from Jaffa and attach its architectural umbilical cord exclusively to the modernist, European-originated Bauhaus tradition. This is despite a total lack of any serious academic comparative studies supporting such a claim.

Today, as housing prices rocket, the predatory White City eyes its ultimate prey — the Black City — and displacement and selective gentrification have already begun. A long way from the Bauhaus ideals of social housing. Rotbard's book is a highly revelatory read.

[Abridged from The Morning Star.]

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