Jaffa, Israel

From Academic Kids

Jaffa (Hebrew יָפוֹ, Standard Hebrew Yafo, Tiberian Hebrew Yāp̄; Arabic يَافَا Yāfā; also Japho, Joppa), is an ancient city located in Israel. It is now part of the municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo in the Tel Aviv District, where the tell ("mound") of ancient Jaffa in “Old Jaffa,” is now part of a park in south-western Tel Aviv. Jaffa is a port city on the Mediterranean Sea and the historic gateway into Israel. It is mentioned twice in the Hebrew Bible, once as the port-of-entry for the cedars of Lebanon for Solomon's Temple (2 Chronicles2) and according to the Book of Jonah 1:3 it was where the prophet Jonah embarked for Tarshish. It was an important city in the Arab Middle East, before Israel was established. During the Crusades it was the County of Jaffa, a stronghold of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Jaffa port
Jaffa port


Name sources

Jaffa (or Yaffo) is one of the most ancient port cities in the world. Some claim that Jaffa was named after Japheth, one of the three son of Noah, who built it after the Great Flood. An Hebrew etimiology says that the city is called Jaffa because of its beauty (yofi in Hebrew). The Hellenist tradition refers the names to "Iopeia", which is Cassiopeia, the mother of Andromeda.

Ancient period

The ancient site of Jaffa is now a 40-meter (130 ft.) high hill (Tel Yafo, or "Jaffa Hill"), the accumulation of debris, from its historical destructions and modern fill increasing the original strategic advantage of its wide field of view which overlooked the coastline. Moreover, the hill was suitable for fortifications and defense. At the foot of the hill there were springs which supplied fresh water.

Jaffa's natural harbor has been occupied since the Bronze Age. It is first referred to in an Ancient Egyptian letter from 1470 BC, glorifying its conquest by Pharaoh Thutmose III, who used an old trick: he hid armed warriors in large baskets and gave the baskets as a present to the Canaanite city's governor. The city is also referred to in the Amarna letters under its Egptian name Ya-Pho. In 1991, a replica of the Egyptian gate lintels, bearing the titles of Pharaoh Ramesses II, was re-erected on its original site. The city was under Egyptian rule until around 800 BC.

Jaffa is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as the border of the Tribe of Dan's territory. It appears that many of the descendants of Dan, for whom the entire coastal plain is named (Gush Dan), lived along the shore and earned their living from shipmaking and sailing. This is mentioned in the "Song of Deborah" the prophetess, in her complaint "דן למה יגור אוניות": "Why will Dan dwell in ships?" [1] (http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0705.htm), for Dan did not help Judge Barak Ben Avinoam in their war.

King David and his son King Solomon conquered Jaffa and ruled it, and via its port the cedars which were used in the construction of the First Temple arrived from Tyre. The city remained in Jewish hands even after the split of the Kingdom of Israel. In 701 BC the city port was used by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, to invade Israel in the time of King Hezekiah (חזקיהו).

Jaffa was a Seleucid port, until the Maccabean rebel princes took it (1 Maccabees x.76, xiv.5). During the Jewish Revolt, Jaffa was taken and burned by Cestius and 8000 inhabitants were massacred (according to Josephus). Pirates operating from the rebuilt port incurred the wrath of Vespasian, who razed the city and erected a citadel in its place, in which he placed a Roman garrison.

Christian Jaffa

According to the New Testament it was at Jaffa that St. Peter raised to life the widow Tabitha, a name interpreted Dorcas (Acts, ix, 36-42), whose tomb is still the object of popular pilgrimage. Being unimportant during the first centuries of Christianity, Jaffa did not have a bishop until the fifth century AD. It was captured during the Crusades, and became the County of Jaffa and Ascalon, one of the vassals of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. One of its counts, John of Ibelin, wrote the principal book of the Assizes of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. During the period of the Crusades, the Jewish traveller Benjamin of Tudela (1170) sojourned at Jaffa, and found there just one Jew , a dyer by trade. Saladin took it in 1187. It was surrendered to King Richard the Lionheart in 1192.

According to the traveler Cotwyk, Jaffa was a heap of ruins at the end of the 16th century.

The Ottoman period

Napoleon captures Jaffa

On March 7, 1799 Napoleon I of France captured Jaffa and his troops proceeded to kill more than 2,000 Albanian captives.

Rabbi Kook becomes Jaffa's chief rabbi

Missing image
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook was chief rabbi of Jaffa from 1904-1921.

In 1904 Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1864-1935) moved to the Land of Israel and took up the position of chief rabbi of Jaffa:

In 1904, he came to the Land of Israel to assume the rabbinical post in Jaffa, which also included responsibility for the new secular Zionist agricultural settlements nearby. His influence on people in different walks of life was already noticeable, as he attempted to introduce Torah and Halakha into the life of the city and the settlements. [2] (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Rav_Kook.html)

In 1921 Rabbi Kook moved to Jerusalem when he was apponited as the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate of Palestine and is still regarded as Israel's first chief rabbi as well.

End of Ottoman rule

In 1917, the Ottomans banished all of the Jaffa's residents as they feared the British army would occupy the city. The British did indeed occupy the city (see Sinai and Palestine Campaign), but let its residents return after a year.

Under the British mandate

Jaffa was well known for its cash crops such as citrus and bananas. In 1945, Arabs planted 146,316 dunams with citrus, and Jews planted 66,403 dunams. (One dunam equals 1196 square yards.) Until the establishment of Tel Aviv and the era of the British Mandate of Palestine, Jaffa was the most advanced city in Palestine in the development of its commercial, banking, fishing, and agriculture industries. Jaffa had many factories specializing in cigarette making, cement making, tile and roof tile production, iron casting, cotton processing plants, traditional handmade carpets, leather products, wood box industry for Jaffa orange, textile, presses and publications. It should also be noted that the majority of all publications and newspapers in Palestine were published in Jaffa.

During 1917-1920, there were thousands of Jewish residents in Jaffa. A wave of Arab pogrom attacks during 1920 and 1921 (known as the Meoraot Tarpa by the Jews) caused many Jewish residents to flee and resettle in Tel Aviv. The 1921 riots started on a May Day parade (May 1, 1921) which soon turned into a violent event. The Arab rioters started attacking Jewish people and buildings, and among their victims were the residents of "The House of Immigrants" and the Jewish author Yosef Haim Brenner.

At the end of 1922 Jaffa had 32,000 residents while Tel Aviv had 15,000. However, in 1927, Tel Aviv had 38,000 residents. The Jews of Jaffa lived on the outskirt of Jaffa, close to Tel Aviv. The old city of Jaffa, which was controlled by the Arabs, was almost empty of Jews. During the 1930s both cities had a combined population of 80,000 residents.

The Great Arab Uprising

The 1936-1939 Great Arab uprising caused Jaffa great damage and loss of economical power.

  • Urban warfare between the British forces and Arab rioters caused much destruction to the city's narrow alleys. The British demolished many houses belonging to rioters and militants.
  • Jewish and British citizens preferred to do their business in safer places, and therefore moved their businesses out of Jaffa.
  • As a reaction to the strike of the Arab seaport workers, the Jews built a modern seaport in Tel Aviv, which stopped the dependence on Jaffa's Arab seaport and caused Jaffa to lose a major source of income.

The 1948 Arab-Israeli War

Prior to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the UN's Special Commission on Palestine in 1947 recommended that Jaffa would become part of the planned Jewish state, but due to the large Arab majority it had been redesignated as an enclave in the Arab state before the 1947 UN Partition Plan was adopted by the General Assembly.

The Arabs rejected the plan and the day following November 29, 1947, launched a wave of riots and attacks on nearby Jewish settlements. During December 1947, Arab residents of Jaffa and the nearby Salame village attacked the "The Hope Neighborhood" (Shechunat ha-Tikva) in Tel Aviv. As a result, the Irgun started to launch counter-raids against Jaffa, often also hurting the civilian population. In February 1948, Jewish workers were slain by the Arabs in a factory after being disarmed by the British. The killing caused a great uprising and Jaffa became a battle ground between Arabs and Jews. On March 13, 1948, the first Davidka mortars were used and the bombardment caused many Arab residents to flee, although the noise created by the mortar was much larger than the damage it caused.

On May 25, 1948, the Irgun (Etzel) paramilitary group began an assault on the city, occasioning the mass flight of most of the inhabitants. At one stage British forces engaged the Irgun in battle, but they did not commit enough resources to defend the city. Later, Hagannah fighters assisted the Etzel. A formal surrender to the Jewish forces was made on May 13, one day before the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel. To comemorate the conquest of Jaffa, the "Conquest Garden" was planted in the city.

Prior to May 1948 the average Arab population of around 75,000 was already down to 55,000. On the day of surrender less than three weeks later, only about 4,500 Arabs remained. Most of the Arab population fled, while others, particularly the poor segments living in Jaffa's Old City, remained. They form the basis of the modern Arab population of Jaffa. The refugees have not been allowed to return to their homes and are now scattered over the world, many living in refugee camps. (see more details in the article Palestinian refugees)

Displacement of the Arab Population


The reason that so many Arabs fled may have been the massacre at Deir Yassin on April 9. The capture of Jaffa differed from the earlier conquests in that under the UN plan it was supposed to remain as a Palestinian enclave between neighboring Tel Aviv and Jewish areas to the south and east designated as part of the Jewish state.

However according to Slunuel Toledano, a Jewish intelligence officer, there were other factors as well which caused the Arabs to leave: "The Etzel [Irgun] had been shelling Jaffa for three weeks before the Haganah [regular army] entered, making the Arabs very much afraid."

After the conquest, Irgun forces indulged in widespread looting. Jon Kimche, former editor of the Jewish Observer and Middle East Review, the official organ of the Zionist Federation of Britain reported: "For the first time in the still undeclared war, a Jewish force commenced to loot in wholesale fashion." At first the young Irgunists pillaged only dresses, blouses and ornaments for their girl-friends. But this discrimination was soon abandoned. Everything that was movable was carried from Jaffa - furniture, carpets, pictures, crockery and pottery, jewellery and cutlery.

The occupied parts of Jaffa were stripped. Historian Michael Palumbo wrote of Jaffa: "Not content with looting, the Irgun fighters smashed or destroyed everything which they could not carry off, including pianos, lamps and window-panes. Ben Gurion afterwards admitted that Jews of all classes poured into Jaffa from Tel Aviv to participate in what he called 'a shameful and distressing spectacle'."

Soon after occupation, the Israelis blew up and bulldozed most of Jaffa's (75%) Arab section, and only the al-'Ajami, Old City, and small part of al-Mansheyyah survived demolition. Mostly (if not all) Jaffa's Suqs were obliterated including Suq al-Nahaseen, Suq al-Balabseh, Suq al-Maslakh, etc. In 1954, Jaffa became part of Tel Aviv, and since then both cities are known as Tel Aviv-Yafo. Currently, Jaffa's Old City neighbourhood is being renovated, and is inhabited mostly by artists.

Jaffa's main port has been closed and all its shipping has been diverted either to the Tel Aviv or Ashdod ports. Jaffa's main Clock Square is now named Kikar Hagana ("Haganah Square"). Jaffa's main street Bistress-Iskandar 'Awad is now named Rehev Mifrats Shelomo. Jamal Basha street name has been changed to Jerusalem Street. The al-Manshiyyah area (a densely built salient of Arab Jaffa projecting into Jewish Tel Aviv) which was the center of the fighting and was badly damaged, including by blowing up buildings to dislodge Arab defenders, was mostly demolished after the war and became a public park. Jaffa's Arab population now numbers around 10,000 people.

Modern Jaffa

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the population of Jaffa had swelled considerably and new suburbs were built on the sand dunes along the coast. By 1909, the new Jewish suburbs north of Jaffa were reorganized as the city of Tel Aviv.

Modern Jaffa has a heterogeneous population of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The city is now an integral part of the municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo.

Jaffa is a major tourist attraction with an exciting combination of old, new and restored. It offers art galleries, souvenir shops, exclusive restaurants, sidewalk cafes, boardwalks and shopping opportunities and a rich variety of culture, entertainment and food (fish restaurants).

Missing image

Restoration of the Old City

The poverty of the population threatened the continuation of active life in Jaffa as a thriving city. In 1968, the government of Israel and the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality decided to establish a corporation for the development of Old Jaffa, entrusting to it the task of averting the total destruction of Old Jaffa's glorious past.

Old Jaffa has since become one of Israel's tourist attractions. It is filled with artists' quarters, studios and art galleries. Shops catering for Judaica, archaeology, jewelry and art, line its narrow alleys which are named after the signs of the Zodiac.

Visitors arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel can hear about the old homes in a booklet called "The Opinionated Tourist Guide". The guide is given to tourists, who can read that "the most beautiful homes in the country are the old Arab ones made of stone, built in the early part of the century, that dot the capital and some streets of Haifa and Jaffa. They cost a fortune, however: a price of $1,000,000 is not uncommon and there are not many of them for sale."

Places to see

  • The Clock Square, built in 1906 in honor of Sultan Abed al-Hamid II's 25th anniversary, became the center of Jaffa, and it is centered between Jaffa's markets.
  • The Abulafia bakery in Yeffeth Street (the main street of Jaffa) is a famous restaurant and a symbol of Jewish-Arab coexistence.
  • Mahamoudia Mosque which was built by Abu Nabut (the city governor during the 19th century) and includes a water fountain (Savil) for pilgrims.
  • St. Peter Church, a Franciscan church, built in the 19th century on the remains of Crusaders' fortress, which serves also as a hostel. It is told that Napoleon stayed in that church while it was a hostel.
  • The Andromeda rock, according to legends this was the rock to which beautiful Andromeda was chained.
  • The Zodiac alleys, a network of restored alleys, full with art galleries, which lead to the Jaffa seaport.
  • Jaffa's Old Seaport.
  • Jaffa's Hill, a center for archeological excavations of the ancient cities. The most ancient are the Ancient Egyptian gates, about 3,500 years old, which were restored.
  • The Libyan Synagogue called Beit Zunana was purchased by the Jewish landlord Zunana in the 18th century. During the 19th century it stopped being used as a synagogue, and became a hostel and later a soap factory. In 1948 it was re-established as a synagogue for Libyan Jewish immigrants, and in 1995 it became a museum.


  • Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestine Refugee Problem. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
  • Nakhleh, Issa. Encyclopedia of the Palestine Problem. (2 vols.). New York: Intercontinental Books, 1991.
  • Palumbo, Michael. The Palestinian Catastrophe: The 1948 Expulsion of a People from their Homeland. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1987.
  • Quigley, John. Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice. Durham: Duke University Press, 1990.
  • Segev, Tom. The First Israelis. New York: The Free Press, 1986.
  • Silver, Eric. Begin: The Haunted Prophet. New York: Random House, 1984.

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