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בבל , , 20/11/2017

                           

 

תום שגב Tel Aviv - Jaffa: the true story

Nahum Gutman described it as a small city with few people, Naomi Shemer wrote that it was built "from foam of wave and cloudlet," and like many before and after her, described Tel Aviv as a "white city." The truth is that already back in Gutman's day, there were more people in Tel Aviv than he chose to show in his paintings, because he simply ignored the Manshiya neighborhood and Kerem Hateimanim. Naomi Shemer knew that Tel Aviv was not white, but faded gray. In describing it as a city built from "foam of wave" Shemer was echoing the idea that the Land of Israel was empty of people and that everything in it was the work of the Zionist pioneers.

That is simply wrong, asserts architect Sharon Rotbard from the Bezalal Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, in a challenging book that deserves to be read and argued over ("White City , Black City," Babel Publishers; in Hebrew). Tel Aviv emerged from Jaffa and then destroyed it; its first neighborhoods were built on orchards that were purchased from their Arab owners, he writes. The "white city" is a myth that blossomed in the wake of the Likud's rise to power in 1977 and was intended to protect the Ashkenazi elite.

Amid this, the myth of the central place of the Bauhaus in the city's architecture was invented out of thin air. The truth is that there is far less Bauhaus in Tel Aviv than is usually said, Rotbard writes, and disparages an array of artists, poets and writers who fostered the myth, in part under the auspices of the Tel Aviv weekly Ha'ir.

There aren't many myths in Israel, because most of them have already been shattered, and Rotbard here slaughters an especially sacred cow: Tel Avivness. "What underlies the story of the white city is not just the praise of plain good architecture," he writes, "but also the aspiration to isolate Tel Aviv from its surroundings, to transform it into an aristocratic European region, to sever it from Jaffa, to preserve it as a hygienic, even sterile area.

"The white city is the cultural embodiment of the idea of the separation, the disconnection, the disengagement. And the implications of this idea for the Tel Aviv consciousness are clear: Tel Aviv is out of it, Yesha [referring to the territories] is there, they are there and we are here. Far from the God-crazed types of Jerusalem and Gaza, on the right side of the Green Line, on the right bank of the Yarkon, utterly bemused by ourselves, totally alone, and totally innocently, in the construction of white buildings, beautiful and just, on the sand."

There are many books on architecture and even more books about history and politics: this book intertwines the two; it is well written.

Tom Segev

Haaretz, 05/06/2005

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