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Old Jaffa | by Jorge Lascar
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Old Jaffa

Jaffa (Hebrew: יָפוֹ) is the southern, oldest part of Tel Aviv-Jaffa (since 1950), an ancient port city in Israel. Jaffa is famous for its association with the biblical stories of Solomon, Jonah, and Saint Peter.


Ancient antiquity


Tel Yafo (Jaffa Hill) rises to a height of 40 meters (130 feet) and it offers a commanding view of the coastline. Hence it had a strategic importance in military history. The accumulation of debris and landfill over the centuries made the hill even higher. Archaeological evidence shows that Jaffa was inhabited some 7,500 years BCE. The natural harbor of Jaffa has been in use since the Bronze Age.


Bronze Age


Jaffa is mentioned in an Ancient Egyptian letter from 1440 BCE, glorifying its conquest by Pharaoh Thutmose III, whose general, Djehuty hid armed Egyptian warriors in large baskets and sent the baskets as a present to the Canaanite city's governor.


The city is also mentioned in the Amarna letters under its Egyptian name Ya-Pho, ( Ya-Pu, EA 296, l.33). The city was under Egyptian rule until around 800 BCE.


Jaffa is mentioned four times in the Hebrew Bible, as one of the cities given to the Hebrew Tribe of Dan (Book of Joshua 19:46), as port-of-entry for the cedars of Lebanon for Solomon's Temple (2 Chronicles 2:16), as the place whence the prophet Jonah embarked for Tarshish (Book of Jonah 1:3) and as port-of-entry for the cedars of Lebanon for the Second Temple of Jerusalem (Book of Ezra 3:7). Jaffa is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as the territorial border of the Tribe of Dan, hence the modern term "Gush Dan" for the center of the coastal plain. Many descendants of Dan lived along the coast and earned their living from shipmaking and sailing. In the "Song of Deborah" the prophetess asks: "דן למה יגור אוניות": "Why doth Dan dwell in ships?"

After Canaanite and Philistine dominion, King David and his son King Solomon conquered Jaffa and used its port to bring the cedars used in the construction of the First Temple from Tyre.


Iron Age


The city remained in Jewish hands even after the split of the Kingdom of Israel. In 701 BCE, in the days of King Hezekiah (חזקיהו), Sennacherib, king of Assyria, invaded the region from Jaffa. After a period of Babylonian occupation, under Persian rule, Jaffa was governed by Phoenicians from Tyre.


Classic Era


Alexander the Great's troops were stationed in Jaffa. It later became a Seleucid Hellenized port until it was taken over by the Maccabean rebels (1 Maccabees x.76, xiv.5) and the refounded Jewish kingdom.


During the Roman repression of the Jewish Revolt, Jaffa was captured and burned by Cestius Gallus. The Roman Jewish historian Josephus (Jewish War 2.507–509, 3:414–426) writes that 8,400 inhabitants were massacred. Pirates operating from the rebuilt port incurred the wrath of Vespasian, who razed the city and erected a citadel in its place, installing a Roman garrison there.

The New Testament account of St. Peter's resurrection of the widow Tabitha (Dorcas, Gr.) written in Acts 9:36–42 takes place in Jaffa. Acts 10:10–23 relates that while Peter was in Jaffa, he had a vision of a large sheet filled with "clean" and "unclean" animals being lowered from heaven, together with a message from the Holy Spirit to accompany several messengers to Cornelius in Caesaria.


In Midrash Tanna'im in its chapter Deuteronomy 33:19, reference is made to Rav Yosi (2nd century) travelling through Jaffa. Jaffa seems to have attracted serious Jewish scholars in the 4th and 5th century. The Jerusalem Talmud (compiled 4th and 5th century) in Moed Ketan references Rav Acha of Jaffa; and in Pesachim chapter 1 refers to Rav Phineas of Jaffa. The Babylonian Talmud (compiled 5th century) in Megillah 16b mentions Rav Adda Demin of Jaffa. Leviticus Rabbah (compiled between 5th and 7th century) mentions Rav Nachman of Jaffa. The Pesikta Rabbati (written in the 9th century) in chapter 17 mentions R. Tanchum of Jaffa.

A fairly unimportant Roman and Byzantine locality during the first centuries of Christianity, Jaffa had not have a bishop until the fifth century CE.


British Mandate


During the British Mandate, tension between the Jewish and Arab population increased. A wave of Arab attacks during 1920 and 1921 caused many Jewish residents to flee and resettle in Tel Aviv, initially a desolate and marginal Jewish neighbourhood north to Jaffa. The Jaffa riots in 1921, (known in Hebrew as Meoraot Tarpa) began with a May Day parade that turned violent. Arab rioters attacked Jewish residents and buildings. The Hebrew author Yosef Haim Brenner was killed in the riots. At the end of 1922, Jaffa had 32,000 residents and Tel Aviv, 15,000. By 1927, the population of Tel Aviv was up to 38,000.


The 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine inflicted great economic and infrastructural damage on Jaffa. On 19 April 1936, the Arab leadership declared a general strike which paralyzed the economy. The strike began in the Port of Jaffa, which had become a symbol of Arab resistance. Military reinforcements were brought in from Malta and Egypt to subdue the rioting which spread throughout the country. Jaffa's old city, with its maze of homes, winding alleyways and underground sewer system, provided an ideal escape route for the rioters fleeing the British army. In May, municipal services were cut off, the old city was barricaded, and access roads were covered with glass shards and nails. In June, British bombers dropped boxes of leaflets in Arabic requesting the inhabitants to evacuate that same day. On the evening of 17 June 1936, 1,500 British soldiers entered Jaffa and a British warship sealed off escape routes by sea. The British Royal Engineers blew up homes from east to west, leaving an open strip that cut through the heart of the city from end to end. On 29 June, security forces implemented another stage of the plan, carving a swath from north to south. The mandatory authorities claimed the operation was part of a "facelift" of the old city.


In 1945, Jaffa had a population of 101,580, of whom 53,930 were Muslims, 30,820 were Jews and 16,800 were Christians. The Christians were mostly Greek Orthodox and about one sixth of them were Uniate. One of the most prominent members of the Arab Christian community was the Arab Orthodox publisher of Filastin, Issa Daoud El-Issa.

In 1947, the UN Special Commission on Palestine recommended that Jaffa be included in the planned Jewish state. Due to the large Arab majority, however, it was instead designated as part of the Arab state in the 1947 UN Partition Plan.


Following the inter-communal violence which broke out following the passing of the UN partition resolution the mayors of Jaffa and Tel Aviv tried to calm their communities. One of the main concerns for the people of Jaffa was the protection of the citrus fruit export trade which had still not reached its pre-Second World War highs. In February Jaffa's Mayor, Yussuf Haykal, contacted David Ben-Gurion through a British intermediary trying to secure a peace agreement with Tel Aviv. But both Ben Gurion's Haganah and the commander of the militia in Jaffa were opposed.


At the beginning of 1948 Jaffa's defenders consisted of one Brigade of around 400 men organised by the Muslim Brotherhood.


On 4 January 1948 the Lehi detonated a truck bomb outside the 3-storey 'Serrani', Jaffa's Ottoman built Town Hall, killing 26 and injuring hundreds. The driver was reported to be wearing the uniform of the Royal Irish Fusiliers.


On 25 April 1948, Irgun launched an offensive on Jaffa. This began with a mortar bombardment which went on for three days during which twenty tons of high explosive were fired into the town. On 27 April the British Government, fearing a repetition of the mass exodus from Haifa the week before, ordered the British Army to confront the Irgun and their offensive ended. Simultaneously the Haganah had launched Operation Chametz which overran the villages East of Jaffa and cut the town off from the interior.


The population of Jaffa on the eve of the attack was between 50,000 and 60,000, with some 20,000 people having already left the town. By 30 April, there were 15,000–25,000 remaining. In the following days a further 10,000–20,000 people fled by sea. When the Haganah took control of the town on 14 May around 4,000 people were left. The town and harbour's warehouses were extensively looted.


The 3,800 Arabs who remained in Jaffa after the exodus were concentrated in the Ajami district and subject to strict martial law []

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Taken on September 3, 2012