and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish—Jonah 1:3
“Look at the shape of the printed letters,” I told my students several years ago, “Hebrew ones are square while Arabic letters are round.”
It is so graphically obvious that this single-sentence introduction is enough to clarify the point. Look at Tel Aviv’s centennial logo and the emblem. Despite Tel Aviv-Yafo being formally a mixed Jewish-Palestinian city, the script is Hebrew and English. In May 2013, this issue reached the Tel Aviv District Court.
Tel Aviv Emblem The History and Archaeology of Jaffa 1One more issue must be clarified for the sake of international readers. “Yafo” is the Hebrew name, it appears several times in the Bible. Yafa (sometimes transliterated Jaffa) is the Arabic one. It reached the West through the Greek translation of the Bible; thus it can be found written as Jóppe, Japho, and Joppa. Regardless the script, the name means “Beautiful,” and it refers to one of the prettiest spots along the Mediterranean coast of the Holy Land.
Yafa, Yafo, Jaffa, Jóppe, Japho, Joppa
Yafa, Yafo, Jaffa, Jóppe, Japho, Joppa, Tel Aviv-Yafo
Tel Aviv is quite different from the picture most international readers probably have in mind. Mostly, the city is confused with its metropolitan area, namely “Gush Dan,” “Dan’s Block” in Hebrew. The latter is comprised of seven towns, and is surrounded by several others. With a total population of roughly three million people, this is the largest urban area in the Holy Land. Tel Aviv is at the center–on a north to south axis–of the area and at its western edge, next to the sea.
Formally, the city is a consolidation of Tel Aviv and Jaffa; by combining the two cities, the Israeli administration avoided having a Palestinian town at the center of its largest metropolis. Jaffa is an astonishing place; Andromeda—from Greek mythology—was attached to a prominent rock still in place. Prophet Jonah began his trip in Jaffa’s Port; the town is also mentioned in the New Testament. Its unlikely neighbor—Tel Aviv—was founded in 1909. Tel Aviv name means “Hill of Spring” and refers to a place in pagan Babylon; strange choice for Zionists preaching “Jerusalem, Jerusalem.”
From 1933 onwards, German architects escaping the Nazi regime arrived at the young city and built its center in what is known as “Bauhaus Style.” In 1949, Tel Aviv, which started as Jewish neighborhoods surrounding Palestinian Jaffa, swallowed its mother-city becoming Tel Aviv-Yafo. Denizens were not allowed to vote on the dramatic and pretty illegitimate step decided by the Zionists.
Over 4,000 buildings were built in Bauhaus Style, known also as “International Style.” It combines functionality, simplicity and elegant lines; its delicate, rounded balconies are one of its best known features; another distinctive mark are “thermometer” windows along the staircases. They allow air to cool the building down during hot summer days. Another characteristic is the whiteness of the buildings, so that their walls would reflect light and cool down the structure; as a result, the city is known as the “White City.” In 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed Tel Aviv’s White City a World Cultural Heritage Site. It defined it as “an outstanding example of new town planning and architecture in the early 20th century.”
The next relevant step took place in 2012, when Ahmed Musharawi, City Council Member for Meretz, asked to add the Arabic name of the city to the emblem and centennial logo, which is in wide use since 2009. The answer of Mayor Ron Huldai was brutal: “I don’t think that the logo of the First Hebrew City should be changed to Arabic. There are more Russian speakers here than Arabic ones…”
Ron Huldai is also a general. Main Israeli cities are administered by former high ranking military officers. Many of them occupy—“occupy” in the military sense, it is difficult to regard them as properly “elected”—and run the municipalities after leaving the army. Whenever they reach become mayors, they keep the position for eons. In Tel Aviv, two generals entered into this category: Shlomo “Chich” Lahat (1974-1993) and Ron Huldai (1998-present). The latter is closely related to Aviem Sella, who recruited Jonathan Pollard to spy for Israel. This over-abundance of generals doubling as mayors is not casual; the function of Israeli cities depends on proper communication channels with the army.
Will a Zionist Court Defy Zionism?
Ahmed Musharawi didn’t accept the mayor’s answer. On May 9, 2013, he approached the Tel Aviv District Court and opeened a file against the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, demanding it to add the name of the town in Arabic to its official documents. He has a good case. Arabic is an official language in the State of Israel and it is featured in the logo of towns were a significant percentage of Palestinian-Israelis live.
“As an Arab living in this city, I want to feel a link with its symbol. it is a small line to be added to the existing text in Hebrew and English. How can the city be proud on its pluralism while refusing to recognize our identity, our existence as a people with their own culture and language?”
Will a Zionist Court defy Zionism? Tel Aviv is the financial center of the country. The Ministry of Defense and most foreign embassies are in this city. The Hebrew cultural heart is there. The White City is the undeclared capital of Zion. The Court is unlikely to accept the lawsuit.
Part of the responsibility for this is also on Ahmed Musharawi. His words, despite their touching truthfulness, adhered to the clean, even pure, Zionist jargon. In the Zionist Eden, Palestinians do not exist officially. Over 20% of the population speaks Arab as main language. The vast majority of them are Palestinians. Yet, Zionists define them as Israeli-Arabs, in contrast to Bedouins, which are also Arabs, but are called “Bedouins,” or “Israeli-Bedouins.” The word “Palestine,” and its derivatives, is still widely banned within the State.
Mr. Musharawi, you said “our identity, our existence as a people with their own culture and language,” yet, in your lawsuit you reverted to Zionist semantics. By doing so, you have already accepted the Israeli society verdict. Please, state it specifically. What is your identity, people, culture and language? That would be the first step towards your legal victory.
Roi Tov is a graduate—among others—of Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science. In addition to his memoir, Tov is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Molecular Physics and other scientific journals. He won various travel writing and photography awards.
In his writings, he tries to reveal life in Israel as a Christian Israel Defense Force (IDF) officer—from human rights violations to the use of an extensive network of underground agents. He was recognized first as a refugee and subsequently as political prisoner of Bolivia.