Nationalism, Religion and Urban Politics in Israel: Struggles Over Modernity and Identity in ‘Global’ Jaffa
Jaffa was never an overly religious town. This is not to say it is devoid of religious signiﬁ cance: it was the main port of biblical Israel;the cedars of Lebanon used in building the Temple came through Jaffa. Jonah attempted to ﬂ ee his prophetic calling from the port; the Apostle Peter stayed in the home of one Simon the Tanner when he was called to Jaffa by the nascent Christian community to revivify a newly-deceased, previously faithful and charitable woman named Tabitha. And of course, for the ancient Greeks, Jaffa (although some say it was Ethiopia) was where Andromeda, the daughter of King Cepheus, was tied to a rock and about to be eaten by a sea monster when, as luck would have it, the hero Perseus spotted her from the sky, killed the monster and asked her to marry him. Since the Muslim conquest of Jaffa in 639 Jaffa has not been home to as many
good stories as during earlier periods, although the Crusader conquest in 1099 and Muslim reconquest in 1196 by the brother of Salahaddin (who in the process destroyed the town) were certainly eventful. What Jaffa would become known for was its vitality, welcoming atmosphere and commerce. Even when reduced to being “more like a farm than a city” (as a 1726 description put it), the town redeveloped quickly (Tolkovski 1963: 327-328). Another source reports that by the mid 1760s:
This description of Jaffa and its agrarian hinterland evokes a vibrant and rapidly developing locale. Indeed, from the eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries, Jaffa was a well-known player in the regional and even international system of trade
in both agriculture and textiles, and its sandy earth – which would soon symbolize the supposed creation ex machina of Tel Aviv, the “ﬁ rst modern Hebrew city in the world” – was remarkably fertile.