By Seraj Assi
On June 14, 2010, hundreds of Orthodox Jewish protestors took to the streets in Jaffa to riot against what they see as a “desecration of Jewish grave sites” in the luxury housing project in Jaffa, known as the Andromeda Hill. Reporting the event, the Israeli media turned it religious-secular Jewish conflict, or in simple words, a Jewish-Jewish conflict.
Long before this latest clash exploded, Andromeda Hill was a stage of open conflict between the Arab population of Jaffa and the state of Israel. Jaffa’s Arabs have long protested the project, but their voice is never heard.
The Israeli media reports the event as if the Arab population of Jaffa, the real victims of the Andromeda project, does not exist. The history of Andromeda is now viewed through the distorting prism of this single event. The real narrative – the dispossession, the disempowerment, the unrelenting daily grind of injustice and discrimination, the desecration of the history and memory of the city and the daily violation of the rights and dignity of Jaffa’s Arabs – does not fit into the format of the Israeli media’s agenda.
The story began in 1989 when Murray Goldman, a Jewish Canadian entrepreneur, signed a deal with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem to build a luxury housing complex on church endowment land, overlooking the Jaffa’s port. In 1994 the architectural plan for building 270 housing units obtained official approval. The work on the Andromeda Hill project, perhaps the largest private housing enterprise promoted by the Tel Aviv – Jaffa Municipality, began soon after.
Prices for the luxury apartments start at well over $300,000 and go up to $4 million. The complex offers a fitness club, massage services, a big swimming pool, and a vegetarian cafeteria. The tenants are wealthy foreign Jews, members of Knesset, diplomats, judges, and other wealthy Israelis.
Constructed at the top of the Ajami Hill, Andromeda bills itself as “the incomparable Jaffa, the New-Old Jaffa, and a virtual city within a city.” The project’s architects claim to have constructed Andromeda as the epitome of an imagined Mediterranean mythology. The section of the project website titled “The Legendry of Jaffa” is claimed to recount the Greek legend of Andromeda and billed as “a symbol of awakening and renewal and the rebirth of old Jaffa.” The website presents the project as a promise for Jaffa’s rebirth in a simulated space present in the city’s actual lived space: “Andromeda Hill has been planned for you to sit at home, view the sea, enjoy the beauty and hear only the waves.”
Notwithstanding this romanticized view, Andromeda remains disconnected from Jaffa’s local milieu and urban texture. It looks incompatible with the city and has no viable organic relation with the surrounding environment. Its inflated luxury, its artificial presence and its cultural and economic transcendence over the city intensify the alienation of the local Arab residents as they see their city sinking down to the walls. For the local Arab population Andromeda exemplifies the complex intersection of new globalization, market-based architecture, government control and the continuing war over land in Jaffa.
Andromeda promotes ethnic and economic classifications and divisions in Jaffa. It is perhaps the most extravagant example of the ethnic gentrification and dispossession processes that form the harsh reality of today’s Jaffa. While rich Jewish residents and holidaymakers enjoy the spa, massages, health clubs and sports facilities, the Arab population is enslaved by poverty, filled with desperation and frustration, and threatened by dispossession and dislocation.
Andromeda is seen by many in the city as a manifestation of the economic and cultural segregation between Arabs and Jews. Its iron gate separating the luxurious gated Jewish community from the Arab population renders the city into an iron cage keeping the Arabs out of the walled fortress so to allow the rich Jews to enjoy the magic landscape of Jaffa without seeing the local Arabs. Perhaps this explains why Jaffa’s Arab residents continue to see Andromeda as a Jewish settlement in the very heart of Jaffa.
Andromeda evokes an ancient mythology in order to leap over and elude the prickly question of the modern history of the city. This is the history of the expulsion and catastrophe that befell Jaffa’s Arabs in 1948. This history is now hidden beneath the dust of Andromeda as it extends its roots into the distant past to escape the heavy burden of the present.
Jaffa was the pre-1948 economic and cultural capital of Arab Palestine before the Israeli forces blew up most of its Arab section in 1948. For the Arab population of Jaffa Andromeda embodies a new form of the ongoing Israeli Judaization of the city. Combined with the historical expulsion and the slow current exodus of the Arab population from Jaffa, Andromeda exposes the powerful mechanisms of urban exclusion and alienation hidden under a mask of liberal multiculturalism.
Andromeda archaists’ claim to Andromeda as “a virtual city within a city” is reminiscent of the language employed by the founders of Tel Aviv to describe the Jewish position in Jaffa about one hundred years ago, when they celebrated the creation of “a state within a state in Jaffa.”
Andromeda symbolizes the cultural separatism contained in the genetic code of Zionism. From the moment that the first Zionist settlers arrived on the shores of Palestine, it was ordained that they would distinguish themselves from its inhabitants and be separate from them. Andromeda was born in sin and racism, and came to symbolize the Israeli post-modern version of Apartheid in Jaffa.
In the meanwhile, Jaffa’s Arabs continue to fight an isolated battle, while the Israeli media machine continues to spin the history of the city as if they do not exist.
– Seraj Assi is a PhD candidate in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, Washington DC.