Relations between Tel Aviv and Jaffa 1921-1936: A Reassessment

Tamir Goren. Journal of Israeli History. Volume 36, Issue 1. March 2017.


The escalation that occurred in the Jewish-Arab conflict in the time of the British Mandate is especially evident in places of close encounters between Jews and Arabs. The existence of the Hebrew Tel Aviv alongside of Arab Jaffa created in mandatory Palestine a unique reality of two contiguous and neighboring urban spaces. In municipal terms, however, they functioned as two separate geographical entities. The city boundary that divided them highlighted their close proximity on the one hand, and their distinction as two different ethnic and national units on the other.

The existence of the common boundary affected the state of relations between the two cities. More than any other town in Palestine during the Mandate, Jaffa symbolized the fortress of Arab nationalism, and played an active part of major importance in the conflict that developed between Arabs and Jews. Two of the grimmest expressions of this enmity in the Mandate years erupted in Jaffa and spread to other places: the riots of 1921 and of 1936. It’s no coincidence that the disturbances in October 1933 started in Jaffa. True, the 1929 riots did not break out in Jaffa, but they did leave a deep scar on the city and its surroundings.

The ferocity of the hostile acts committed in 1921 and 1929 would naturally lead one to expect that relations between Tel Aviv and Jaffa would have been influenced for a long period afterward, and that they would not be able to recover from these crises easily; such indeed is the picture that arises from the research literature. It contends that relations between Tel Aviv and Jaffa constantly worsened, disintegrating altogether in respect of both the municipalities’ and ordinary citizens’ relationships, and that the separation between them widened. This article sets out to reexamine this assessment. From a study of recently revealed sources, a different picture arises that does not conform to the one-dimensional account found in the academic literature that alleges a decline in the relations between the cities. On the contrary, in this article I argue that despite the antagonism and the competition that prevailed between Tel Aviv and Jaffa, relations between the two gradually improved. Regardless of the tension characterizing the period from the outbreak of the 1921 riots to the mid-1930s, a clear tendency is discernable of continuous improvement in the relations between Arabs and Jews, the signs of which are evident from the first half of the 1920s to the outbreak of the 1936 disturbances, when the state of relations took a turn for the worse between the two cities.

To substantiate this argument, the article centers on three domains that reflect the nature of the types of contact formed between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. One is the municipal domain, with focus on the relations between the two mayors. The second is the domain of commerce and economic ties. The third concentrates on residents’ movement between the two cities for the purpose of entertainment and leisure activities. These aspects, which so far have not enjoyed comprehensive and systematic study, will allow fresh light to be shed on the relations between the two cities.

The issue of these relations carries great importance for the historiography of the Jewish-Arab conflict due to the special status that characterized Jaffa in the Mandate period, as well as its proximity to Tel Aviv: Being the largest Arab city in the country and the most prosperous, Jaffa was a source of pride and inspiration for its Arab residents and for all Arabs of Palestine. Its aspiration to preserve its identity as an Arab city grew stronger as Tel Aviv developed. Tel Aviv, which the Jaffa populace saw as the realization of the Zionist enterprise, was deemed a threat to their city. To some extent, relations between Tel Aviv and Jaffa served as a microcosm of the state of the conflict in Palestine in the Mandate period.

The Setting

The tension that prevailed between Jews and Arabs toward the end of the Ottoman period steadily intensified. In the years leading up to World War I, the situation deteriorated still further. Signs of this process were clearly apparent in places of contact between Jews and Arabs. In this respect Jaffa stood out because of the rapid expansion of the Jewish settlement in the city and its environs. The strengthening of the Jewish community in Jaffa made it the political and cultural capital of the new Jewish Yishuv, And also exacerbated the Arabs’ animosity toward their Jewish neighbors, which increased still more with the founding of the city of Tel Aviv.

When founded in 1909 as a garden suburb next to Jaffa, Tel Aviv was officially regarded as a part of Jaffa municipality, but in practice it functioned independently through its own elected committee. The declared goal of the founders was to build a residential neighborhood in the modern European style, as a suburb of the city of Jaffa. According to this vision, Jaffa was to continue to serve as a center for the new neighborhood’s dwellers as well. By 1914, Tel Aviv had grown and its population stood at about 1500 souls.

Jaffa, which at the end of the Ottoman period had a population of some 50,000 people (15,000 of them Jews), began to grow wary of the new neighborhood. By that time, Tel Aviv was already perceived as the embodiment of the Zionist enterprise, and was seen as a possible threat to Jaffa. The tension that developed between the city’s Jews and Arabs during this period left its mark on the relations between Tel Aviv and Jaffa, which in its most extreme expressions even descended to violent acts.

After the conquest of the country by the British in 1918, the Arab protests against the Zionist movement resumed in even greater force. The tension that had arisen between the Jews and the Arabs at the end of the Ottoman period heightened. News of the Balfour Declaration reached Palestine and was the catalyst for organized action demonstrating the Arab public’s opposition to the Zionist aspirations. On the first anniversary of the Declaration, Muslim-Christian associations were established in the country’s cities; their purpose was to represent the Arab population before the authorities and to serve as an anti-Zionist platform for activism. These associations concentrated their efforts on presenting protest petitions to the authorities against Jewish immigration into the country. With the end of World War I, Tel Aviv underwent impressive development and became the hub of the new Zionist Yishuv. Among the residents of Tel Aviv, the thought that it must be enlarged took shape. Such a possibility was directly linked to the question of Tel Aviv’s legal subjugation to and dependence on Jaffa’s municipality, and an incipient inclination to separate from it was formed. For Jaffa Municipality, Tel Aviv’s development and its wish to function as an independent municipal unit were a source of consternation. The attitude Jaffa Municipality showed the Jews was in line with the general atmosphere in Palestine and gave expression to the Arab approach towards the conflict with the Jews. The municipality’s refusal to address the Jews in their own language, for example, despite their earnest requests, well illustrates the line taken toward them. In 1919, on the anniversary of the conquest of Jaffa, the municipality declared its intention to mark the event with a festival, but did not invite the Jewish population to participate.

Jaffa did well during the Mandate period. The city became an economic center and a leader in commerce. The development of Tel Aviv beside Jaffa, in particular the Jewish settlement’s rapid growth, exerted a marked effect, in turn, on Jaffa’s economic growth. Jaffa became the center of gravity of British rule in the Lydda district, and the seat of government of the district as a whole. From a population of 32,524 in 1922 it grew to 55,000 in 1936. As mentioned, Tel Aviv, which became the center of the Zionist settlement, also developed rapidly. In 1921 it won the municipal status of local township, which carried some measure of municipal autonomy within the jurisdiction of Jaffa Municipality. Thereafter the Tel Aviv township council worked for complete municipal independence. In 1934 Tel Aviv received the status of a municipality from the British authorities, and was set free of the supervision of Jaffa Municipality. In the mid-1930s Tel Aviv became the largest city in the country, with the number of its residents rising to 150,000.

By 1936, the Jaffa municipality had five Jewish representatives: three that had been there by 1927, and two more that were added subsequently. The Jewish councilors proved able to form amicable relations with their Arab colleagues. This fact was of great importance, leading to the approach that Jaffa Municipality adopted toward Jews generally and toward their counterparts at Tel Aviv Municipality in particular. By virtue of their roles as mayors, Assem Al-Said, the Jaffa mayor (1919-38), and Meir Dizengoff, the Tel Aviv mayor (1921-25, 1928-36), met frequently at events and ceremonies held by the British government in Jaffa. On account of the geographic proximity of the two cities, and even more so because of the cities’ status in the eyes of the British, such occasions were held with the participation of representatives of both municipalities. Jaffa, being a port city, economic center, and the seat of district government, frequently invited British government officials to events it held. Jaffa was usually their first stop, after which they continued to Tel Aviv. Over the years, a tradition developed of a visit including a unified meeting with the leaders of the two municipalities, covering the two cities together. These visits too were therefore opportunities for an encounter between the two mayors.

The riots of 1921 and 1929 opened a deep rift in the relations between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Zionist historiography recognizes these events as elemental in their implications for relations between Jews and Arabs. The scope of the violent acts clarified the dangers residents of Tel Aviv might expect, coming from their neighbors in Jaffa. The disturbances of October 1933 proved how sensitive the relations between the two cities were. When the acts of violence ended, the desire to restore peace and tranquility became a chief interest in Jaffa and Tel Aviv alike. The tension between the Jews and the Arabs was replaced by the routine of everyday life, and a return to the previous patterns of interaction arose, standing in diametrical opposition to the situation that had prevailed at the time of the riots. The swift transition from hostility to calm reflected the need to return to a sense of normalcy and to restore a more beneficial economic situation, but the sources of tension between the sides were not eliminated.

Dizengoff and al-Said

For Meir Dizengoff, the geographical proximity of Jaffa and Tel Aviv was a fact that had to be lived with and accepted—not by creating a wall between the two cities, but by doing the opposite: by strengthening the relations between the two. This was Dizengoff’s rule of thumb when he served as a member of the Jaffa municipality in 1927-28, too. Despite the deep divide caused by the 1921 riots, Dizengoff wished to turn the page in the relationship. After the hostile acts declined, he worked diligently to safeguard the jobs of Arabs who made their living in Tel Aviv. Arabs who extended help to the Jews at the time of the riots were given assistance and special treatment. Because of the benevolent approach Dizengoff exhibited in his treatment of local Arabs, they soon began to come to him, and sought his assistance in overcoming hardships they encountered, particularly those of the financial ilk.

With the ending of the rioting, Dizengoff and Al-Said embarked on a series of attempts at reconciliation in order to stabilize the relations between their respective cities, meeting several times to discuss steps to improve the situation. Before a year had passed following the 1921 riots, a special event was held in Tel Aviv wherein it was planned to have public figures of Jaffa meet with their Tel Aviv counterparts. This initiative was Dizengoff’s, who hoped to take advantage of Tel Aviv’s upcoming annual Purim holiday festival to hold this ceremonial gathering. Among the Arabs present were Mayor Al-Said, several members of the Jaffa municipality, and other senior figures in Arab society. Among the Jews was an array of leading public figures, and the District Governor and senior British officials also attended. Clearly, from the content of his speech at the event, Dizengoff wanted to use the gathering to promote reconciliation between the Jews and the Arabs and between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. He addressed his words directly to the mayor of Jaffa, mentioning him by name. Dizengoff clarified that the tension between Jews and Arabs was fleeting: Jaffa and Tel Aviv, he emphasized, were united in their desire to advance the region, and this would be achieved through cooperation between the two cities. At the end of Dizengoff’s speech Al-Said greeted him and the members of the Tel Aviv municipal council, and expressed his well wishes in honor of the Purim festival. The Hebrew newspaper Ha’aretz commented that the meeting left a good impression on those present.

In 1922, Tel Aviv Municipality submitted a memorandum to the legal secretary of the Mandatory government concerning the municipal status of Tel Aviv. It stated that despite the fact that the Tel Aviv Municipality was subject to the Jaffa Municipality, the two had succeeded in maintaining a good relationship. An additional detailed account of the state of affairs between the two cities is included in a 1923 municipality report on the city and its development. Presumably, the report served Dizengoff when preparing the speeches that were delivered before British officials and guests of the municipality. It states:

The relations with the neighboring Arabs … are quite good … The Township is doing their best to promote good relations with the Arabs. The relations with the Jaffa Municipality have also been satisfactory and there has never been any case of conflict between us and them, and all matters are settled by mutual understanding…

Dizengoff was called upon to intervene and initiate steps in order to maintain sound relations with Jaffa Municipality. Acting within the context of the time, the atmosphere of reconciliation that prevailed in the years after the 1921 riots greatly aided him in his efforts. Many factors contributed to the creation of this atmosphere, including the initiation of particular activities, as well as types of assistance and support. For example, in 1923 the Hebrew newspaper Do’ar Hayom reported on an initiative by members of a German Colony close to Jaffa, who invited several important Jews and Arabs to meet in order to foster mutual understanding.

Dizengoff was well aware of the great gap between Tel Aviv and Jaffa when it came to their urban development, and he therefore had to act with great sensitivity toward his counterpart, the Mayor of Jaffa. Throughout the 1920s and up until the mid-’30s, a solid relationship developed between the two men, beyond what one might expect would stem from routine municipal work. Al-Said held Dizengoff in high esteem, and was aware of how admired Tel Aviv’s mayor was by the city’s citizens. In Dizengoff’s eyes Al-Said was an agreeable personality for the Jews, as he viewed the Jaffa mayor as easygoing, moderate, welcoming, and open to discussion. These qualities also made it easy for Dizengoff to develop a close and personal relationship with the man. In the years when Dizengoff was a Jaffa Municipal Councilor, the ties between the two grew even firmer, and unsurprisingly, Dizengoff served briefly as Deputy Mayor of Jaffa.

Ceremonies and events held in Jaffa and Tel Aviv in honor of the High Commissioner were of a special nature. The grandeur of the occasion required the two mayors to honor the High Commissioner with their presence, and their speeches were an inseparable part of the event. A speech in this forum, which in addition to the High Commissioner also often included a large assembly in attendance, was seen as an opportunity to convey the mayors’ views on the relations between Jews and Arabs, and between Jaffa and Tel Aviv. At the event marking the departure of High Commissioner Herbert Samuel on 1 July 1925, a large crowd gathered near Jaffa port. Many invitees were there, among them public figures from Tel Aviv and Jaffa. A day before the formal ceremony, Tel Aviv Municipality arranged a farewell dinner for the High Commissioner. Several Arab councilors from the Jaffa municipality were present. On August 25, Jaffa welcomed the new High Commissioner, Lord Plumer. A large crowd attended the reception. As the High Commissioner came ashore he was welcomed by Al-Said, Dizengoff, and other notable individuals—both Jews and Arabs. Following Al-Said’s speech of welcome, Dizengoff also spoke, saying that good relations prevailed between the two populations.

Visits by the High Commissioners to Jaffa and Tel Aviv during their tenure provided special opportunities for face-to-face encounters between the two mayors. A hosting tradition developed for visits of this kind, wherein the mayor who hosted the High Commissioner would invite his counterpart to a joint dinner. Al-Said usually invited the guests to a formal dinner at his home, whereas in Tel Aviv the dinners were usually held at the Tel Aviv City Hall. At times, city councilors of both cities were also invited to these grand occasions. This kind of meeting, which for the most part was for a limited number of guests, made it possible for the two mayors to hold private and close conversations with the High Commissioner, but it was also an opportunity for an exchange of views about their own concerns.

Events and ceremonies honoring the District Governors also brought the two mayors together frequently. Such meetings took place in the framework of joint dinners and tea parties. The latter were usually the rule as a farewell gesture for a District Governor upon ending his term; in Tel Aviv they were often held at the Town Hall with several dozens of people in attendance, including the mayor of Jaffa and at times his deputy. Tea parties were held in Jaffa as well, usually as part of the proceedings for a visit by a District Governor. Additionally, the mayors could converse at the home of the District Governor in Jaffa on the occasion of a visit by a senior British official, at special events held by the District Governor, or at a reception the governor would hold to mark the civil New Year. As with previously described cases, senior British officials visiting the District Governor received a festive welcome, attended by the mayors and Jewish and Arab figures.

In the 1920s, Tel Aviv Municipality was visited by notable guests from Palestine and abroad. The municipality kept a list of names of invitees who participated in such events. The mayor of Jaffa and his deputy were on it, and Al-Said usually attended such gatherings; if he was unable to be present, he sent his deputy. Dizengoff customarily took advantage of these visits to give expression to the state of affairs between Jews and Arabs, and to stress the desire of both sides to live in peace.

Tel Aviv Municipality suggested to the Jaffa mayor that in addition to formal meetings they might also attend cultural and leisure events together. Al-Said occasionally visited Eden cinema in Tel Aviv (which was the city’s first and only movie venue at the time), having been invited to do so under various circumstances; an example is his attendance at an event together with the mayor of Tel Aviv. In 1925, when Tel Aviv hosted Alfred Mond, Lord Melchett, a leader of British Jewry and an ardent Zionist, Tel Aviv Municipality sent invitations to the Mayor of Jaffa and to two Jaffa City Councilors to watch the performance of an opera at the Eden cinema; entrance tickets were carefully attached to the invitations. The Jaffa mayor and several Arab Jaffa city councilors were also on the list of invitees to dances arranged by Tel Aviv Municipality from time to time at the Palatin Hotel, then considered the most luxurious and largest of the Tel Aviv hotels. These dances were arranged for the captains and officers of British warships that occasionally called at Jaffa’s port.

In the second half of the 1920s, the Levant Fairs held in Tel Aviv and the agricultural exhibitions held in Jaffa presented a unique opportunity for the two mayors, who opened the proceedings, to deliver speeches to a wider public. In their orations they stressed, among other things, the enormous value of the exhibitions for creating friendship among the country’s citizens. Customarily, Al-Said was present at the openings of the fairs in Tel Aviv, but again, he sent his deputy when he was unable to attend in person.

Not surprisingly, as the date of the 1927 Jaffa municipal elections approached, Al-Said was considered a desirable candidate by the Jews. They saw him as a moderate public and political figure, and more particularly as one who showed willingness to maintain calm and friendly relations with Tel Aviv.

Jaffa Municipal Elections, 1927

The first municipal elections in Palestine were to be held in 1927—until then all mayors were appointed by the authorities. Most attention centered on the forthcoming campaigns in the big cities—Jerusalem, Jaffa and Haifa—each of which was run by a mixed municipal council of Arabs and Jews. In late December 1926, the Hebrew Committee for Elections to the Jaffa Municipality (hereafter the Hebrew Committee) was formed. It consisted, among others, of representatives of Tel Aviv Municipality and Jewish representatives of the Jaffa Municipality Elections Committee. A Mandatory government decision prohibited Tel Aviv residents from voting in the Jaffa elections, except those who paid Jaffa municipal taxes; however, the Jewish side attached great importance to these elections. Accordingly, the Hebrew Committee worked assiduously and unremittingly to draw up a list of Jews who were eligible to vote there. Based on the number of electors, the Mandatory authorities decided that the municipal council would be composed of seven Muslim delegates, two Christians, and two Jews. The Hebrew committee settled on Meir Dizengoff and Hayim Motro—a wealthy merchant and public figure in his own right—as the two Jewish appointees. Both men were residents of Tel Aviv, but had the right to participate in the Jaffa elections because they paid taxes to Jaffa Municipality on their businesses, which were located in the city.

Four political parties were formed in Jaffa. Mayor Al-Said’s party was thought to have the best odds at winning the most votes and therefor to determine the city’s next mayor. When the Hebrew Committee had to decide which of the Arab candidates to support, it conducted protracted negotiations with the Arab parties’ leaders and candidates. The committee’s intention was to influence the election to the municipal council towards “candidates who will talk to us in a language of peace, good relations, and mutual understanding,” in the committee’s words. The Jewish public was urged to support Al-Said’s party, on the grounds that he personally—and those that were on his party’s list—had given assurances that it would be possible to work together with them. In his public statements in run-ups to the elections, Al-Said was the only Arab contender who did not hesitate to adopt a position on how he would act toward the Jewish side. He made it clear that as in the past, he would not discriminate between the different communities, despite their different beliefs and religions. Likewise, among his supporters in the general Arab population, there were those who did not hesitate to highlight their good relations with all citizens of Jaffa, without exception, in their speeches made on his behalf. The results of the elections were that Al-Said and his party won most votes, and the High Commissioner appointed him Mayor. As one of his first actions, Al-Said called on the members of the elected city council to cooperate with each other. New municipal committees were formed, with a Jewish delegate on almost each of these. One of the first acts of the new municipal council was the introduction of the Hebrew language for use at city council meetings, alongside the use of Arabic. This was a considerable first act in what was to be Al-Said’s ongoing inclination to maintain a tranquil relationship between the municipality and the Jewish population of the two cities.

The Introduction of Hebrew into Jaffa Municipality Council Proceedings

For the first time, in June 1927 the Jaffa municipal council convened for a meeting with two protocol secretaries: one for Hebrew the other for Arabic. This was the second meeting held after the elections. Al-Said opened the proceedings and handed out the protocol of the previous meeting. Dizengoff and Motro were given the pages in two languages, Hebrew and Arabic. This meeting was dedicated to a discussion of an array of proposals, put forward by Dizengoff and Motro, concerning the work procedures of the municipal council. It was unanimously agreed to accept all the proposals except one, clause 7: Dizengoff and Motro asked in their draft that at city council meetings both protocol secretaries be present—one for Arabic and the other for Hebrew—to manage the protocols and their translation. Two councilors opposed this, and demanded that the sole language in the Jaffa Municipality be Arabic. A sharp exchange ensued. Motro and Dizengoff stated that this demand was not legal under Mandate law, and they stressed the practical need for a Hebrew translation of the protocol, deeming it essential. Al-Said was called upon to clarify how the municipality had operated hitherto with regards to Hebrew. He replied that until then, the municipality had shown a positive attitude toward the use of Hebrew in all matters affecting the Jews. Dizengoff and Motro did not relent, and asked Al-Said to decide the issue. And indeed, Al-Said stated clearly that their request in the matter of use of the Hebrew language was legitimate, and therefore he halted the debate. He informed those present that he had appointed a Protocol Secretary for Hebrew, who was obliged to attend all sessions of the municipal council; his task was to produce the protocols in Hebrew. Al-Said sought the councilors’ assent, which they then gave without further demur.

In an interview with the Hebrew newspaper Do’ar Hayom given in early 1928, a Jewish functionary close to Jaffa Municipality described relations between Jewish and Arab municipal councilors in Jaffa as better than ever; the city council operated without discriminating between Jewish and non-Jewish issues. Around that time Al-Said left for a vacation, and Dizengoff was chosen to replace him, as interim mayor of Jaffa, in his weeks-long absence. This appointment served to consolidate the close friendship that prevailed between the two men, and shows Al-Said’s trust in Dizengoff. Soon after, however, Dizengoff decided to resign his membership of the Jaffa City Council, in view of the forthcoming elections of the Tel Aviv Municipal Council and his wish to rejoin it (Avraham Yashfe, a businessman, was elected by the leadership of the Jewish community to replace him). From 1929, Dizengoff once again filled the post of Mayor of Tel Aviv.

As in the aftermath of the 1921 riots, so after the 1929 riots: Al-Said and Dizengoff worked to diffuse tensions and to restore relations between the two cities to their previous levels of cooperation and benevolent neighborliness. Among other actions, Al-Said acted to stabilize the relations between Jews and Arabs on the Jaffa Municipal Council. A report by Tel Aviv Municipality shows that relations had indeed improved, and they were described in terms of mutual understanding.

Expressions of Closeness between the Two Mayors

In the early 1930s the routine of meetings between Al-Said and Dizengoff continued. An event of special importance took place in 1931: the celebration of Dizengoff’s 70th birthday. Numerous invitees were to attend the affair, among them many of Dizengoff’s Arab acquaintances. However, the Arab Executive Committee (the supreme political institutions of Arabs in Palestine at that time), which was extremely concerned about Arabs participating in an event honoring Dizengoff, issued a special announcement admonishing the Arab public lest they attend. The Executive Committee regarded these festivities as a political celebration, intended to serve the Jews’ interests, hence it warned the Arabs keep away. Nevertheless, many Arab notables of Jaffa and the surroundings did go to the event, to give Dizengoff their best wishes. Al-Said was content to send a telegram expressing his greetings, as were a wide array of notables from Jaffa, who congratulated Dizengoff in letters and telegrams.

This period of the first half of the 1930s was characterized by a smooth relationship between the municipalities of Jaffa and Tel Aviv. Apart from current municipal affairs, the mayors and councilors of the two cities conversed at different events in both cities. The Hebrew press reported a great deal on these events, covering them in detail. Later, in 1936, two circumstances linked to Dizengoff—his illness and the event of his 75th birthday—also attest to the relations that prevailed between him and Al-Said: After being struck by an illness, Dizengoff was bedridden for some time. Many of the residents of Tel Aviv took an interest in his illness, as did public figures on the Arab side. Dizengoff was then almost 75 years of age; he had long been an admired figure among many in the Arab community, who recognized his qualities as Mayor of Tel Aviv and as a human being. The time of his illness provided them an opportunity to express their admiration, both in the Arabic press and in notes and letters sent to him personally. The Hebrew press reported that Al-Said had gone to visit Dizengoff at his home in Tel Aviv. The meeting lasted about an hour, and the two mayors discussed matters common to the two municipalities. This visit, of course, reflected the two men’s closeness and the great esteem in which Al-Said held his counterpart. On the Jewish side, his visit was considered a gesture of respect and a display of friendship, consistent with the manner he had conducted himself in the past. Dizengoff’s other Arab friends of the Jaffa elite also evinced this attitude towards him.

In March of that year Dizengoff reached the age of 75 years. This event in the life of the esteemed public figure was a jubilee that touched not just Tel Aviv but the entire country. Al-Said, who had wished to take part in the celebrations, apologized that for medical reasons he would be unable to attend. Instead he sent an emotional letter of deep friendship, wishing Dizengoff continued success in his various enterprises in the development of Tel Aviv. Al-Said went to great pain to send a replacement on his behalf to the festivity at the city hall, and requested that his letter be read out in public.

The friendly relationship that had developed between Dizengoff and Al-Said over the course of the past one-and-a-half decades was a significant factor in allowing the two municipalities to cooperate and work with a positive attitude to resolve municipal problems concerning their common boundary. In 1923, at the end of lengthy negotiations between the municipalities, they reached an accord regarding this borderline. Al-Said, who played an active part in the negotiations, was then described by Tel Aviv Municipality as a figure known for his generosity and greatness of spirit.

Though the issue of the two predominant ethnicities of the two cities was taken into account, in the determination of the boundary line it soon became evident that complete separation of Jews and Arabs could not be achieved. This fact carried implications for determining the jurisdictions of Jaffa and Tel Aviv with respect to municipal services and tax collection. An extensive correspondence between Dizengoff and Al-Said reveals the scope of the problems created by the common boundary. From this exchange it emerges that the two men persisted in their cooperation in order to reach a mutually-agreed-upon solution. A joint committee with an equal number of members from the two municipalities was tasked with demarcating the boundary. The committee convened periodically during the following years in their attempts to determine any outstanding issues, beginning in the mid-1920s and up to the mid-1930s. Because the two municipalities had an interest and a stake in the common thoroughfares that connected them, these naturally formed a basis for cooperation that enabled agreements whereby the share of each municipality in developing or maintaining a given road was settled. In 1933, common sewage system for Tel Aviv and Jaffa was laid down and was managed by the two municipalities according to an agreement they had reached. Jaffa sanctioned Tel Aviv to provide water to residents living close to the boundary—Jews and Arabs—who experienced problems of water supply, this after the two municipalities negotiated an agreement on how the work was to be implemented. Cooperation also found expression in the domains of sanitation and hygiene at locations on and around the common boundary. At times, Al-Said sought Dizengoff’s aid in matters unconnected to the municipal domain. For example, he asked Dizengoff to help him found a union of Arab and Jewish mariners at Jaffa port.

Commercial Ties

From the 1920s to the mid-1930s the scope of Jewish commerce in Jaffa increased. A considerable number of Tel Aviv merchants went there daily to manage their businesses which were located within the municipality. The increase in the overall volume of commerce was evident among the Arab merchants as well, a substantial number of whom transacted with Tel Aviv. A reliable picture of the situation in Jaffa in the second half of the 1920s has been provided by a unique guide published in 1926, which contains a comprehensive list of businesses of Jews and Arabs in Tel Aviv and in Jaffa. By consulting this guide, it is possible to examine the state of local commerce at that time: In 1926 a total of 303 businesses operated in Jaffa: 71 (23%) were owned by Arabs and 177 (59%) by Jews; in addition, there were 55 (18%) internationally-owned businesses. That is, concerns owned by Jews were an absolute majority: they comprised over half the total number of businesses, and 2.5 times the number of Arab-owned businesses. In 1932 a similar guide was published, a supplement to the 1926 edition. Perusal of the data on Jaffa shows that in 1932 there were 1211 businesses in the city: 674 (56%) owned by Arabs, 331 (27%) owned by Jews, and 206 (17%) international. Thus the number of businesses in 1932 had quadrupled since 1926. Arab-owned businesses had multiplied by 9.5 and formed an absolute majority. Jewish-owned businesses had almost doubled in number.

The 1921 riots showed that the Jews could not rely on Jaffa and take it for granted as an economic center in which all their businesses were concentrated. Until that time, almost all stores and businesses owned by Tel Aviv Jews were located in Jaffa, with only a few within the Tel Aviv territory. Under the new circumstances there was therefore an urgent need to create an alternative commercial location, with suitable conditions (i.e. physical- and property-security) for Jewish businessmen. In 1921 Tel Aviv Township initiated one of the most important enterprises of the day: a new commercial center in what is today the Florentine neighborhood. In the early years after its founding, the move of Jewish trade there steadily got under way. However, the hopes which hung on the commercial center being occupied and developed soon proved unfounded. A decade after its construction, only a part of it had been utilized. As long as the taxation system in Jaffa suited the owners of businesses better, they preferred to stay there. In fact, as shown earlier, an increasing number of Jewish-owned businesses opened in Jaffa in the course of the 1920s. This process signified a return to normalization on the one hand and trust in Jaffa’s economic advantages over Tel Aviv on the other. The opening of businesses of industrial proportions in Jaffa well substantiates this trend: it found expression in the first half of the 1920s, but even more so during the decade’s second half.

Another sign of normalization was evident in commercial relations formed between Jewish and Arab business owners. A survey prepared by Tel Aviv Municipality in 1923 reports on “Arabs dealing with Jews in every branch of commerce and cooperating with us in many enterprises.”

For the most part these ties found expression in joint measures based on mutual interests. For example, in Jaffa, a Trade and Industry Bank was opened by Jewish and Arab businessmen to provide support “regardless of race and religion.” Buses owned by Arabs from Jaffa were leased to Tel Aviv transport companies for use on the line operating between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A joint union was founded for Tel Aviv and Jaffa cobblers. A Jewish-Arab committee functioned on the union’s behalf to protect the cobblers’ interests. Cooperation also found expression in local organizations of traders at Jaffa’s centers of commerce. A leading organization of this kind was that of the Bustros Street shopkeepers. This street was considered the commercial center and main artery connecting Jaffa and Tel Aviv. It bustled with activity, and shops on it were leased to Jews and Arabs. The great majority of the Jews resided in Tel Aviv, and arrived daily at the premises they held there. All the shops were under a single ownership. When it transpired that the owner intended to raise the rent, the shop lessees organized for joint action. The ensuing struggle lasted several years, ending in 1927. A joint committee was formed of Jewish and Arab lessees who eventually eliminated the threat. In the early 1930s, cooperation was salient in the citrus fruit industry. For example, the Mandate government’s intention to impose a tax on every crate of oranges sent abroad was met by the formation of a Jewish-Arab delegation that acted to prevent it. Reports of economic cooperation between Jews and Arabs continued to appear in the following years.

A further aspect of normalization is reflected in the activity of Arab traders in Tel Aviv, most of them from Jaffa, who wished to take advantage of Tel Aviv’s proximity as a source of employment: Construction of buildings in Tel Aviv was then at its height, and its scope was continuously expanding. Most of the building materials were transported into Tel Aviv by Arabs. Leasing apartments and land was likewise becoming an attractive pursuit. Arab owners of buildings in Tel Aviv leased apartments to Jews. Houses built by Arabs close to Tel Aviv were constructed from the outset with the intent of leasing them to the Jewish population. Arabs who owned land bordering on Tel Aviv sought to lease it to Jews on “easy” terms.

From the second half of the 1920s, the scope of building in Jaffa had also greatly increased. Many Jewish workers found employment in construction. Jews who owned carts and camels transported building materials to Jaffa in an unending flow. Based on the 1926 guide, it transpires that most of the trade in building materials was in the hands of Jews. This fact explains the great quantities of building materials purchased by Arabs from Jews. Jewish-owned construction companies won building contracts in Jaffa, including from Arab contractors and owners.

Tel Aviv’s markets and streets proved an attraction for the Arab delivery men and peddlers, most of whom came from Jaffa. Tel Aviv Municipality acted to reduce their numbers and tried to prohibit those licensed by Jaffa Municipality from peddling their wares in its jurisdiction. In view of this, Al-Said requested Dizengoff to take into account the strained circumstances of the Jaffa peddlers, whose only wish was to provide for their families. Al-Said pointed out that Jaffa Municipality allowed Jewish peddlers licensed by Tel Aviv Municipality to operate in its jurisdiction. In addition to the Arab peddlers, a small group of Arab traders from Jaffa made their living in Tel Aviv, where they kept stores. In the early 1930s, Tel Aviv became the largest industrial and commercial city in Palestine. As in the previous decade, Tel Aviv was inundated with Arab peddlers, coming mainly from Jaffa. Many of them kept stalls in the Tel Aviv markets. Arab carters from Jaffa ferried travelers through Tel Aviv’s streets, and because of their low prices they created fierce competition for the Jewish carters.

As noted, Jews held the lion’s share of stores in Jaffa in the 1920s. Many of them were Tel Aviv residents. They journeyed to Jaffa every morning, returning to Tel Aviv toward the evening. As the Jewish traffic to Jaffa increased, the transportation lines between the two cities multiplied. The continued development in Tel Aviv-Jaffa public transport in the second half of the 1920s is clearly apparent, evinced in the Jewish bus companies with lines to and from Jaffa. There were three bus companies, and soon they were in competition. Beginning in the early 1930s, there was a notable increase in public transport lines between the two cities, and the frequency of each line’s rounds increased; new firms joined in, including Arab bus companies that started out from Jaffa. Tel Aviv Municipality saw this development as an important step toward strengthening the ties between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. The location of bus stops was determined by joint agreement between the two municipalities.

This steady expansion of economic activity positively affected the smooth and efficient relations between the local Arab and the Jewish chambers of commerce. The Jaffa organization, created in 1919, had Arab and Jewish representatives. The 1921 riots caused a split between the two groups, and in 1922 the Arab members formed a separate chamber (hereinafter the Arab Chamber). The original chamber (hereinafter the Jewish Chamber of Commerce) continued to function separately, and represented the Jewish merchants of Jaffa and Tel Aviv. As Tel Aviv developed, the chamber concentrated on that city’s economic affairs. Despite the split, a good relationship between the two chambers ensued, and their two presidents were at pains to demonstrate cooperation between Jews and Arabs, particularly in speeches delivered at meetings with the High Commissioner and at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of either chamber. Their cooperation was also highlighted in the speeches of the High Commissioner, who expressed satisfaction with the common work of the two organizations. A tradition developed of reciprocal attendance of each at the AGM of the other. Sometimes representatives of the two municipalities also attended the annual meetings, especially to extend their greetings on behalf of the municipalities. In these, they often stressed the need to act together to benefit the economic interests of the two cities. The president of the Arab Chamber even raised the possibility of unifying the two chambers once again, which he believed would foster commerce. He suggested the formation of a joint commission composed equally of representatives of the two chambers. This initiative was welcomed by the Jewish Chamber, and the two chambers jointly agreed that the commission would be composed of four Arabs and four Jews; their powers were determined. In April 1929, the two chambers appointed their representatives to the joint commission, and they endeavored to set the date of the first meeting. In the first half of the 1930s, the two chambers continued to cooperate, in a good and satisfactory relationship. The tradition of reciprocal attendance at AGMs continued on a regular basis. A month before the outbreak of the riots of 1936, the Jewish chamber received an invitation from its Arab counterpart to attend its AGM.

Entertainment and Leisure

Entertainment and leisure activities were among the main factors in the increase of movement between Jaffa and Tel Aviv. From its earliest years, Tel Aviv attracted Arab visitors, who went there to enjoy the seaside resort that had developed a decidedly carefree, European atmosphere. Its places of entertainment had a cosmopolitan air and offered a whole range of leisurely pursuits. As the leisure options in Tel Aviv developed and diversified, the flow toward it intensified. Among the Arabs of Jaffa, a tradition developed of spending leisure time in Tel Aviv, especially during certain times and seasons: In summer, the Tel Aviv seashore was the main attraction. Many Jaffa Arabs went to pass the warm days in Tel Aviv and to enjoy its developing seaside. The shore at Jaffa was not deemed attractive in comparison with that of Tel Aviv, and from the mid-1920s, the number of visitors from Jaffa to the Tel Aviv seaside greatly increased.

In the winter, Tel Aviv usually filled with visitors from Jaffa for the event of the Purim festival. They came to watch the parades and join in the celebrations, and their numbers increased each year, beginning in the early 1920s. Some members of the Arab Jaffa elite, mostly Christians, also participated in holiday parties held on Purim eve. Taking into account the sensitivities of the carnival’s Arab spectator-guests, Tel Aviv Municipality published a warning to its residents not to wear masks or dress up in religious or national attire that might offend the Arab population. In 1924 Dizengoff described the Arab crowds coming from Jaffa to watch the Purim parade. He pointed to the warm welcome accorded by the Tel Aviv citizens to their Arab neighbors. During the second half of the 1920s and the mid-1930s, there was a substantial rise in the number of visitors from Jaffa to Tel Aviv on the days of this festival.

The rush to Tel Aviv grew stronger during Arab festivals and holidays, as well. In the 1920s a tradition of enjoying festival days in Tel Aviv began to form; on those days the traffic between Jaffa and Tel Aviv greatly increased, and Tel Aviv was filled with Arab pedestrians in holiday attire who had come to enjoy the places of entertainment and to do some shopping.

The relaxed European atmosphere of the big city added to its attraction not only on festival days. Jaffa’s elite saw the lavish cafes of Tel Aviv as legitimate settings in which to satisfy the needs of their status. They were especially drawn to the parties and dances held in the halls of the Palatin Hotel. It is no surprise that Jaffa Municipality, when it organized special events for its visitors, also employed the services of the Palatin.

The Tel Aviv cinemas were also sought after by the Arabs of Jaffa. Tel Aviv offered a range of movies from the West, and they were screened at grand cinemas. Compared with Tel Aviv, the offering of movies in Jaffa was meager, and mostly produced in the Arab world.

The Jews likewise benefited from the relaxed atmosphere that prevailed between the two cities, and took part in entertainment and leisure opportunities in Jaffa. Guided tours for Jews of Tel Aviv on “Acquaintance with the Land” covered Jaffa. This mostly involved study trips for familiarization with Jaffa and its surroundings, organized by educational institutions and youth movements. Similarly, there were joint tours for Jews and Arabs—school students of Tel Aviv and Jaffa, as well as many residents and notables of the two cities—and whenever ships of the British fleet weighed anchor at Jaffa’s port, locals were offered an opportunity to take an on-board tour. Sporting events held in Jaffa, such as horse racing, were main attractions, drawing fans and spectators from Tel Aviv.

By the eve of the 1936 disturbances, the two-way flow between Tel Aviv and Jaffa had become a routine matter. In early April 1936, about two weeks before the outbreak of the hostilities, the Hebrew newspaper Davar published an article that well reflected the reality that then prevailed, drawing attention to the busy movement of people between Jaffa and Tel Aviv.


With the founding of the city of Tel Aviv, an entirely new situation was created in Palestine, namely that of neighborly relations between a Hebrew city and an Arab city. In this article I have attempted to show a different state of affairs from the one reflected in most of the existing research literature on relations between Jaffa and Tel Aviv. A clear trend is discernable of continuous improvement in these relations. Its signs are evident from the first half of the 1920s until the outbreak of the 1936 Arab revolt, and it is well reflected in the nature and expression of the contacts between the two cities regarding the parameters studied in this paper.

An examination of the relations between Jaffa Municipality and Tel Aviv Municipality attests to a positive trend that became the norm. The sources of the period show that the years from the beginning of the Mandate until 1936 were characterized by comfortable ties between the two municipalities. Over the years these indeed grew stronger, reaching their peak in the 1930s. Cooperation between the two cities was consistent, developing into a routine of joint work relations in areas of concern to both. Joint committees functioned throughout the period in a steady, effective and purposeful manner and a relationship based primarily on mutual interests and a capacity for mutual understanding. Cooperation was the two municipalities’ (and mayors’) way of contending with a shared reality that obliged them to reach out to each other on matters requiring joint decisions. Their circumstances fostered joint municipal initiatives and a striving toward reaching solutions to address shared problems. Deliberations by the two municipalities on sensitive subjects, such the lay of the municipal boundary between them, well exemplifies the way the two municipalities’ mayors came to an understanding.

The sound relations between the Jewish and the Arab members of the Jaffa municipality greatly contributed to this successful cooperation between the Jaffa and Tel Aviv municipalities. The introduction of the Hebrew language for use in Jaffa Municipality is an outstanding example of the positive approach adopted by the latter toward the Jews. On the eve of the 1936 disturbances, relations between Jews and Arabs in the Jaffa Municipality were better than ever before. This is attested to in the High Commissioner’s report, which portrays the relationship in cordial terms.

That said, this cooperative relationship was a success largely due to the approach and work of the two mayors at that time, Meir Dizengoff and Assem Al-Said. A close relationship developed between the two men, which extended beyond the realm of their daily municipal work. They were able to create a good, effective and special relationship that included a considerable personal aspect, expressed in remarkable closeness. Throughout the time Dizengoff served as a Jaffa City Councilor, the friendly relations between them grew firmer. Al-Said’s decision to appoint Dizengoff—of all people—as his locum during his absence attests to the trust prevailing between the two. Al-Said, deemed a public and political figure of great substance in Arab public life during that era, was of a moderate and affable disposition, a fact that did much to better the relationship of the Jaffa and Tel Aviv municipalities. His contribution to the creation of this atmosphere was important, as indicated by items that appeared in the Hebrew press from time to time. Al-Said held Dizengoff in high esteem, as a man and as a public figure; he particularly admired his achievements in the development of Tel Aviv. Al-Said, known for his friendly connections with Jewish personalities, was a public figure well-liked by the Jews of Tel Aviv. Clearly therefore the interest of Tel Aviv Municipality was to back him for the position of Jaffa mayor in the 1927 elections. Yisrael Rokach, a member of the Tel Aviv City Council beginning in 1922, and who in 1936 followed Dizengoff as Tel Aviv’s mayor, knew Al-Said well, and described him as a mayor who was “easy in his dealings with the Jews.”

The balanced and equal relationship between the two municipalities flowed over into the realm of commerce. Tel Aviv had economic interests in Jaffa while also acting as a source of employment for Jaffa’s citizens. Beginning in the 1920s, Jaffa enjoyed economic growth, which peaked in the mid-1930s. This expansion was reflected in several characteristic features, one of them being the proliferation of commercial ties with Tel Aviv. Arabs came from Jaffa to make their living in Tel Aviv, and cooperative economic ventures between Jews and Arabs were abundant. Trade ties expanded and strengthened. Jaffa’s commerce, in which in some senses merged with and in other senses was influenced by Tel Aviv’s commerce, expanded at a considerable rate. These calm and stable relations grew in the early 1930s, when many Jaffa residents made their livelihood in Tel Aviv. This was reciprocated by the Jews, with a lively daily flow from Tel Aviv to Jaffa for work purposes. From 1926 to 1932 the number of Arab businesses in Jaffa quadrupled, while the Jewish businesses almost doubled in number.

Abundant proof of the exchanges between the two cities was the expansion of public transport lines between them and the increase in the number of passengers. The positive increase evident in the trading between the two cities was clearly expressed in the healthy and effective relationship between the Arab and the Jewish chambers of commerce. These made an important contribution to the promotion of trade between the two cities.

People’s movement between Jaffa and Tel Aviv for the purpose of leisure and entertainment constantly increased from the 1920s onward, a trend that continued consistently until 1936. The convenient situation between the two cities exerted a not-inconsiderable effect on the Arabs of Jaffa, who liked to go to Tel Aviv for pleasure and leisure activities. The substantial number of Jaffa citizens who spent time in Tel Aviv reflected a feeling of security on the one hand, and the range of available contacts and connections with the Jewish environment on the other. As the movement of people between the two cities swelled, the links and the mutual relations between the sides grew firmer and contact between them became a routine matter. A comparison of the scope of this flow of Jaffa residents in the 1920s with that in the first half of the 1930s shows a steep rise in the years after the 1929 riots. This movement of people, which followed an upset in the relationship but nevertheless increased from year to year, substantiates their need to restore order to their daily lives.

In the reverse direction too, from Tel Aviv to Jaffa, there was a sizeable flow of Jews who had business to conduct, errands to run, shopping to do, and leisure activities to enjoy there. This movement of Jews, which peaked in the 1920s, declined somewhat in the first half of the 1930s, yet persisted at steady levels until 1936.

In summation, the account in the research literature maintaining that the ties between Tel Aviv and Jaffa weakened and deteriorated between 1921 and 1936 does not, in fact, reflect reality as it was. Daily life dictated a rhythm of its own, arising from the physical proximity of the two cities. Commercial ties expanded, and the movement of people between the two cities swelled. Despite the tension and acts of hostility during this period, relations between the two cities steadily improved. The connection that quickly formed in daily life between Jaffa and Tel Aviv residents signified more than anything the return to routine and the relaxation of the tension that overtook them in times of hostile acts. A clear expression of this is given in a memorandum prepared by the Mandate government for the Peel Commission, which was tasked with probing the reasons for the outbreak of the 1936 riots. The memorandum centers on ‘Cooperation between Jews and Arabs,’ and discusses, among other matters, the effect of the 1929 riots on the relations between them. The document emphasized that despite the 1929 riots, and the resultant divide between Jaffa and Tel Aviv, relations between the two cities rapidly returned to normal. The eruption of the 1936 riots was the breaking point in the relations between the two cities, a subject that is outside the scope of this article and that requires a separate study.