Officially, the war for Palestine, which ended with the establishment of the State of Israel and the exile of three-quarters of a million Palestinians, began on May 15, 1948, with the end of the British Mandate, the declaration of independence by the Zionists. and the official start of hostilities between the nascent Jewish state and the country’s Palestinian population and its Arab allies.
Others cite the United Nations partition resolution adopted on November 29, 1947 and the war that began shortly thereafter as the real start of the conflict. But an equally plausible argument can be made that the war for Palestine began over a quarter of a century earlier, on May 1, 1921 – not in Jerusalem but in a mixed neighborhood along the seafront between Jaffa and Tel Aviv. .
It was on May 1 that a group of Jewish Marxists marched loudly through the Palestinian area of Manshiyyeh neighborhood after clashing with more moderate Labor Zionists. With flags waving and singing loudly for workers’ solidarity, their march was met with warning shots from British gendarmes in the hope of dispersing them. Unfortunately, the Arab residents did not understand their slogans; and fearing that the gunfire would signal a Jewish attack on the neighborhood, they attacked first, starting a riot that quickly moved to Jaffa and killed 47 Jews and 48 Palestinians. Hundreds more have become homeless.
The violence shocked the British occupation regime, which was still gaining a foothold four years after the conquest of Palestine, but it should not have. By 1921, Jaffa’s rapid economic and population growth had made it the undisputed cultural and economic capital of Arab Palestine, where according to British police officials “you would get more information about political sentiment than in any other part of Palestine ”. At the same time, Tel Aviv, which since its inception in 1909 as the “first modern Jewish quarter” in Palestine had grown from the “daughter” of Jaffa to a powerful competitor, the cultural and economic capital of Jewish Palestine.
Indeed, Tel Aviv’s encroachment on land belonging to Jaffa and the surrounding farming villages was already worrying enough that its last Ottoman governor, Hassan Bey, built a mosque well north of the old city of Jaffa in 1916 to attempt to block the extension to the south of Tel Aviv.
The Palestinian Arab population of Jaffa described the “storm” of violence in early May 1921 as a “revolt” or “revolution” (thawra, the same word used by protesters during the Arab Spring). For their part, Zionist officials admitted in their reports that this was the result of the “unnatural” expansion of the Jewish community, whose “taking and spread” in the rest of Jaffa and the surrounding orchards was considered to be a major cause of “mountain hatred” between the two communities.
But rather than trying to dampen the growing anger of the indigenous population, Zionist leaders have pushed for unlimited immigration to Palestine, even as thousands of Jewish residents of Jaffa have migrated across the country. now official border to Tel Aviv, which has been officially recognized as a separate city. 10 days after the eruption of violence.
Over the next three decades, Jaffa and Tel Aviv would continue to clash and cooperate occasionally, as the two cities and their respective national communities become national rivals in their own right. The Palestinian “great revolt” of 1936 also began in Jaffa, while the Jewish bombardment of the city at the start of the 1948 war precipitated one of the largest exoduses of Palestinians in exile.
A century after May 1, 1921, the borders between Jaffa, now a relatively poor but still gentrified mixed neighborhood of Tel Aviv, and the “modern” Jewish center of the united municipality, remain a constant source of tension and even of tension. violence. Much like in Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank, secular and religious Jews are taking over Palestinian property, expelling the local population, and continuing a self-described Judaization process (Yehudit in Hebrew, an official term of the Israeli government) that is taking place. has been unrolled without resting for 100 years now.
Indeed, the dynamics of Judeo-Palestinian relations in Jaffa have always been a harbinger and microcosm of the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict, believing long-held claims by Israel and its supporters of a clear difference in the way next to the Green Line. In fact, most of the techniques deployed in the territories occupied after 1967 were first developed and perfected within Israel’s sovereign borders in 1948.
In mixed areas of cities like Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem, there were enough Palestinians left that their presence could not simply be wiped out and replaced by Jews and their numbers were “manageable” enough that demographic balance could be achieved. modified with some effort.
Those who have paid attention to the constant struggle for territory, identity, and political and economic power in Israel since 1948, and particularly over the past five decades, have long understood that the “two-state solution” defined territorially and defended by the “Israeli peace” camp, “which was apparently at the heart of Oslo’s” land for peace “formula, was doomed from the start. Israel has more than enough power and foreign support to maintain permanent control and continue to colonize the occupied territories.
As the chances for peace grew distant with the collapse of the Oslo process and the eruption of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000, various groups of Palestinian, Israeli and international academics and policymakers came together to reflect on alternative methods of cohabitation on this subject. disputed land. They developed or reused ideas ranging from a secular democratic state to various forms of federation, confederation, and binationalism.
One such suggestion was the idea of parallel states, first introduced in 2010 and detailed in our 2014 book One Land Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States. The ideas presented are the result of years of informal discussions between Israeli and Palestinian scholars and experts, with the support of international colleagues.
The basic idea was to divide sovereignty rather than to divide the land, and to build a new type of political architecture with two separate state structures covering the whole territory, with the freedom for people to move and to live throughout the region, thus preserving the notion of two separate states, while integrating the territory into a single geographical entity, with a common external border and a common economic space.
Such a structure would allow Israel to meet its security imperatives through a continued presence in the West Bank while allowing the Palestinians to return to all of historic Palestine, and the two peoples to share Jerusalem as their capital. Crucially, wherever they live, Israelis and Palestinians would remain citizens of their respective states, ending the “demographic threat” that for decades has thwarted promises of democracy on both sides of the Green Line. .
In 2012, a group of Israelis and Palestinians put forward a similar concept under the rubric of “Two States, One Homeland” (now known as “One Land for All”), promoting a more traditional form of confederalism. Such initiatives have shown enough strength for confederation to be a central theme of the just concluded 2021 conference of J-street, the liberal Jewish counterpart of AIPAC.
With its century-old history of Palestinian-Jewish cohabitation – forced and unbalanced though it is – Jaffa could serve as a starting point for a shared and more equitable future. Instead, Jaffa continues to be treated more as a de facto Jewish settlement than a full-fledged part of Tel Aviv, with land expropriation and militarized police a continuing reality for its 20,000 Palestinian residents.
Looking back a century, Sami Abu Shehadeh, a longtime Jaffan activist, Knesset member and chairman of the Balad party, explained: “Of course 1921 happened in Jaffa; it was the center of Zionist as well as Palestinian life, so we could see what was on the horizon at that time. But even a century later, with Palestinians in Jaffa only 1 percent of Tel Aviv’s population, there is barely an attempt to treat us as equal citizens. For this reason, young people today continue to see themselves as part of the Palestinian nation, even if their identity card is Israeli.
The 100th anniversary of the 1921 revolt reminds us of how deeply rooted this conflict remains. But just a few years before the violence, Jewish and Palestinian leaders came together to help install streetlights in Jaffa, formed an export company for famed Jaffa Orange, and built a new boulevard in the heart of Jaffa to match the newly built tree. – Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. Cooperation and collaboration were then possible, and could be again – in Jaffa, Tel Aviv and across this sacred but deeply marked land.
But only if it is based on the kind of equality, mutual respect and recognition that are at the heart of the various post-territorial solutions to which we finally give the attention they deserve. With a seemingly insurmountable power imbalance in its favor, Israel has little incentive to recognize, let alone support, such efforts. But as the events of May 1, 1921 remind us, conflicts that seem manageable today can escalate for a century without solution, making pyrrhia even the greatest of victories.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.