Jaffa Street: The Neglect

For the Day of Archaeology 2012 and the end of my course on Christian and Moslem archeology (4th-20th centuries) in the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, we went on a field trip to downtown Haifa to see remnants from bygone times marking the contemporary landscape. Strolling along Jaffa Street we examined the houses built at the beginning of the 20th century, following the construction of Haifa harbor and the building of the Hejaz Railways, which connected Haifa to the holy Moslem cities.The houses represent various Ottoman (16th-20th) styles and traditions, and there are also a few cemeteries and religious institutions, both Moslem and Christian, along the street.

In spite of its beauty and historical importance, the street, inhabited nowadays by an impoverished Arab population, is neglected. Rumors say that the neglect of this area stems, not only from political grounds, but from a process of gentrification that attracts rich people into this neighborhood in the center of town and forces the poor population to leave. Standing in the shed of one of the old buildings, I referred to the idea that the structure of a neighborhood, such as that of Jaffa Street, was vital for the reproduction of social life of the community living there.

The obliteration of historical knowledge, on the other hand, by violent act of foundation of a new neighborhood can produce a tangible influence on people’s identities. The students, however, when asked to comment on the status of preservation of the contemporary landscape were reluctant to express their opinion. Their reluctance may be related to their technological background and lack of a humanistic one. It may also be the result of the composition of the course, attended mostly by Arab students who are unwilling to express their opinion regarding the contemporary landscape as a sort of a protest against the State because of their displacement and dispossession by the hegemonic culture.