Tel Aviv, history,town planning
Ahuzat Bayit — Tel Aviv
08/24/2021
Theodor Herzl’s Utopian Vision and Tel Aviv
09/16/2021

 

Ahuzat Bayit –  becoming a modern Hebrew city 

Ahuzat Bayit – Choosing the location and purchasing the land

Ahuzat Bayit becoming a modern Hebrew city was not easy. The first question on the agenda of the Ahuzat Bayit committee, headed by Akiva Arie Weiss, was location.  The answer to this question turned out to be closely related to the different vision of the founders (see Ahuzat Bayit— Tel Aviv)

A heated discussion developed. There were those who advocated building the neighborhood close to Jaffa because it was a center of employment and travel was difficult both in summer as well as winter; moreover, they asserted, social and cultural activities centered around Jaffa.  They felt that Ahuzat Bayit, which would embody beauty and modernity, should serve as a model for the other neighborhoods of Jaffa.

Those who were in favor of choosing a location farther away from Jaffa were motivated by the idea of an autonomous urban entity, a novel idea at the time. Ahuzat Bayit, as they saw it, was to be the forerunner of a new type of separate and autonomous Hebrew Jewish settlement.  The area chosen was Kerem Jabali, about 500 meters away from Neve Tzedek. The area purchased was nine times larger than the original area of  Neve Tzedek and Neve Shalom. The large plot of land allowed for a new method of land management that was different from the way the first neighborhoods had been built outside of Jaffa. This laid the foundation for Tel Aviv’s independence and development as a separate city and not as a neighborhood of Jaffa.

The location was chosen because of its proximity to another Jewish neighborhood, easy access to main roads (leading to Petah Tikva, Sarona and Nablus), the Jaffa-Jerusalem Railway train and the flour mill on the Yarkon). In addition, the farther the land was from the city, the cheaper its price, so this enabled the purchase of a larger tract of land.

Through the mediation of Katz and Tennenbaum, two Jewish land traders from Jerusalem, the committee of Ahuzat Beit bought about 110 dunams and the rest was purchased by individuals. The land ended up costing 180,000 francs, six times the original amount earmarked for this purpose (see below). In order to finance this purchase and the house construction, the Ahuzat Beit committee requested and received a loan of 300,000 francs from Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL) known as the Jewish National Fund, through Dr. Arthur Ruppin, director of The WZO’s Palestine Office.  KKL’s leaders wholeheartedly endorsed the Ahuzat Bayit initiative, as they viewed it as a solution to the increasing demand for housing solutions in the cities and felt that this project would promote additional Zionist goals. Ruppin himself claimed that the establishment of a middle-class Jewish neighborhood would enable the economic control of Jaffa by the Jews. Later, potential Ahuzat Bayit residents received loans from Geula (a company established for the purpose of redeeming land in Eretz Israel) and later, after the construction of the houses, and additional loan from the Anglo-Palestine Bank.

Tel Aviv, History

Founders of Achuzat Bayit

Ahuzat Bayit – The bureaucratic maze and final land transaction

The land targeted for purchase in Kerem Jabali was owned by nine different landowners, and there may have been more. According to Turkish law, some of the land was registered as masha’a, i.e. undivided land tenure and some of the land was registered as miri, that is, state land owned by the Ottoman government. Therefore, a request had to be made to the courts to change the status of the land to private land, and this involved countless delays and even the need to bribe officials.  

In addition, others came forward claiming ownership too.  As a result, the price of the land increased beyond original estimates and the transaction took much more time than planned. The land was first registered in the names of David Yellin and Dr. Mazeh, who were Ottoman citizens. After the Young Turk Revolution in 1908, the law was changed to allow foreign citizens to own land; subsequently, the land was then registered in the name of the chairman of the board of directors of the Anglo-Palestine Company, Jacob Kahn, a resident of the Netherlands.

The Turkish authorities placed many obstacles in the path of Ahuzat Bayit’s potential residents, and made it very difficult for them to obtain building permits. First of all, the authorities built barracks near the neighborhood, blocking entrance, and this further halted the building process because, under Turkish law, it was forbidden to build a residential neighborhood near a barracks.

The Arab community also demonstrated against the construction of the neighborhood. In the end, the founders of the neighborhood managed to purchase and then remove the barracks, and pay off the necessary officials to obtain the required building permits.

Shortly before construction began, a Bedouin tribe suddenly appeared and squatted on the land, claiming that they owned it.  Attempts to put pressure on the Turkish government through the Dutch consul and evict the squatters through legal means were unsuccessful, so the Bedouins were finally paid to leave. In 1909, the land was finally ready for construction.

A Modern Hebrew City – Preparation of land and infrastructure

After Ahuzat Bayit’s founders completed the land acquisition process,  three decisions that they took had a significant bearing on the future of this project.  The first was to dig a well that would provide a concentrated supply of water to all residents, the second involved levelling the land and clearing the sand, and the third was to prepare a comprehensive plan for the whole neighborhood, including the parcellation of the area into construction plots.

The excavation of the well was carried out by the Jewish contractor, Katzler, and Jewish engineer called Joseph Barsky, using an engine assembled in a factory owned by industrialist Leon Stein, who also provided a pump and iron tanks for storing the water. Because the well supplied large amounts of water, more residents could build their homes in the new neighborhood.  It was also the reason that other neighborhoods decided to merge with Tel Aviv later on.

As the purchased tract of land was mainly sandy dunes, 12,000 cubic meters of sand had to be removed. Experts estimated that the cost of removing this sand would be about 200,000 francs. Akiva Arie Weiss, who chaired the Ahuzat Bayit’s founding committee, allocated 8,000 francs for the job.  He achieved his goal of staying within his budget by hiring local lads to move the sand. The sand was carried away using wheelbarrows (instead of donkeys), and the workers who did this were nicknamed the ‘’the wheelbarrowers.” The work was carried out within the defined budget.

Moving the sand made it possible to create a foundation for the construction of the city. This project represented a shift in the traditional mindset: instead of having the settlers adapt themselves to the conditions of the land, the land was being adapted to the needs of the new residents.  

Tel Aviv, History

Clearing the sand

The planning process was closely linked to its vision and goals. While some of Ahuzat Bayit’s founders believed that the land should just be divided into plots without consulting with experts (as was the case in other neighborhoods that had been established), the majority  argued that the process should be more orderly and involve the input of well-known engineers and architects.  

After the levelling the land and upon completion of the planning process, a draw was held on April 11, 1909, which is considered to be the date of Tel Aviv’s establishment. Potential residents were given a choice between larger plots of about 1000 square meters and smaller plots of about 500 square meters.

Tel Aviv, history, town planning

Lottery of Plots

 

 

 

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