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Tel Aviv, World War One, History

Tel Aviv during the First World War.

World War I was a difficult period for the Yishuv;  Tel Aviv was no exception.  The Turks encountered a European-styled city mostly concentrated around Jaffa. Many residents were Russian, French and Britain nationals protected by the capitulations (treaties signed between the Ottoman sultans and European states concerning the extraterritorial rights).  However, these agreements were cancelled by Turkey, who joined the war on the side of the Central Powers. Thus, the Jewish settlement was under military rule and made up a front line against the British who were stationed in Egypt and Sinai. Turkish officers and government officials who came to Jaffa tended to consider foreigners as possible enemies who would undermine them if not neutralized first.

The Ottoman Rulers in Palestine During World War I

Baha a-Din, the kaymakam, or governor of Jaffa at the time, was closely associated with officers from the Young Turks movement.  He ordered that signs in Hebrew be removed from shops and replaced with Turkish or Arabic signs, that the post office not deliver letters in Hebrew or Yiddish and declared the girls’ school in Jaffa closed. In short, he did everything in his power to harm the Jewish community.

Hassan Bek, the cruel, zealous military commander of Jaffa was infamous for his addiction to cannabis and embezzlement of funds.  He treated both Jewish and Arab residents harshly and coerced them in to giving him money and gifts.  With these resources, he built the famous Hassan Bek Mosque at the northern border of Jaffa.  The land for the mosque was confiscated from a Christian family and the construction materials from Jewish shops. Zionist leaders such as Meir Dizengoff and industrialist Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche were subject to his public attacks and incessant insults. He closed down the Jaffa branch of the Anglo-Palestine Bank that had been opened in 1903; his men conducted searches in houses.

Djemal Pasha was the military commander of the southern provinces of the Ottoman Empire, which included the Yishuv.   He ordered the expulsion of the Jewish leaders and altogether 30,000 Jewish residents from Eretz Yisrael and dismantled the NILI spy network.  In 1917, a decision was passed to evacuate all Jews of Tel Aviv from their homes, and only a few young men were allowed to stay behind to watch over property. 

During the First World War One, the development of Tel Aviv was completely halted, and Jews were able to return only after the British took control of the region.

End of war up until 1921

The end of the war did not significantly change the existing demographics of Tel Aviv as opposed to Jaffa.  When the banished residents of the Yishuv were allowed to return in 1919, there were 182 houses in Tel Aviv with 1424 rooms, exactly as in 1914. The number of residents in 1919 and 1920 was less than in 1915. In 1921 the number of people in the city reached 3,604 and the number of houses 242 (2,202 rooms).

The Third Aliyah, triggered by the Bolshevik revolution, programs against the Jewish populations of East Europe and the Balfour Declaration began in 1919. Most of these immigrants were destitute and those who stayed in this part of the Yishuv settled in Jaffa and the poorer neighborhoods around it. The population of Jaffa grew to 42,000 in 1921, of which 40% were Jews (16,000).  In Jaffa, the three ethnic groups — Jews, Muslims and Christians –coexisted and could be seen mingling in its streets. Most of the Jewish population of the area resided in Jaffa and not in the nearby residential neighborhood of Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv residents for the most part worked in Jaffa, and all Jewish businesses, including shops, workshops and warehouses, were in Jaffa. The Arab-Moslem neighborhood of Manshiya extended like a finger into the sands north of Jaffa; Tel Aviv rose to the east, extending to Gruzenberg Street, and only a strip of sand separated the two neighborhoods. Though two-story houses were already being built, the Herzliya Gymnasium still towered over the area.

All this changed with the Jaffa Riots of 1921.

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