Language, Land and the Legislation of Town Planning

The city grew rapidly: in 1921 there were about 3,600 residents in Tel-Aviv; by 1930 the number had reached 42,000 and by 1939, 160,000. Although we have only a few details about the settlers’ countries of origin, the municipality estimated that 90% of the immigrants who settled in Tel-Aviv during the 1920s and 1930s were European. They most came from Eastern Europe, especially from Russia and Poland, but there were immigrants from all European countries as well as from other western countries, and from Yemen and other Muslim countries.

Tel-Aviv was almost exclusively Jewish, unlike Jerusalem, Haifa and otherArab-Jewish cities. The legal framework of its municipal autonomy further strengthened its communal boundaries. On the other hand, unlike smaller Jewish settlements (and collective agricultural settlements in particular), Tel-Aviv was a large and heterogeneous city. Its lower middle class socio-economic status was paralleled by a thriving middle class culture expressed in its residents’ everyday lifestyles.

Alongside the widely accepted national project of Hebrew enforcement, in reality Tel-Aviv’s everyday speech included the constant use of foreign languages. Formal census results are not a very reliable source and are probably even misleading, since the municipality asked all Tel-Aviv residents-for the sake of “national-political” interests-to mark “Hebrew” as their spoken language in the government’s questionnaires. In practice, foreign languages were used in the streets, in places of work, public meetings and assemblies, in shops and on buses.

In the 1920s and 1930s, an age of rapidly developing technology, sounds of foreign talk and song emanated from radios, gramophones and cinema houses. When shops, restaurants and kiosks played radio channels or gramophone records in Yiddish or German, pedestrians in the street complained to the municipality, which then tried to silence or at least moderate the un-Zionist noises.

Map by Mark LeVine

The growth of people and city in Tel Aviv Jewish community benefits the city, however, conflicting to the original Arabian residents around the city. The 1929 riot in Jerusalem rose the question of land ownership and discontent from arabs against Jewish purchasing and claiming their land. Therefore, four documents–the Shaw Commission report, the Passfield White Paper of 1930, and the Hope-Simpson and the French reports of 1931–all suggest limiting severe limiting Jewish immigration and land purchase to settle the cause of violence.

The importance of “Land Settlement”-which under the 1928 ordinance involved determining boundaries, categorizing, and registering plots of land-cannot be overstated, particularly because the cadastral survey and newly established land registiy offices mandated by the law facilitated land purchase at a time when recession was making it harder for the often debt-ridden Palestinian smallholders to resist the speculative prices offered for their lands.The director of lands explained to the Jewish officials that the proper land settlement was the only way to make lands available for the Jews without political complications.

As important to the Zionist town planning endeavors as the legal frame-work was the administrative structure of land development consolidated during this period. The high commissioner and Central Town Planning Commission at the national level assumed the exclusive powers to designate town planning areas and regulate planning and development-powers that until then were under the purview of the municipal councils such as the Jaffa municipality, which had enacted its own town planning legislation as early as 1923.

The high commissioner was also empowered to grant public bodies (such as municipal corporations) and private individuals or bodies (such as Zionist land purchasing organisations or concessionary bodies) the power to expropriate land, as long as it was designated for “public use.” Meanwhile, the powers of the district and local town planning commissions included the right to tear down and reconstruct overcrowded areas and to expropriate lands within the town planning area for the construction of new houses and roads. Significantly, representatives of garden associations and similar organisations involved in local development-bodies that were likely to be Jewish–could be invited to join the town planning commissions.

Helman, Anat. “”Even the Dogs in the Street Bark in Hebrew”: National Ideology and Everyday Culture in Tel-Aviv.” The Jewish Quarterly Review 92, no. 3/4 (2002): 359-82. doi:10.2307/1455449.

LeVine, Mark. “Conquest Through Town Planning: The Case of Tel Aviv, 1921-48.” Journal of Palestine Studies 27, no. 4 (1998): 36-52. doi:10.2307/2538129.

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