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Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine
UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.


Setting the record straight: Response to historical distortions, TIFF

Download PDF of fact sheet hereSetting the record straight: a JVP response to fabricated and misleading history being used to attack the Toronto Declaration, the letter signed by over 1,000 artists and filmmakers protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s choice of Tel Aviv for a celebratory spotlight.

Stand With Us, a US-based right wing Israel advocacy organization, says, “The Toronto Declaration is filled with misinformation, distortions, and lack of context.“ In fact, it is the Stand with Us “fact sheet” that  is filled with misinformation and outright fabrications of history. We’ve consulted with historians to get to the bottom of Stand With Us claims. 

CLAIM "Tel Aviv was not built on “destroyed Palestinian villages.”  It was built on empty sand dunes outside of Jaffa in 1909.  Its population soared, especially in the 1920’s and 1930’s in part because the sizeable Jewish population of Jaffa moved to Tel Aviv when Arab violence against Jews erupted in 1920, 1921, 1929, and 1936 to 1939. In the 1921 Jaffa riots, 47 Jews were murdered and 146 wounded." 

FACT Tel Aviv was founded on land that was anything but empty. The few dozen acres on which the modern city was founded in 1909 had a long history of land use and hundreds of owners over the centuries. The first Tel Aviv neighborhood was built on land bought for the Jewish settlers, in a sale that European consuls had to force Ottoman officials to allow because many of the owners objected to and continued to contest for many years. Since that first land purchase, Tel Aviv has grown into a large city, expanding onto land annexed from the surrounding Arab villages. In fact, the Israeli human rights group Zochrot has documented 7 Palestinian villages on which Tel Aviv is built: Shaykh Muwannis, Summayl, Jammasin al-Gharbi, al-Manshyyah, Salama, Abu Kabir, Fishermen Village, and Irsheed. (For larger version of Zochrot's map, to the left, click here.

The original built-up portions of the villages are in orange, the surrounding areas would have included related farmland. Village names are in the upper right corner.) Today Tel Aviv ranges from Jaffa & Bat Yam in the south, Ramat Hasharon in the north, and, to the east, past the Ayalon highway and into the high rise office district. The entire region on which Tel Aviv has spread was in use in pre-state Palestine as farmland and villages; it was some of the most fertile land in the area.  It was precisely the fertility and the economic growth occurring in the Jaffa region that made it the perfect place to establish Tel Aviv. What happened to the villages on which Tel Aviv was built?

They were depopulated and either destroyed or repopulated with Jews. Tel Aviv annexed land from all the villages surrounding it. The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from these villages is well documented. It's not a secret. In some cases, it's even celebrated. The Irgun, the pre-state Jewish militia, has its museum in a confiscated Arab home near the beach in what was Manshiyya, a mixed Jewish- Arab neighborhood on the border of Jaffa and Tel Aviv that was attacked and mainly destroyed by the Irgun in 1948. The Irgun's website describes the attack in detail, as does Menachem Begin in his book on the history of the Irgun. Both describe the Irgun's attack on Jaffa and its surrounding areas in April 1948, before the evacuation of the British. The Irgun lobbed mortar shells into Jaffa and blew up houses in Manshiyya. Much of the Palestinian population of Jaffa fled in terror. The attack on Jaffa and subsequent fleeing of its inhabitants was an important domino in frightening urban Palestinian Arabs into leaving pre-state Palestine / Israel in 1948.

(The Irgun website:; Begin's book: _The Revolt: Story of the Irgun, published by Steimatsky in 1951; a picture of the Irgun museum is here:

These attacks don't excuse Palestinian attacks on Tel Aviv, which also occurred. But they do make it clear that the Jewish militias committed themselves to conquering Jaffa and the surrounding region and claiming the land for themselves.  Much of Tel Aviv University is built on the ruins of the destroyed village of Sheikh Muwannis. Prior to its destruction, about 2,000 people lived in the village, which had more than 200 houses and two elementary schools, one for boys and one for girls.

In March, 1948, the Irgun violated an agreement between the village and the Haganah and infiltrated the village, kidnapping five of the village leaders. This act inspired the flight of not only residents of this village but from many Palestinians in the surrounding coastal plain. This sequence of events, too, is well documented:

Benny Morris describes it in _The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949_, published in 1987 by Cambridge University Press. Regarding the riots of 1920, 1921, 1929, and 1936 to 1939: each of these events is embedded in a more complicated and complex history than the phrase 'Arab violence against Jews' allows. Each case includes a multitude of factors and forces, including the British colonizers and their different strategies for holding power, different Arab forces vying for control, and Jewish groups competing with each other. It is not, and has never been, enough to tell the story of Arab-Jewish conflict as a simple aggressor-victim relationship.

We recommend a few books dealing with these topics:

Mark LeVine, Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and the Struggle for Palestine, 1880-1948 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2005) and

Zachary Lockman, Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906-1948 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1996).

One has to wonder: why are American Jews denying what Israeli Jews willingly acknowledge? The city of Tel Aviv is built in good measure on destroyed Palestinian villages and the conquest of Jaffa. 

CLAIM"Arab residents were not “exiled” from Jaffa in 1948. Arab and Palestinian leaders launched a war against the Jewish community after rejecting the 1947 UN Partition Plan which would have peacefully divided sovereignty in the land between Arabs and Jews. Arab Liberation Army forces took control of Jaffa and systematically shelled Tel Aviv.  20,000 of Jaffa’s 70,000 Arab residents, including notables and other civic leaders, chose to leave the city even before any fighting had begun.  Despite Israel’s urgent plea that they remain, the others also left in panic when the battle for Jaffa escalated in April 1948, hoping that they would return once Arab forces vanquished Israel.  The British helped them evacuate. Only 4,000 to 5,000 remained. Today, Jaffa’s Arab population is 20,000." 

FACT This telling of history is pure propaganda and simply misleading. The majority of Palestinians in Jaffa fled when the city was shelled repeatedly over the course of several days. Fleeing one's home to escape indiscriminate mortar attacks, and being barred from returning afterwards --that is, indeed, being exiled.  Moreover, the claim that "Israel" offered an "urgent plea that they remain" is not true; Ben Gurion's own words in his diaries make that entirely clear. Jaffa was attacked before the state was established, before the British evacuated, in order to establish 'facts on the ground.' (_The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949_, page 95 of the 1987 version.)

CLAIM "Israel did not “exile” Palestinians from the three villages into which Tel Aviv expanded as its population soared.  Like the Jaffa residents, they chose to evacuate to escape the fighting as the war escalated.

FACT As in the examples of the village of Sheikh Muwannis and the city of Jaffa, Palestinians from the villages into which Tel Aviv expanded fled their homes in fear of their lives. The pressing issue is not whether they were forced out literally at gunpoint - as in Lydda or Ramle - or fled after hearing about a nearby massacre or village occupied by Jewish troops. More important is the acknowledgment that like some 750,000 other Palestinians from throughout the land that is now Israel, they became refugees when the state of Israel was established.

Israel then prevented them from returning to their homes, which was a right to which they were entitled under international law. These Palestinians lost their land and homes, which were confiscated by the new state. And they continue to fight for the recognition of their history, which is being denied even today. None of this history "delegitimizes" the city of Tel Aviv, but it does put its history and present reality – including continued rampant discrimination against the city's Palestinian residents – in proper perspective, which the Jewish leaders criticizing our efforts refuse to do.

Two films in the Toronto International Film Festival (2009), Jaffa and Ajami, address this painful reality. Yet the TIFF's City to City program spotlightight Tel Aviv makes the violent history of Tel Aviv-Jaffa invisible. To that we object. Many major cities are built through conquest or built by slave labor (important parts of Washington DC, including the White House) or processes of dispossession that are regarded as morally unacceptable in the 21st century.  Tel Aviv is no different.  Part of becoming “legitimate” entails acknowledging this past and making amends for it. 

CLAIM: "Israel has not caused the suffering of Palestinian refugees. Israel has no control over how they are treated in Lebanon, Syria, Canada or elsewhere.  With the exception of Jordan, Arab countries had an inflexible policy after 1948 of refusing to resettle refugees in order to use them as a weapon in the propaganda war against Israel and to demand a right of return that would destroy Israel demographically.  None of the other 40 million refugees between 1945 and 1958 have made such demands.  All have been resettled."

FACT The establishment of the state of Israel was catastrophic to Palestinian society. 85% of Palestinians living in what became the state of Israel were made into refugees, exiled from their homes and lands. (Badil: Many were settled in refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon and Syria, and others became internal refugees inside of Israel, where they made lives in new communities, cut off from their original property. To this day, Israel refuses to allow Palestinians access to their homes or lands, in contravention of 4th Geneva Convention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and UN Resolution 194.

We are concerned with the ongoing suffering caused directly by Israel, such as by the excruciating siege on Gaza, the brutal assault there in December-January 2009, and the continued dispossession of Palestinians from their homes in Jaffa. Jaffa has been targeted for settlement by ultra-nationalist Jews, many of whom are supporters of the settler movement or former settlers themselves, who aim to "Judaize" the mixed city. This scheme comes part and parcel with the simultaneous displacement of Palestinian residents from the city. Businesspeople, too, are facilitating 'urban redevelopment' in Jaffa, which is continuing the displacement of the Palestinian population of Jaffa, who don't have the financial means to withstand these forces of gentrification and, too, have nowhere else to go. Jaffa residents, like other Palestinian citizens of Israel, have faced systematic and institutionalized discrimination, such as restrictions on employment and sub-par educational facilities, that have kept them at an economic disadvantage.

For more on the Judaization of Jaffa/displacement of Palestinians in Jaffa, see  

CLAIM: "When Israel did administer the West Bank and Gaza, it brought freedom and prosperity to the residents, including the refugees who live in UN camps run by UNRWA.  The Territories became the 4th fastest growing economy in the world in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  When Israel tried to improve the refugee housing in the UNRWA camps, the PLO and the UN denounced these efforts."

FACT:The idea that Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza might bring the Palestinian inhabitants of those areas "freedom" shows just how far-fetched and fantastical this version of reality is. Israel's 42 year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is indefensible. Don't take our word for it; read Israel's own scholars, journalists, human rights activists and even former Shabak chief Ami Ayalon, who warned against the occupation turning into apartheid. 

CLAIM: "Israel has already absorbed and resettled over 600,000 refugees from the 1948 War: the Jewish refugees from Arab countries.  In the wake of the 1948 War, over 850,000 Jews were forced out of Arab countries where some had lived for millennia"

FACT: The fate of the Jews of Arab origin is not at issue here. What is at issue is the denial of Israel's responsibility for causing the mass exodus of Palestinians from their homes before, during and after the establishment of the state of Israel.
 (Further, the exodus of Jews from Arab lands was encouraged and often engineered by Israeli Mossad agents in these countries, and were a direct result, and a desired emigration to populate the Zionist State. In any case one cannot balance one crime against another.Ed: APJP) 

CLAIM: "Israel did not commit a “brutal assault” on Gaza.  Hamas, the Iranian proxy that calls for the murder of Jews, the “obliteration” of Israel, and its replacement with a Taliban like theocracy, had launched 7,000 rockets and mortars at civilians in Israel’s southern communities since Israel’s total withdrawal and uprooting of settlements in Gaza in 2005.  Israel was acting in self-defense, and upheld the most stringent standards of combat. " and "I don't think there's ever been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF is doing today in Gaza." British Colonel (ret.) Richard Kemp, BBC TV News, Jan. 18, 2009

FACT: First it was Israel who broke the six-month ceasefire, by incursions and assassinations. Human rights groups ranging from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, to Palestinian groups like Al Haq and Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, and Israeli groups like B'tselem and Gisha, all have produced reports condemning Israel's illegal use of collective punishment, including the use of disproportionate force. There is simply no other word than "brutal" for the assault on Gaza, which killed nearly 1,400 people.  According to B'tselem, more than half of those killed were civilians, including more than 300 children and minors. "Breaking the Silence", the Israeli group of present and former soldiers, published a report that used soldiers testimonies to substantiate claims that phosphorous was used to target civilians; human shields were deployed; and civilians, at times, selectively targeted. Gaza residents were already the victims of multiple injustices. They have endured the ongoing illegal blockade of Gaza, which has barred badly needed food, medical supplies and goods from entering the area; and many are refugees, including many from Jaffa, who have been forced over the decades to fl their homes more than once. 

CLAIM: "Israel is the opposite of apartheid South Africa, even according to Jimmy Carter. Apartheid was a legal system of discrimination, segregation and domination based on race. Israel, like the United States, has a legal system based on equal political and civil rights for all. The Palestinians are not Israeli citizens, and wish to have their own state.  Today, they have their own government, the Palestinian Authority, and are governed by its legal system"

FACT: Israel's legal protections for civil rights are indeed laudable, but consistently violated as Palestinian citizens don't enjoy full equality or the privileges afforded to Jewish citizens. Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are subject to the legal protections of international law, which Israeli regularly flaunts. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are not governed by their own legal system. They do not have a government but rather a political authority that functions only at the mercy of the state of Israel, which intervenes whenever it wants and controls every meaningful aspect of the Palestinian economy and territory. Jewish settlers are governed by Israeli laws -- and receive Israeli privileges -- but the Palestinians living down the road (on whose private land many settlements have been built) live under military occupation, without equal rights or access to justice. Indeed, the West Bank is full of roads open only to Israeli citizens, closed to Palestinian residents of the West Bank. Hundreds of Israeli checkpoints are scattered throughout the West Bank and the Israeli military enters Palestinian cities, towns and villages at will.

In short, Israel's occupation defines life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.


Fact sheet prepared with the assistance of Soraya Kaufman;