Nakba Day Before-and-After: Jaffa, Jerusalem and Haifa

On this Nakba Day, Palestine Square presents a before-and-after look at the dispossession of the Palestinians and the colonization of Palestine in the three major Palestinian cities prior to 1948: Jaffa, Jerusalem and Haifa.

The old Zionist mantra of ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’ is readily disproved through photographic evidence of a Palestinian people that tilled the land, published newspapers, founded schools, lived in the countryside and the cities, and even after decades of European Jewish immigration to Palestine still outnumbered the Yishuv (pre-Israel Jewish community) by a ratio of two-to-one.


By the mid-1940’s, the port city of Jaffa was home to about 100,000 Palestinian Muslims, Christians and Jews (the Jewish population was roughly 30%). One of the largest cities in historic Palestine, Jaffa boasted a vibrant Palestinian middle-class, a cinema, the Near East radio (on which the legendary Lebanese singer Fairouz was discovered), two Palestinian-owned newspapers, several academies, and the famed Jaffa oranges.

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Jaffa from the sea.

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Students of the National Christian Orthodox School, Jaffa, 1938. The school was founded in 1921 by the Christian Orthodox Welfare Society.

The 1947 United Nations Partition Plan placed Jaffa within the Arab state, but the city stood as an island surrounded by the proposed Jewish state (the city of Tel Aviv abuts Jaffa from the north).

The Irgun, a right-wing paramilitary/terrorist organization, launched a three day barrage of mortars on the Palestinian quarters. Tens of thousands of Palestinians fled; many on boats to Gaza and Egypt, scores drowning in the sea. Today, the descendants of the few thousand Palestinians who remained continue to reside in Jaffa as citizens of the state of Israel, but the city’s vibrant Palestinian identity and culture is a shadow of its former self. Much of the city was razed to make way for Tel Aviv’s beach promenade, its lasting old quarter was expropriated from its Palestinian owners and remade into an Israeli artist colony, and the Jaffa oranges, Palestine’s gift to the world, have been re-branded as “Israeli”.

Jaffa came under attack and its inhabitants forced to flee before May 14, 1948, the day of Israel’s declaration of independence. The Labor Zionist paramilitary, the Haganah, joined the Irgun offensive by launched Operation Chametz on April 25 to isolate and conquer Jaffa and the surrounding villages. The city was conquered by Zionist forces on May 10. Rather than a plucky Jewish state attacked by unprovoked Arab armies, the classic Zionist myth, it was the Yishuv’s offensive against the Palestinians and the stream of Palestinian refugees pouring over neighboring Arab borders that compelled reluctant, if not indifferent, Arab governments into war at the behest of their Arab subjects demanding they come to the aid of their Palestinian brethren.

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Palestinians fleeing by boat.


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Many Palestinians left solely with the belongings they could carry. Many expected to return after the mortar attacks were stopped; which they were by the British, still the Mandate power, on the third day, but Israel continues to prohibit the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Left: The Grand Serai, housing local government offices, in Jaffa, July 1908, as a large Palestinian crowd gathers to celebrate the revolution in Constantinople popularly known by the Arabs as al-Hurriyyah (“liberty”) and declared by the “Young Turks” against the despotic sultan Abdul Hamid. Right: Ruins of the Grand Serai. A truck loaded with explosives covered with oranges was parked outside the entrance on 4 January 1948 by members of the Stern Gang, a right-wing Zionist paramilitary/terrorist group. The resulting explosion destroyed the building and killed twenty-six Palestinian civilians.
The neighborhood of Manshiyeh pre-1948.
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Ruins of the Manshiyeh quarter after the Irgun attack.
Today, the name Manshiyeh exists solely in the history books. Tel Aviv’s municipality (which now includes all of Jaffa, the region is known in Israel as Tel Aviv-Yafo) planted a park over the razed neighborhood (a common Israeli feature). Manshiyeh is now the Charles Clore park (above) named after a British Zionist. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.


One of the few structures still left standing, a Palestinian home, was converted into a museum dedicated to the Irgun with a plaque recognizing the “liberators” of Jaffa. A victorious momentum for Zionism its symbolism is not lost on Palestinians: the imposition of a new structure, the state of Israel, (and, quiet literally, the glass facade) on the ruins of Palestine. Photo Credit: WordPress.



The golden city of Jerusalem was similarly home to a community of Jews, Muslims and Christians. The Palestinian Jews were mainly Sephardic (Middle Eastern origin), spoke Arabic,  culturally integrated, and maintained amicable relations with their Muslim and Christian neighborhoods. Although many Palestinian Jews welcomed cultural and economic Zionism for improving the condition of Palestine’s Jewry, they were deeply wary about the political ambitions of Zionism. Many warned early on that Zionist colonization, which would necessitate the dispossession and subordination of the Palestinians, would engender hostility between Jewish and non-Jewish Palestinians.

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Mayor of Jerusalem Raghib al-Nashashibi, standing center, gives a tea party at his home in honor of Shaikh Abd al-Hayy al-Kittani (seated to his right), a Moroccan religious leader and scholar, on the latter’s visit to Jerusalem in 1930. The other guests are Palestinian notables and dignitaries. The child is the visitor’s son.
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Ali al-Kassar, an Egyptian actor, visits friends in Jerusalem, 1934. Seated first right is Fawzi al-Ghosein from Ramleh, a graduate in law from Cambridge University, England.
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A soccer match in the Palestinian quarter of Bab al-Zahirah (Herod’s Gate), outside the Old City walls to the northeast – perhaps the earliest photograph of a sports event in Jerusalem.

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Soon after the 1947 Partition Plan, the Zionist leadership began to construct Plan Dalet, a master plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the forceful creation of a Jewish state even beyond the borders of the proposed Jewish state (already the greater part of Palestine even though the Yishuv constituted no more than a third of the population and less than 7% of land ownership). In Jerusalem, this entailed Operation Jevussi launched on April 26, 1948.

Zionist forces occupied Palestinian residential quarters in the western part of the city: Katamon, Talbiyya, the German Colony, the Greek Colony, Upper Bak’a, and Lower Bak’a. Nearly all of the Palestinian cultural, political and intellectual elite was forced into exile. Their homes and possessions, including important library collections, were seized by the Zionist paramilitary forces. Palestinian refugees streamed into nearby Ramallah and Bethlehem (the West Bank) and Jordan.

The neighborhood of Talbiyya was an affluent Palestinian Christian community built on land purchased from the Greek Patriarchate. Their palatial and ornamental homes were handed over to Jewish settlers (including a future prime minister of Israel). Today, Talbiyya is an affluent Israeli Jewish neighborhood known as Komemiyut. Its Arabesque homes stand as testament to a lost world.




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Akin to Jerusalem and Jaffa, Haifa was also home to a mixed community of Arabs and Jews. About half the population was Jewish and the rest roughly equally Muslim and Christian. Situated in the north of Palestine, Haifa served as the banking capital of the Middle East, a role assumed by Beirut after 1948.

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Haifa, a view from Mount Carmel.
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A Christian wedding, Haifa, 1930. The bridegroom is Hanna Asfour, a Catholic Palestinian lawyer; the bride, Emily Abu Fadil.
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The Third Palestinian National Congress on 14 December 1920.

Delegates to the congress represented the main cities and districts of Palestine. Seven congresses were held between 1919 and 1928. At the Third Congress it was decided to form an Executive Committee to conduct business between congresses. These congresses, forerunners of the Palestinian National Congress (PNC) held under the aegis of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) since 1964, reflect early Palestinian attempts at political organization. They passed resolutions expressing fear of Zionist objectives and affirming Palestinian demands for proportional representation and national independence. From right to left, the banner in Arabic reads: “Palestine is the cradle of Jesus”; “Preserve al-Aqsa Mosque”; “Palestine is Arab.”

Haifa was the first of the three major Palestinian cities to fall to the Haganah. The British withdrew from the city on April 21 and the Haganah took the initiative with Operation Misparayim. Haifa fell on April 22-23 as thousands of Palestinians fled by land and sea to Lebanon and Egypt.

About 60,000 Palestinians were expelled or forced to flee and the remaining Palestinian population fell to less than 10% of the city’s residents. Many of them congregated in Wadi Nisnas, which remains a Palestinian urban slum in Haifa neglected by the city’s authorities accustomed to budgetary discrimination between Arab and Jewish neighborhoods.

Parts of Wadi Nisnas have been transformed into contemporary ruins due to severe inattention by the Israeli municipality. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

Today, a Palestinian community remains in Haifa and constitutes 15% of the city population. Haifa is a center for civil rights activism among Palestinian citizens of Israel and is the headquarters for organizations from Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel to Mada al-Carmel, Arab Center for Applied Social Research. Both champion an inclusive state based on equal democratic citizenship for Arabs and Jews.

The fall of the three major Palestinian cities to Zionist forces brought about the destruction of the Palestinian community and sealed the fate of Palestine before Israel declared independence. By the time Arab armies intervened it was too little, too late to reverse a fail accompli: a Jewish state on the ruins of Palestine.

67 years after the Nakba, the Palestinian people, including those within Israel (Jaffa, Jerusalem and Haifa) continue the struggle for Palestinian rights and self-determination in a shared homeland.

Unless otherwise stated, photographs along with most of the captions are from Before Their Diaspora: A photographic history of the Palestinians, 1876-1948, by Walid Khalidi.

For the month of May, the Institute for Palestine Studies has made available this extraordinary volume for 20% off along with two other essential texts relating the Nakba:

BTD Cover

Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians 1876-1948
By: Walid Khalidi
Buy now


All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948
By: Walid Khalidi
Buy now


Expulsion of the Palestinians : The Concept of “Transfer” in
Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948
By: Nur Masalha
Buy now

By Khelil Bouarrouj.