Tel Yafo (Jaffa Hill) rises to a height of 40 meters (130 ft) and offers a commanding view of the coastline. Hence its strategic importance in military history. The accumulation of debris and landfill over the centuries made the hill even higher.
Archaeological evidence shows that Jaffa was inhabited some 7,500 years BCE. Jaffa's natural harbor has been in use since the Bronze Age.
Jaffa is mentioned in an Ancient Egyptian letter from 1440 BCE, glorifying its conquest by Pharaoh Thutmose III, whose general, Djehuty hid armed Egyptian warriors in large baskets and sent the baskets as a present to the Canaanite city's governor. The city is also mentioned in the Amarna letters under its Egyptian name Ya-Pho, ( Ya-Pu, EA 296, l.33). The city was under Egyptian rule until around 800 BCE.
Jaffa is mentioned four times in the Hebrew Bible, as one of the cities given to the Hebrew Tribe of Dan (Book of Joshua 19:46), as port-of-entry for the cedars of Lebanon for Solomon's Temple (2 Chronicles 2:15), as the place whence the prophet Jonah embarked for Tarshish (Book of Jonah 1:3) and as port-of-entry for the cedars of Lebanon for the Second Temple of Jerusalem (Book of Ezra 3:7). Jaffa is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as the territorial border of the Tribe of Dan, hence the nowadays term "Gush Dan", used for the center of the coastal plain. Many descendants of Dan lived along the coast and earned their living from shipmaking and sailing. In the "Song of Deborah" the prophetess asks: "דן למה יגור אוניות": "Why doth Dan dwell in ships?"
After the Canaanite and Philistean domination, King David and his son King Solomon conquered Jaffa and used its port to bring the cedars used in the construction of the First Temple from Tyre. The city remained often in Jewish hands even after the split of the Kingdom of Israel. In 701 BCE, in the days of King Hezekiah (חזקיהו), Sennacherib, king of Assyria, invaded the region from Jaffa.
After a period of Babylonian occupation, under the Persian rule, Jaffa was governed by Phoenicians from Tyre. Then it knew the presence of Alexander the Great troops and later became a Seleucid Hellenized port until it was taken over by the Maccabean rebels (1 Maccabees x.76, xiv.5) and the refounded Jewish kingdom. During the Roman repression of the Jewish Revolt, Jaffa was captured and burned by Cestius Gallus. The Roman Jewish historian Josephus (Jewish War 2.507-509, 3:414-426) writes that 8,400 inhabitants were massacred. Pirates operating from the rebuilt port incurred the wrath of Vespasian, who razed the city and erected a citadel in its place, installing a Roman garrison there.
The New Testament account of St. Peter's resurrection of the widow Tabitha (Dorcas, Gr.) written in Acts 9:36-42 takes place in Jaffa. St. Peter later had here a vision in which God told him not to distinguish between Jews and Gentiles as told in Acts 10:10-16.
A fairly unimportant Roman and Byzantine locality during the first centuries of Christianity, Jaffa did not have a bishop until the fifth century AD. In 636 Jaffa was conquered by Arabs. Under Islamic rule, it served as a port of Ramla, then the provincial capital.
Jaffa was captured in 1100 after the First Crusade, and was the centre of the County of Jaffa and Ascalon, one of the vassals of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. One of its counts, John of Ibelin, wrote the principal book of the Assizes of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. During the period of the Crusades, the Jewish traveller Benjamin of Tudela (1170) sojourned at Jaffa, and found there just one Jew, a dyer by trade. Saladin conquered Jaffa in 1187. The city surrendered to King Richard the Lionheart on September 10, 1191, three days after the Battle of Arsuf. Despite efforts by Saladin to reoccupy the city in July 1192 (see Battle of Jaffa) the city remained in the hands of the Crusaders. On September 2, 1192, the Treaty of Jaffa was formally signed, guaranteeing a three-year truce between the two armies. In 1268, Jaffa was conquered by Egyptian Mamluks, led by Baibars. In the 14th century, the city was completely destroyed for fear of new crusades. According to the traveler Cotwyk, Jaffa was a heap of ruins at the end of the 16th century
In 1515 Jaffa was conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Salim I. The seventeenth century saw the beginning of the re-establishment of churches and hostels for Christian pilgrims en route to Jerusalem and the Galilee.
During the eighteenth century the coastline around Jaffa was regularly besieged by pirates and this led to the inhabitants relocating to Ramleh and Lydd where they relied on messages from a solitary guard house to inform them when ships were approaching the harbour. The landing of goods and passengers was notoriously difficult and dangerous. Until well into the twentieth century, ships had to rely on teams of oarsmen to bring their cargo ashore
Residential life in the city was reestablished in the early nineteenth century. In 1820 Isaiah Ajiman of Istanbul built a synagogue and hostel for the accommodation of Jews on their way to the holy cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias and Safed. The appointment of Mahmud Aja as Ottoman governor in marked the beginning of a period of stability and growth for the city, interrupted by the 1832 conquest of the city by Muhammed Ali of Egypt. Growth resumed after the 1842 return of the Levant to Ottoman rule courtesy of the combined efforts of the British and French navies. The city walls were dismantled in 1872
On March 7, 1799 Napoleon I of France captured Jaffa, ransacked it, and killed scores of local inhabitants. Many more died in an epidemic that broke out soon afterwards. The governor who was appointed after these devastating events, Muhammad Abu-Nabbut, commenced wide-ranging building and restoration work in Jaffa, including the Mahmoudiya Mosque and Sabil Abu Nabbut.
In 1834 the town was besieged for forty days by 'mountaineers in revolt against Ibrahim Pasha'
In the 19th century, Jaffa was best known for its soap industry. Modern industry emerged in the late 1880s. The most successful enterprises were metalworking factories, among them the machine shop run by the Templers that employed over 100 workers in 1910. Other factories produced orange-crates, barrels, corks, noodles, ice, seltzer, candy, soap, olive oil, leather, alkali, wine, cosmetics and ink. Most of the newspapers and books printed in Palestine were published in Jaffa.
In 1859, a Jewish visitor, Dr L.A. Frankl, found sixty-five Jewish families living in Jaffa, 'about 400 soul in all.' Of these four were shoemakers, three tailors, one silversmith and one watchmaker. There were also merchants and shopkeepers and 'many live by manual labour, porters, sailors, messengers, etc.
American missionary Ellen Clare Miller, visiting Jaffa in 1867, reported that the town had a population of 'about 5000, 1000 of these being Christians, 800 Jews and the rest Moslems.
From the 1880s, real estate became an important branch of the economy. A 'biarah' (a watered garden) cost 100,000 piastres and annually produced 15,000, of which the farming costs were 5,000: 'A very fair percentage return on the investment.' Water for the gardens was easily accessible with wells between ten and forty feet deep. Jaffa's citrus industry began to flourish in the last quarter of the 19th century. E.C. Miller records that 'about ten million' oranges were being exported annually, and that the town was surrounded by 'three or four hundred orange gardens, each containing upwards of one thousand trees'. Shamuti oranges were the major crop, but citrons, lemons and mandarin oranges were also grown jaffa had a reputation for producing the best pomegranates
Until the mid-19th century, Jaffa's orange groves were mainly owned by Arabs, who employed traditional methods of farming. The pioneers of modern agriculture in Jaffa were American settlers, who brought in farm machinery in the 1850s and 1860s, followed by the Templers and the Jews.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the population of Jaffa had swelled considerably. A group of Jews left Jaffa for the sand dunes to the north, where in 1909 they held a lottery to divide the lots acquired earlier. The settlement was known at first as Ahuzat Bayit (Hebrew: אחוזת בית), but an assembly of its residents changed its name to Tel Aviv on 21 May 1910. Other Jewish suburbs to Jaffa were founded at about the same time.
In 1917, the Ottoman authorities evacuated the entire civilian population. While the Muslim evacuees were allowed to return before long, the Jewish evacuees remained in camps (and some in Egypt) until after the British conquest.
Under the British mandate
During 1917–1920, there were thousands of Jewish residents in Jaffa. A wave of Arab attacks during 1920 and 1921 caused many Jewish residents to flee and resettle in Tel Aviv. The 1921 riots (known in Hebrew as Meoraot Tarpa) began with a May Day parade that turned violent. The Arab rioters attacked Jewish residents and buildings. The Hebrew author Yosef Haim Brenner was killed by Arabs in Jaffa.
At the end of 1922, Jaffa had 32,000 residents and Tel Aviv, 15,000. By 1927, the population of Tel Aviv was up to 38,000. The Jews of Jaffa lived on the outskirts of Jaffa, close to Tel Aviv, whereas the old city was predominantly Arab.
The 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, also known as the Great Arab uprising, inflicted great economic and infrastructural damage on Jaffa. On April 19, 1936, the Arab leadership of Palestine declared a general strike which paralyzed the economy. The strike began in the Port of Jaffa, which had become a symbol of Arab resistance.. Military reinforcements were brought in from Malta and Egypt to subdue the rioting which spread throughout the country. Jaffa's old city, with its maze of homes, winding alleyways and underground sewer system, provided an ideal escape route for the rioters fleeing the British army. In May, municipal services were cut off, the old city was barricaded, and access roads were covered with glass shards and nails. In June, British bombers dropped boxes of leaflets in Arabic requesting the inhabitants to evacuate that same day. On the evening of June 17, 1936, 1,500 British soldiers entered Jaffa and a British warship sealed off escape routes by sea. The British Royal Engineers blew up homes from east to west, leaving an open strip that cut through the heart of the city from end to end. On June 29, security forces implemented another stage of the plan, carving a swath from north to south. The mandatory authorities claimed the operation was part of a "facelift" of the old city.
In 1945, Jaffa had a population of 101,580, of whom 53,930 were Muslims, 30,820 were Jews and 16,800 were Christians. The Christians were mostly Greek Orthodox and about one sixth of them were Greek-Catholic. One of the most prominent members of the Arab Christian community was the Arab Orthodox publisher of Filastin, Issa Daoud El-Issa.
Before Israel's War of Independence in 1948, the UN's Special Commission on Palestine in 1947 recommended that Jaffa become part of the planned Jewish state. Due to the large Arab majority, however, it was instead designated as part of the Arab state in the 1947 UN Partition Plan.
Following the inter-communal violence which broke out following the passing of the UN partition resolution the mayors of Jaffa and Tel Aviv tried to calm their communities. One of the main concerns for the people of Jaffa was the protection of the citrus fruit export trade which had still not reached its pre-Second World War highs. In February Jaffa's Mayor, Yussuf Haykal, contacted David Ben-Gurion through a British intermediary trying to secure a peace agreement with Tel Aviv. But both Ben Gurion's Haganah and the commander of the militia in Jaffa were opposed. At the beginning of 1948 Jaffa's defenders consisted of one Brigade of around 400 men organised by the Muslim Brotherhood
On 4 January 1948 the Lehi detonated a truck bomb outside the 3-storey 'Serrani', Jaffa's Ottoman built Town Hall, killing 26 and injuring hundreds. The driver was reported to be wearing the uniform of the Royal Irish Fusiliers.
On April 25, 1948, Irgun launched an offensive on Jaffa. This began with a mortar bombardment which went on for three days during which twenty tons of high explosive were fired into the town.. On April 27 the British Government, fearing a repetition of the mass exodus from Haifa the week before, ordered the British Army to confront the Irgun and their offensive ended. Simultaneously the Haganah had launched Operation Chametz which over-ran the villages East of Jaffa and cut the town off from the interior.
The population of Jaffa on the eve of the attack was between 50,000 - 60,000, with some 20,000 people having already left the town. By 30 April there were 15,000 - 25,000 remaining. In the following days a further 10,000 - 20,000 people fled by sea. When the Haganah took control of the town on May 14 around 4,000 people were left. The town and the harbour's warehouses were extensively looted.
The boundaries of Tel Aviv and Jaffa became a matter of contention between the Tel Aviv municipality and the Israeli government during 1948. The former wished to incorporate only the northern Jewish suburbs of Jaffa, while the latter wanted a more complete unification. The issue also had international sensitivity, since the main part of Jaffa was in the Arab portion of the United Nations Partition Plan, whereas Tel Aviv was not, and no armistice agreements had yet been signed. On 10 December 1948, the government announced the annexation to Tel Aviv of Jaffa's Jewish suburbs, the ex-Arab neighborhood of Abu Kabir, the ex-Arab village of Salama and some of its agricultural land, and the Jewish 'Hatikva' slum. On 25 February 1949, the abandoned Arab village of Sheikh Muanis was also annexed to Tel Aviv. On 18 May 1949, the former Arab neighborhood of Manshiya and part of Jaffa's central zone were added, for the first time including land that had been in the Arab portion of the UN partition plan. The government decided on a permanent unification of Tel Aviv and Jaffa on 4 October 1949, but the actual unification was delayed until 24 April 1950 due to concerted opposition from Tel Aviv's mayor Israel Rokach. The name of the unified city was Tel Aviv until 19 August 1950, when it was renamed as Tel Aviv-Yafo in order to preserve the historical name Jaffa.
Modern Jaffa has a heterogeneous population of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Parts of the Old City have been renovated, turning Jaffa into a tourist attraction featuring old restored buildings, art galleries, theaters, souvenir shops, restaurants, sidewalk cafes and promenades. Beyond the Old City and tourist sites, many neighborhoods of Jaffa are poor and underdeveloped. However, real-estate prices have risen sharply due to gentrification projects in al Ajami and Lev Yafo. The municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa is currently working to beautify and modernize the port area, and are expanding the boardwalk along the sea from Bat Yam to Tel Aviv. They are also constructing a light rail that will travel from Bat Yam to Petach Tikvah and throughout the Gush Dan territory.
Socioeconomic and political problems
Jaffa suffers from drug problems, high crime rates and violence. Some Arab residents have alleged that the Israeli authorities are attempting to Judaize Jaffa by evicting Arab residents from houses owned by the Amidar government-operated public housing company. Amidar representatives claim that the residents are illegal squatters.
The Tel Aviv municipality has been accused of trying to erase the city's Arab past. In the early 1950s, many Arabic street names were replaced by Hebrew names. From the 1990s onwards, however, efforts have been made to restore Arab and Islamic landmarks, such as the Mosque of the Sea and Hassan Bek Mosque, and document the history of Jaffa's Arab population.
Currently in 2010, 54,000 people live in Jaffa, of which 40,000 are Israeli Jews (74%), and 14,000 (26%) are Israeli Arabs. The majority of the Arab population of Jaffa lives in the impoverished southwestern neighborhood of Ajami.
Jaffa Railway Station was the first railway station in the Middle East, it served as the terminus for the Jaffa–Jerusalem railway. The station was opened in 1891 and closed in 1948; during 2005-2009 the station was restored and converted to an entertainment and leisure venue.
The Clock Square with its distinctive clocktower was built in 1906 in honor of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. The Seraya (governor's palace) was built in the 1890s. Mahmoudia Mosque was built in 1812 by Abu Nabbut, governor of Jaffa from 1810-1820. Outside the mosque is a water fountain (sabil) for pilgrims. St. Peter's Church is a Franciscan church and hospice built in the 19th century on the remains of a Crusaders fortress; Napoleon is believed to have stayed there. St. Michael's Church, restored in 1994, serves Romanian Christians. St. Tabitha chapel serves the Russian Christian community, with services in Russian and Hebrew. St. Peter's Church was built in 1895 on the site of St. Peter's resurrection of Tabitha. Inside the monastery is the site of the house where St. Tabitha lived with her family. Immanuel Church, built 1904, serves today a Lutheran congregation with services in English and Hebrew. Andromeda rock is the rock to which beautiful Andromeda was chained in Greek mythology. The Zodiac alleys are a maze of restored alleys leading to the harbor. Jaffa Hill is a center for archaeological finds, including restored Egyptian gates, about 3,500 years old. The Libyan Synagogue'(Beit Zunana) was a synagogue built by a Jewish landlord, Zunana, in the 18th century. It was turned into a hotel and then a soap factory, and reopened as a synagogue for Libyan Jewish immigrants after 1948. In 1995, it became a museum. Nouzha Mosque on Jerusalem Boulevard is Jaffa's main mosque today. Jaffa Lighthouse is an inactive lighthouse located in the old port.